Vern Wagner

When Vern Wagner is not tournament bass fishing or teaching kids to fish, he can be found roaming the State Capitol working on fish habitat and fishing legislation.

Posts about Fishing

Bass: Catch and Release - Hook and Delayed Mortality

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: June 20, 2010 - 10:39 AM

It is likely that  most catching and releasing of large or Smallmouth Bass could result in 1-3% of hook mortality. This is much more likely when using livebait and in deep hooked situations with any type of lure or bait. Learning effective ways to remove deep hooks will lessen mortality. If you don't know how to safely remove a hook, cut the line leaving at least 12 inches of line andm leave the hook in. This will help to keep the shank of the hook pulled to one side of the gullet and allow the fish to continue to feed until the hook erodes.  A good article on Deep Hooks In or Out can be viewed at

Delayed mortality happens days, hours or weeks after release and comes from handling and/or exposure to diseases.  Here in Minnesota tournament organizers are working with the MN DNR to develop 'Best Practices Guidelines" for live release fishing contests to decrease delayed mortality. Factors effecting all fish are improper handling, temperature, oxygen levels and release sites/depths. During periods of very warm water and air temperatures such as in July and August; helping fish to survive requires very sophisticated practices. Some studies indicate that under poor circumstances and without special precautions 10% -25% delayed mortality is realistic (this includes the 1-3% hook mortality). It is hoped that this gold standard of "Best Practices" will educate not only tournament anglers to better techniques but also influence all anglers to use state of the art C/R methods.

As both anglers and tournament fishermen, we need to ask ourselves what fishing might be like 25 -50 years from now, and how those anglers will look back at the year 2010 when we hear folks bragging about hooking 50- 100 bass a day. Will we find that we did no harm, or will we have evolved  to different practices and for what reasons?

Who's to Blame?

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: February 16, 2010 - 7:16 PM

 Despite well established rules about transporting invasive hitchhikers, each month more lakes and rivers are added to the list of infested water bodies. An invasive algae known as didymo (Didymosphenia geminate) has made its way into the Connecticut River in Vermont and New Hampshire, and its creeping south. Water Chestnut is spreading across East Coast waterways. Red Swamp Crawfish have been found in Southern Wisconsin.

Aquatic Invasive species (AIS), diseases, plants and even insects are creating problems across Minnesota. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about another new problem. Zebra Mussels, Spiny Water Fleas, Eurasian Milfoil, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), Grass Carp, Silver, Black and Bighead Carp, Rusty Crawfish, Round Goby, Ruffe, Sea lamprey all have our attention.

 Questions from lake shore associations, anglers and natural resources agencies are: Who’s to blame? How are the problems being spread? What can we do

 Who’s to blame? Fishing contests are amongst the usual suspects, next are those unfamiliar trucks and boat trailers at the public access ramps.  Fishing tournaments and Special Water events are easy to target, they are all required to obtain a County Sheriff’s water permit (Minnesota Statute 86B.121  and the larger events have DNR permits (Minnesota rules 6212:2400-2800; Minnesota Statutes 97C.081, 86B.121).  And while these folks are likely to have been on many different lakes over the season, they are also likely the best informed and self-regulated anglers. Yet since they are easier to scrutinize then boaters or fishermen from resorts or out-state or just regular boaters and anglers, they often operate under a microscope. These are the groups that need to join into coalitions with lakeshore and other conservation efforts facing the challenges of combating the spread of AIS.

 Recreational anglers and boaters aren’t much better at the blame game, they point to waterfowl or docks and floating rafts. Everyone has an idea of who to blame.  Maybe it’s those big Yachts that are moored for long periods or maybe it’s the DNR nets that move from lake to lake.  And what about the tiny DNR budget for AIS, are there sufficient staff and resources to enforce the existing laws? Does their budget even come close to equaling what we spend yearly on latte’s or double mocha’s?

 The conversation needs to move beyond the blame game. Lake Associations need to join forces with organized angling and boating groups. Targeting fishing tournaments, water ski or other water events increases division, these groups can showcase responsible behavior.  Anglers and boaters need to make sure they are part of the solution, not the problem.  

