Fishing ethics and stewardship

Anglers fishing from a boat in fall on a Minnesota lake.Fishing is more than catching. It is also important for anglers to be good stewards of Minnesota’s natural resources.

This means doing your part to support healthy lakes and rivers, preventing the spread of unwanted aquatic invasive species, practicing catch-and-release fishing and more.

Aquatic invasive species prevention

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are plants and other living things that threaten fishing quality because they negatively affect native ecosystems. Aquatic invasive species include zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and eurasian water milfoil. To help prevent their spread of these unwanted species and others remember to:

  • Clean all visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited species from watercraft, trailers and water-related equipment before leaving any water access or shoreland.
  • Drain water-related equipment (boats, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, etc.) and drain the bilge, livewell and baitwell by removing the drain plugs before leaving a water access or shoreline. Keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait, including minnows, leeches and worms in the trash. It is illegal to release bait into a waterbody or release animals from one waterbody to another. If you want to keep your bait you must refill the bait container with bottled or tap water.
Catch-and-release
Catch-and-release fishing can help ensure continued quality fishing. That’s because fish hooked in the mouth almost always survive unless pulled from very deep water.

To help ensure that the fish you release survives:

  • Have pliers at the ready for taking hooks out. Cutting the line and leaving the hook in the fish is also a good option.
  • Quickly land a fish to minimize its time out of water.
  • Handle the fish firmly but carefully. Wet your hands before touching a fish to prevent removal of their protective slime coating. Rubberized nets help, too.
  • Revive a fish by cradling it under the belly and gently moving it forward in the water until it swims away.
  • Do not release a fish that can be legally kept if it is bleeding heavily or can't right itself.
Consider non-lead tackle

Traditionally, many fishing lures and weights have been made from lead because of its relatively low cost, moldability and high weight-to-size ration.

These days, however, many jigs, sinkers and other forms of tackle come in non-toxic alternatives. You should give these serious consideration because lead is toxic when ingested by humans, waterfowl and other aquatic animals. Lead has adverse effects on the nervous and reproductive systems of animals. It takes only one lead sinker or jig to terminally poison a loon.

Environmentally safer alternatives to lead include materials such as tin, bismuth, steel, ceramic and tungsten-nickel alloy. If your fishing tackle provider does not stock lead alternatives, request they do so.

Fishing at a boat launch

It is legal to fish at a public boat-launching site unless a sign indicates you cannot. Still, the primary purpose of the site is to enable anglers and boaters to get their craft in and out of the water. If you fish at public boat launch it is good ettiquette to temporarily reel-in so that you don’t impede a boat's ability launch, load and be on its way.

Support habitat conservation

Quality fishing and quality habitat go hand in hand. You can help support high-quality fishing by supporting conservation efforts that aim to improve water quality and protect natural vegetation in and around lakes.

Native vegetation, bottom materials, and natural debris play essential roles in the life cycles of a lake’s fish and wildlife. Shoreline alterations that damage or destroy these habitat components sever essential strands in the web. As a result, the lake ecosystem is weakened, wildlife moves elsewhere, and fish numbers decline.

It is up to everyone who values lakes to keep them healthy and productive.