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On the Lake With...

Ron Payer DNR Fisheries section chief


DNR Fisheries monitors and manages more than 5,400 lakes and 16,000 miles of river that provide fishing opportunities in Minnesota.


Q:What would you most like Minnesotans to know about the work of DNR Fisheries?

We want fishing to be as good as it can be now and into the future. There are many components to fish management. We conduct resource inventories, looking at what the habitat is like. We look at water quality and fish populations, and we do habitat restoration and protection. We stock large numbers of trout, walleye, and muskellunge -- which provides some tremendous angling opportunities. We've got one of the best research units in the country. We provide technical assistance to riparian owners and work to recruit new anglers. Our staff is as good as anyone in the country. Overall, I don't think there is anyone doing it better.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Good water quality and fish habitat are the foundation of long-term fishing opportunity in the state. Minimizing the effects that shoreland development has on that foundation is one of the biggest challenges. There are a lot of entities involved: the individual riparian owner, the watershed's local units of government, and state agencies. They all have an impact on the water. If you look at public involvement in our rules process on aquatic plant management or shoreland management, it is time consuming. It takes a lot of energy to do that. But I think Minnesotans have a real will to protect the water, and we're making some good progress along the way. We can't do it all ourselves, nor do we try. We're just working to get everyone pulling together.

Q: What species is the most underappreciated or underutilized in Minnesota?

I think the most underutilized might be the channel catfish. We really have some trophy opportunities. I think about the Minnesota, the St. Croix, and the Red River, just some really large trophy-size fish. There's a hard-core group of folks that go out and angle for them, but I think our river systems, in general, are underutilized.

One of the most underappreciated species in Minnesota is probably the tullibee. We're finding out that they are really an indicator, when they're present, of good water quality and lake health. They're important forage; they're rich in protein; and we're finding out that they're kind of a bellwether for bigger fish. We're going to conduct some studies on tullibee as we monitor the potential impacts of climate change.

Q: What is one of the most threatened native fish species in Minnesota? What is being done to protect it?

The paddlefish is listed as a threatened species. It's tightly regulated: no angling is allowed for paddlefish. We're working with other states on the main stem of the Mississippi River to do paddlefish research. Most of the time with these species, it's habitat changes that have put them in a threatened position.

Q: When the DNR considers stocking, how important is genetics?

We believe that genetics are important. Fish, or any other species, have local adaptations. They adapt to that particular environment. There are a number of studies that have indicated that these are the fish that are best suited to that environment. We try to stock our lakes and rivers with genetic strains that are most similar to those in that watershed. We think it's important, especially over the long term.

Q: What was the most memorable fish you?ve hooked in Minnesota?

Actually, it was a largemouth bass that was over 7 pounds, on a fairly small lake. It was a real surprise -- a pretty spectacular fish. When you see those, it's like the trophy buck. In Minnesota, you know, a 4- or 5-pound bass you can find. A 7-pound largemouth, you don't get a lot of those in your lifetime.

Q:If you could tell every angler one thing, what would it be?

Get outdoors, take a youngster with you, and enjoy your time on the water. Be a mentor and a teacher to that youngster. Help someone discover the value of that habitat along the shoreline and why fish are there.

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