For 41 years, the Lake Minnetonka crappie contest has been a harbinger of spring and a tradition.

It draws between 800 and 3,000 anglers, depending on the weather.

But the contest almost died this spring when longtime sponsor Gander Mountain pulled out.

"It was a very tough decision, one that was made because we're operating in a very, very difficult economy,'' Gander Mountain spokesman David Ewald said.

Enter Lord Fletcher's, the eatery that has been the host and fish weigh-in site. The restaurant will hold the 42nd annual contest Saturday.

"It's become a tradition for lots of people," said Peter Peyerl, a Fletcher's manager. "We wanted to keep it rolling.''

The event again will be a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Cost is $5 in advance, $6 on Saturday. Registration forms are available at Lord Fletcher's at 3746 Sunset Drive in Spring Park. Legal fishing begins at midnight, and the contest ends at 2 p.m. For more information, stop at Lord Fletcher's, see the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's website at www.leukemia-lymphoma.org or call the society at 763-852-3005.

Cutting CO hours

The state's huge budget deficit and resulting proposed cuts at the Legislature could affect the work of the state's 200 DNR conservation officers.

Officers are concerned that the 400 extra hours, including overtime, that they usually get each year will be cut, reducing their ability to enforce game, fish and recreation laws.

Bills in the Legislature have proposed 6 percent to 7 percent cuts to the DNR Enforcement Division's general fund allocation.

"We're concerned that we're not going to be able to answer all the calls, especially on busy opening weekends,'' said Julie Siems, an officer and head of the Conservation Officers Association, the union representing the officers.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, agreed. "Without that time in the field, without them responding to calls, it will be a real handicap,'' he said. "I'd wish they'd look at other areas to cut.''

Removing 'Lessard'

When the Legislature passed a law last year establishing a citizens council to recommend how millions of dollars in Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars should be spent, it named the council after former state Sen. Bob Lessard, a longtime champion of the idea.

But now a House committee chaired by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, has approved an amendment to a bill that would remove Lessard's name from the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council.

"It's a slap in the face of hunters and anglers who over a decade supported this thing,'' said Garry Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for Change. "It's a fourth-grade-level maneuver.''

The bill, HF1781, includes a provision that says laws, councils, buildings, roads and other facilities can't be named after living people. Kahn couldn't be reached for comment.

Spring fishing

Though there is still ice on northern Minnesota lakes, anglers are finding plenty of open water to wet a line.

The spring fishing season on the Rainy River along the Minnesota-Ontario border was hot last week, according to reports.

“Fishing continues to improve daily as the river level drops and the current decreases,’’ reported conservation officer Robert Gorecki of Baudette.“Numerous boats are catching 15 to 20 walleyes per day,’’ he reported.

“Sturgeon anglers are also reporting very good success, catching four to eight sturgeon a day.’’

Conservation officer Dan Thomasen also patroled the river, and reported the walleye fishing was slow compared to previous years. He said 100 percent of anglers in the 200 to 300 boats checked over three days all had life jackets.

The walleye season on the Rainy closed Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it was another busy weekend on the Mississippi River. Hundreds of boats there were checked, too. “Unfortunately, fishing was very slow and the river was still a little high and cold,’’ reported conservation officer Kevin Prodzinski of Zumbrota.

Reported CO Scott Fritz of LaCrescent: “Over 150 boats and 70-plus shore fishermen were at the Dresbach dam area (last) Saturday. At Red Wing, officers observed well over 400 boats."

Gun sale set

The DNR has set the specifics for the sale of nearly 300 rifles and shotguns, mostly confiscated from hunters who committed game violations over the past four years. The auction will be May 2 at Hiller Auction Barn in Zimmerman. For more information, and to see a list of the firearms, see www.hillerauction.com or call 763-856-2453.

Hunting was too good

Two hunters were shooting Canada geese at a state wildlife management area in Wright County last week. The hunters were surprised that there were no other hunters out because the hunting was so good, conservation officers reported. The only problem, of course, is that the season is closed. The men had purchased spring light goose permits and thought they were good for Canada geese, too. The mistake will cost them some bucks.

Bass bust

Fishing the backwaters of the Mississippi River near Grand Rapids can be hot in the spring during spawning. But a caller tipped off conservation officer Thomas Sutherland that he saw some young anglers keeping largemouth bass. One angler was hiding the bass behind an elm tree away from the water. They had 13 largemouth bass out of season, and most were full of spawn. Some of the bass were able to be released back into the river. Citations were issued to five anglers.

Turkey surprise

Conservation officer Thor Nelson of Bloomington received several calls regarding nuisance turkeys. One of the birds flew through a living room window, broke its neck and ended up between the coffee table and the couch, Nelson reported.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com