 Minnesotans’ need to outgrow their polite, shy, keep things at an arms distance nature. When at a boat ramp and they see a boat or trailer packing a bale of weeds, we need to offer a friendly hand to clean it off. We will need to develop more patience at the ramp to give folks the time they need. If we want our Kids to become good caretakers of our natural resources they need to learn it; from seeing parents practice responsible behavior.

When I’m up on Leech or Gull or the Whitefish Chain fishing a Bass tournament, I might be on the water daily three or four days before the event. On these days as I load up it is easy to give in to “Why bother crawling under the boat - since I’ll be back on the same water, same lake, same spots tomorrow morning” but it needs to become part of my routine.

 Other outdoors groups have learned how to solve problems. The snowmobile groups have a trail monitor program and have figured out ways to funnel dollars in to County Sheriff’s departments for increased surveillance and contact. Maybe we can add a new category to our Turn in Poachers (TIP) program, and have a method to report violators?  How about a Statewide Volunteer AIS Inspector training program and having them at the boat ramps at peak times?

 Fact is, that AIS's are here, they will move to more lakes and streams and if we can combine efforts to try to contain it; we might make a difference.

 Vern Wagner, Vice President,  Anglers For Habitat. Tournament Director, Bassmasters Weekend Series


Fishing Contest Best Management Practices

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: January 22, 2010 - 4:17 PM

Staying Alive - Staying Alive

Fishing Contest Best Management Practices

 While not all fishing contests are the tournament “style” Bass or Muskie events, many are. To these anglers, the concept of “Catch and Release” isn’t just a practice, for most it borders on being a religion. Keeping fish alive and releasable is almost as important as catching them. 

In order to accomplish this, a cross section of bass, northern pike, and muskie anglers helped shape legislation that could be adopted by all fishing contest organizers. The goal is to develop a statewide gold standard for catch, hold, and release events. Passed with the help of Senator Satveer Chaudhary the best management practices (BMP) were required by the 2009 legislature. The bill states “the Commissioner shall develop a best management practices certification program for fishing contest organizers to ensure proper handling and release of fish.” The requirement is that BMP’s be developed by 3/1/2011 and address fish handling and release by both anglers and organizers. 

 The goal is to address specific and multi species events. Certification could be accomplished by passing an on-line test or participation in an annual hands workshop. The MN DNR is working on a web based contest application process which could be an important source for MN tournament information. This site could also list certified organizers, so new events could find someone to assist them in managing their contest. The guidelines will address fish handling under the best conditions down to the minimum conditions.

 Fish survival during a contest can be greatly improved by learning the best hooking, handling, and livewell management practices. Minimizing shock, exposure to air, and avoiding holding fish for long periods of time in bags or containers with low dissolved oxygen is imperative. Temperature is the key issue in releasing contest fish. The warmer the water, the less oxygen it holds. Just because a fish seems able to swim away is not a complete indication of its ability to survive. Research shows that summer time catch, hold, and release events for Walleyes is problematic. Large fish like Muskies and Northern Pike are greatly stressed when catching them. Stress when combined with the factors listed above, all contribute to increased delayed mortality. Smallmouth and Black Bass are a hearty fish and can be “recycled” many times to be caught, weighed in, released and live to be caught again. But poor contest management changes the survival outlook for all species.

 Fishing contests are an important part of Sportfishing in Minnesota. In these organized events boating safety and sportsmanship are learned and enforced. Catch and release fishing is required in many contests. Boat inspections for invasive species are part of every contest permit. At my last big fishing event we had a PowerPoint presentation on invasive species and each contestant was given a checklist of boat cleaning and inspection tips that there were required to follow.  Fishing contest organizers strive to be part of the solution to keeping Minnesota’s fish and lakes healthy.  The incorporation of BMP’s will further enhance the preservation and vibrancy of angling for future generations. 

 Vern Wagner, is a citizen stakeholder committee member with the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. Vice-President of Anglers for Habitat “a non-profit alliance of anglers dedicated to the preservation and improvement of aquatic habitat, clean water and  fishing in Minnesota and tournament director for the MN/WI Bassmasters Weekend Series. For information on Anglers for Habitat, email:




Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters