Minnesotans love them.

That’s why the Department of Natural Resources fish pond is one of the most popular sites at the State Fair, which opens this week.

Fairgoers can gawk at around 45 state fish species, ranging from trout, panfish and walleyes to more unusual finned critters like paddlefish, gar and sturgeon.

The oldest fish? That would be the 55-inch lake sturgeon caught by an angler in the St. Croix River in the early 1990s and donated to the DNR. It’s been a star attraction at the fair ever since.

“It was probably 30 years old when we got it, so it’s probably 50 or 60 years old now,” said Donn Schrader, a DNR fisheries specialist who is charged with maintaining the State Fair fish display. He doesn’t know who the angler was.

The sturgeon and hundreds of the other State Fair fish are kept in a St. Paul holding pond the rest of the year. The DNR adds fish to replace those that succumb — or are eaten.

“We’ve got everything from blue suckers, bullheads and crappies to perch, walleyes and sauger,” Schrader said. And paddlefish.

The prehistoric paddlefish, a threatened species, are among the most popular fish at the fair. More than a half-million people will visit the DNR exhibits during the 12-day fair.

The agency’s one-third acre holding pond in St. Paul (protected from poachers by a fence and surveillance system) is spring-fed and has its own well, so the water temperature will be similar to the State Fair pond, which is filled with 50,000 gallons of cool well water.

Maintaining steady water temperatures minimizes shock to the fish.

But how do they get the fish from one pond to the other?

“We drain our holding pond slowly over about a week,” Schrader said. Then workers net the fish, load them into water-filled tank trucks and drive to the State Fair. “Everything gets moved,” he said.

While the fish are visiting the fair, their holding pond is cleaned.

The whole thing is a labor-intensive job. About 15 to 20 DNR employees are involved. All so fairgoers can see fish. Lots of fish.

DNR staff gives fish pond talks and answer questions daily at 9:45 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 1:45 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 3:45 p.m.

Northern fishing zones?

Public information meetings are being held to discuss the DNR’s proposal to create three northern pike fishing zones in Minnesota, each with their own regulations, aimed to improve northern fishing. People also can comment on the DNR’s website.

Under the proposal:

• The north-central zone has a problem with too many small pike. The proposal would provide more opportunities to harvest small surplus pike and improve the opportunities to harvest some preferred size pike.

•The northeast zone would maintain harvesting opportunities while protecting large northerns.

•In the south zone, northerns are less abundant and don’t reproduce as well as in the north. The proposal would increase pike abundance and improve the size of harvested pike.

Dates, times and locations of meetings are available online, as is more information about the zone proposal, a video and a space to sign up for e-mail announcements.

Each meeting will provide information about all three zones.

Meetings are Wednesday (Aug. 26) in Detroit Lakes and Grand Rapids, Thursday in Bemidji, Aug. 31 in St. Cloud, Sept. 1 in Apple Valley, Sept. 3 in Andover, Sept. 9 in Mankato, Sept. 21 in Duluth, and Sept. 23 in Willmar.