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Jim Uran

Our fragile panfish population

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Is it human nature to pick on things that are smaller than us? To take advantage of things that are susceptible? There is a new breed of anglers out there that would like to turn this mentality around, and I’m here to voice our opinions.

Why is it that bluegills and crappies are thought of as a lesser species, “panfish” we call them. Why aren’t they babied and nurtured like walleyes, muskies, and bass. We rarely see any special regulations involving our beloved panfish species, and it shows in our cyclical panfish populations in the lakes that we fish. Their population swings are due to over-harvesting, their lack in size is due to the same factor. These “uneducated” anglers will find a “hot” lake and over-harvest it and move on to the next “hot lake” to do the same thing. In this article I’ll be focusing more on bluegills and other sunfish species here in Minnesota.

What I would like to see, is a shift in the mentality, and more time spent on educating Minnesota anglers on the panfish population. We are talking about one of the most popular fish in Minnesota here, with creel survey data showing that of the 57 million hours Minnesota Anglers log each year, 18 million of those hours are dedicated to chasing sunfish, and recent data shows that more sunfish are caught than all other gamefish species combines, 25-30 million sunfish caught annually. These numbers show just how many bluegills and other sunfish species are hoisted over the gunwales every season!

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However, in recent years I have been pleased to see more and more lakes dropping the possession limit to 10, and 5 fish. It shows that the respect is growing, but it’s not where it needs to be yet. We need to see a drop in the possession limit statewide, to see some sort of size limit regulations, and to protect these fish when they are on the beds when they are the most susceptible. I can’t imagine that they would ever shut the panfish season down as they do for other gamefish species while they are spawning, but adding some protective regulations during the spawning period would undoubtedly be beneficial. 20 fish a day is just too many to be taking out of a lake.

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Let’s face it, us anglers have become a little deadlier and a little more precise when it comes to locating these fish, thanks to all of the technology that’s out there for us now. Let’s do our part and start putting the big ones back. I know plenty of anglers that won’t hesitate to throw back a walleye that’s over 20”, or a pike that’s over 30”, but rarely do I find an angler who treats panfish with the same regard, but when I do talk to those few that have the same passion as me, they know, and understand that we are looking into the future, a future full of stories of the big ones our grandparents talked of.

So the next time you are out, toss a few back and remember who will be fishing these same waters in 20 years.

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This is a very well written article and so true. Wouldn't you want your children or grandchildren to catch those same fish when they are even bigger?! smile great read! smile

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Right on Jim! A couple of the lakes I fish Crappies S of DL have regulations on size minimum and limit......you can see it paying off with the quality of the fish. I will say the "old timers" are the toughest to grab hold of new regs....when Panfishing I see more of them filling buckets of Sunfish just because they are easier to catch and love to eat them........and they love passing the time doing it. Over time regs need to be put in place for MOST species in MN lakes, rivers. First change is to increase fees for Non-Residents, get more $$$ in the coffers to help manage the resources.

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Great post, and awesome fish. I love catching panfish, and do my part in releasing the big boys and girls. I don't have enough time to really hunt for the places no one else fishes for them, but it sure is a treat when I stumble across a 9+".

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Very well written article. Thanks for posting.

I think the DNR is sometimes a bit more lax on panfish regs because they are such prolific breeders, and so quick to come back from a population decline. At least gills and pumpkinseeds are. Crappies, not so much. Crappies seem to have much narrower environmental requirements for survival.

I think it's a great idea to have a statewide possession limit, and include a slot limit on all panfish species for all lakes. It's always fun to catch a nice bunch of panfish, but it's WAY more fun to catch a nice bunch of BIG panfish!

Again, great article, and terrific pictures! smile

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i feel fishing is becoming like hunting every one wants a trophy buck. I think we have enough regs on fishing the way it is. There is lakes with special panfish regs show me they are working? I agree some people over harvest sunfish and crappies during the spring it seems to be common around my house. I love having my grandmas over for fish fry and for being old ladies they sure can eat alot of fish. 20 gills and 10 crappies seem to be enough,but i don't have kids and my wife does noy like fishing. Maybe if the fish were bigger it would not take so many but i keep 7-7.5 inch gills and release the bigger ones crappies from9-10 inches and release the biiger ones. But I watch most guys only keep gills over 8 and crappies over 10.

Jim I like your article and think maybe if we could get fisher people to keep smaller fish it would allow the bigger ones to grow faster.

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I think it's funny how times change and perceptions change and subjects come back come back but in a diffrent way..Take Panfish for example...I remember 25 years ago people carping about the lack of large panfish because everyones grandparents were stuffing milk cartons full of them and of course the limits were pretty much whatever..we now have more restrictions,C&R (which would have been laughable back then)and people still want to blame everyone else for "not managing the resource correctly". Lake Mille Lacs was always thought of as the "Dead Sea" until the DNR stepped in, put in slots, reduced limits, etc etc. You can now catch all the big Walleyes you want, but you certainly cannot keep them heaven forbid. The bottom line is that fish are food..plain and simple..there are up years and there are down years..Mother Nature is the biggest B&*ch on the block and she is the ultimate judge no matter what us silly humans think.

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to go with riverratpete mille lacs is a good lake to talk about it has great panfish in it thanks to the walleye. I have spent many days on mille lacs listening to guys whine about catching to big of fish for real. That makes me sick they whine about that. A trophy is in the eye of the person who got it i know guys who think 10 inch gill is a trophy my brother inlaw thinks 13 in crappies are. If you look you can find a bigger fish they dont always behave like the smaller ones.

