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.

Who's to Blame?

Posted by: Vern Wagner under Environment, Fishing 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 under Fishing 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:



Help direct 100 million dollars in Clean Water funding

Posted by: Vern Wagner under Environment Updated: January 7, 2010 - 9:34 AM

Don't know if anyone has this on their radar yet, but I'd like to make you all aware of a great opportunity.  Recently I was asked to be a committee member for the Citizens Stakeholder aspect of a 25 yr. Water Sustainability Framework plan that the legislature has funded the U of M to conduct. A big part of this is for me, is to push the Hook and Bullet folks toward the survey and listening sessions. It is confounding to me that the Clean Water folks always use photos of people fishing or swimming, yet when it comes time to fund projects, most of the money goes to impaired water rather then protecting and restoring aquatic habitat and areas that are not yet impaired. My thinking is that we as anglers and hunters have not been part of these conversations and as a result we our voices aren't heard. So there are a couple of things that the committee I'm on are trying to promote. Let your voice be heard!



The University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center is developing a Water Sustainability Framework for the next 25 years to protect and improve Minnesota’s precious water resources. Because the state’s surface and ground waters belong to the people, we are gathering public opinion via surveys and listening sessions on a range of water issues.

Use this link ( and complete an online survey to make sure your opinions are heard. It’s anonymous, quick, and easy. Responses will be incorporated into the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework that will be presented to the State Legislature January 2011.

While you’re on the WRC web site (, you can learn more about the Framework, as well as sign up for regular email updates on the progress of the Framework and find out more about where Listening Sessions will be held around the state.

If you’re unable to access the survey online, call 612-624-9282 and we’ll send you a written copy.

Listening sessions

Minnesotans will have the chance to voice their opinion in person on how the state should invest resources to protect clean water at statewide public meetings beginning Jan. 19, 2010 coordinated by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.

The meetings, called “listening sessions,” will be facilitated by staff from the Water Resources Center and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and are a chance for people to voice their opinions on a range of water-related issues from boating and water recreation, to priorities for cleaning up polluted lakes and streams.

St. Cloud Jan. 19 Holiday Inn and Suites 75 37th Ave. S.

Chaska Jan. 21 University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Snyder Auditorium 3675 Arboretum Dr.

Crookston Feb. 3 University of Minnesota, Crookston
Youngquist Auditorium 2900 University Dr.

Baxter/Brainerd Feb. 4 Northland Arboretum 14520 Conservation Drive

Duluth Feb. 10 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Building
525 Lake Ave. S. 4th Floor, Large Conference Room

Rochester Feb. 11 Holiday Inn South 1630 S. Broadway

Marshall Feb. 16 Best Western Marshall Inn 1500 E. College Dr.

West St. Paul Feb. 18 Thompson Park Center-Dakota Lodge

Please feel free to forward this message to your colleagues, members, or constituents.


Fish or Cut bait

Posted by: Vern Wagner under Fishing Updated: October 25, 2009 - 3:12 PM
Questions abound regarding the fate of the 2010 Outdoor funding. Hopefully Legislators will honor the intent of the Outdoors Amendment. Dollars for Clean Water and the Outdoors need to be directed toward the preservation, restoration of water and habitat. Dollars need to go toward the enhancement of hunting and fishing. In 2009 barely a drop of Clean Water funding went toward the preservation of aquatic habitat. Instead U of M studies and impaired waters soaked up millions of dollars.

Jobs for Minnesotans need to be high on the Legislative agenda for 2010. But Outdoors funding streams should not be diverted to solving unemployment. Ten years ago who would have thought that Hook and Bullet groups would have had to resort to bypassing the status quo system and amend the State Constitution to protect and preserve Minnesota's outdoors heritage. Now that it has happened, it seems that now; the Legislature is showing interest. In a State known for it's 10,000 lakes and in place where 1.2 million people buy fishing licenses; it is difficult to understand why Sportsmen and women needed to take the unlikely path of using Minnesota's Constitution to make an end run on the legislative process. Could be that what is important to average Minnesotans hasn't been obvious to folks at the State Capitol.

But I suspect that for better or worse, how the funds should be spent will attract plenty of legislators with a boatload of good idea's. Hopefully we can channel the funds toward what we thought we were voting for.

Another topic that likely will come up this session is: are we are satisfied by the current configuration of State Agencies that deliver natural resources and ecological services, such as the PCA, DNR, and Boards such as BWSR, Forest and Environmental Quality. Questions about how efficient these agencies are as separate entity's will likely be asked. Would we be better served by a single State Agency of Ecology or would we simply be building another bureaucratic monster like the Veterans Administration or U.S. Post Office? We each have a responsibility to pass Minnesota's great outdoor heritage on to future generations, lets make sure it is the same or better then when we took charge of it.

Big Pequaywan Lake

Posted by: Vern Wagner under Fishing Updated: September 3, 2009 - 9:38 PM

Many of you may not have seen the article in Outdoor News a few weeks ago about Big Pequaywan. The lakeshore owners want to block the DNR from building a public access on this body of water. They appear to be claiming that by allowing the public to have access, the public will ultimately spread invasive species such as Zebra Mussels and Eurasian Milfoil.

"Access to public water is an important part of Minnesota’s heritage and identity.  Therefore, Anglers For Habitat supports the MnDNR Public Access Program and its plan for Big Pequaywan Lake. Blocking access to public waters is unacceptable.

However, a goal of Anglers for Habitat is to assist statewide programs to contain aquatic invasive species (AIS) and work to prevent new infestations by educating anglers to clean boats, live wells and trailers, to ensure that boats, sailboats, docks, lifts and all equipment used in infested waters is thoroughly cleaned.  The time has come for increased vigilance and personal responsibility.  Anglers For Habitat will work with anglers, pleasure boaters, Lake Associations, MnDNR and the Legislature to reduce the threat of aquatic invasive species."

Anglers for Habitat hopes to build coalitions for several purposes, including the primary purpose of preserving, protecting and improving the conditions of public waters to support healthy fish populations for perpetuity.  AFH was initiated to bring together a consortium that could accomplish more as a unified voice for angling, clean water and habitat improvement, and to obtain and direct funding to that end.

The solution to slowing the spread of invasives is not blocking access, banning fisherpersons who don’t live on the lake or keeping the public out. The solution is building coalitions that can educate anglers and lakeshore owners to the “best practices” of preserving and protecting aquatic habitat and our angling heritage. While it is an old clique, it’s is all about building trust and teamwork.



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