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We play the biggest part in the "ups and downs" as you put it, not mother nature.

If panfish were managed and restricted like walleyes are we would have bigger fish to catch!

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Perch is one example that lowering the limit from 100 to 20 was going to get us bigger perch and more big ones. I have yet to see this change.

Yeah, funny how people forgot about that one and now they want even more of that ever effective government "management" adding more and more pages to the fishing regs book. I like trophies as much as anyone but this is getting out of hand. I'd rather take pictures of a fish fry than photograph one C&R monster after another. Catching trophies should be a rare event. That's what makes them special.

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James i would have to dissagree with you if i understand your post correctly. i am a strong advocate of releasing all large fish of any species. panfish included. trophy's are kind of a rare event as it is [depending one's view of what constitutes a trophy]. we need regulations. and some waters need more than others. i want my grandkids to have what i have today. good luck.

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we need regulations. and some waters need more than others. i want my grandkids to have what i have today. good luck.

And with your belief in bloated government your grand kids will have even more of what you have today. This will include more regulations, more government workers to enforce these regulations and a crippling public debt that they will never be able to service. There are some lakes that have such restrictive slot limits that trophy catches are a daily occurance not a special event like they should be.

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Nice post Jim.

Personally I feel selective harvest is a much better tool than bag limit adjustments and my own thought is I would much rather see a tighter window on size regs than a smaller bag limit and in fact would prefer total inches rather than number of fish. For example 80” of fish. This way, if a guy runs into some 11 or 12”ers you are only able to keep 6 or 7 yet still able to keep 10 8”ers. I bet we would see a lot less complaining about the big fish in ML if a guy could keep a certain number of inches of walleye vs a slot.

Many lakes are stunted not so much because of overharvest but rather only keeping the largest ones and really how can you blame people for wanting to keep 15 8”ers when you are sorting through 50 5”ers to get em? If you want an overall better size structure then I think you should take out the potato chips. Of course the sacrifice will be a smaller overall number of fish which could also be more susceptible to winter kill, but a small lake chock full of 3-5”ers can’t be ideal either.

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Maybe some of the stunting could be helped if we allowed people who are targeting other species to go catch a couple dozen of those 3-5 inchers for bait.... just sayin.

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Like I said in the original post, it's about the lack of respect for panfish... They don't get babied and nurtured like walleyes, bass, and muskies.

Spread the love out a little bit, it wouldn't take anymore workers to add another line or two to the reg book grin

James R, you can take pics of all of your fish fry's, but who is going to make sure your grandchilren will be able to do the same thing when they are old enough to?

edit: I looked at your post history, now I can see why you wrote a response in this thread like this, 98% of your posts are in the carp hole, The Outdoors discussions forum.... lol, nice!

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I think the change should come from fisher people not the government. I have got my dad to shoot a doe rather then kill a small buck for dinner, but last year we did not see any does so the poor little fork horn ate the bullet. My dad has seen nicer bucks now and lets them walk until he finds the one he wants for the wall. I love catching gills and crappies when I went to college in Ely a lot of the locals thought I was nuts for wasting my time but I enjoyed myself and caught some dandy fish which most would have mount or been personal bests. I released so many big panfish up there its mind blowing.

Jim you are doing wonders for changing some peoples ideas what a keeper is. Congrats to that. I think if we can get anglers to change what they keep with out changing the laws it would be best for are kids ans their kids.

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Like I said in the original post, it's about the lack of respect for panfish... They don't get babied and nurtured like walleyes, bass, and muskies.

Spread the love out a little bit, it wouldn't take anymore workers to add another line or two to the reg book grin

James R, you can take pics of all of your fish fry's, but who is going to make sure your grandchilren will be able to do the same thing when they are old enough to?

edit: I looked at your post history, now I can see why you wrote a response in this thread like this, 98% of your posts are in the carp hole, The Outdoors discussions forum.... lol, nice!

Hey, if you can go on here and advocate for more government then I should be able to advocate for less even if you find that offensive. How do you reason that more regulations wouldn't result in higher costs for the taxpayer? Using the broad power of government to individually micromanage each lake is going to be an expensive endeavor. You can paste all the cute fish pictures you like on this outdoors discussion thread but don’t pretend that you’re not also making political assertions by advocating for more fishing regulations which are somehow free according to you.

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I would never call a panfish population fragile. They are like rabbits. One good year of romping and you have a lake plump full of them.

It is a good idea to let go the bigger fish. But I am also getting sick of all the regulations. Checking more freezers for the rapers and double dippers would do more good than any limit or size regs IMO.

It is those guys that go back day after day to fill up on big panfish that hurt the lake more than anyone else. Getting on a good bite then having the restraint to not beat it to death is probably the biggest thing fisherman need to control. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

Those that are out there day after day after day beating up the same lake are my biggest pet peeve in all of fishing.

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That's why I advocate a lower limit and size restrictions state wide! No need to micromanage each lake when they all come under the same regs! You are definitely entitled to your opinion, but I see where you stand in the troll hall of fame! Good luck with being the troll, I'll stick with spreading the good word, and my beliefs!

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Great post Jim- I am with you 100%. Educating the fishermen plays a big role as well, selective harvest can be as beneficial as regulations, the only problem is the average panfish angler is out to get as much meat as possible today and bigger fish give you more meat.

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