We should be talking fishing.
After all, time is wasting this hard-water season — for much of Minnesota, just a few days remain in the popular walleye, sauger and northern pike seasons.
But instead of talking about what’s biting, where they’re biting and what they’re biting on, conversation has turned to trash talk.
And sadly, those conversations have become commonplace this time of year. Ice-fishing houses are coming off the lakes, and as they come off the ice, a good number leave a trail of litter in their wake.
In Minnesota, it’s the time of year Department of Natural Resources conservation officers must dread the most — they’re often left to clean up the mess. Big lakes, little lakes, doesn’t matter. If they hold ice-fishing houses and ice anglers, there’s probably going to be some sort of mess left behind and in need of picking up.
Garbage reportedly still litters portions of Leech Lake, particularly the area around the bay in Walker, Minn. But this isn’t rubbish that had piled up over the winter. No, a good chunk of it was accumulated just over the weekend at the annual International Eelpout Festival.
That the event is much more of a party than a fishing event is no secret. Nor is the fact that Pout Fest usually leaves quite a mess. And maybe, with the balmy weather, this year’s event drew more party-goers than usual. Whatever the reason, Pout Fest-goers seem to have left behind an even bigger mess than usual in search of fun and, to a lesser degree, those foul-looking eelpout.
So who’s going to clean it up? Right now, no one seems to know for sure.
Time to “Keep it Clean.”
Lake of the Woods knows Leech Lake’s pain — and that of many other Minnesota lakes — all too well. In fact, on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods near Baudette, it’s like Pout Fest all winter long, especially at a handful of spots that can draw thousands of anglers each weekend.
Tired of fighting a losing battle against trash across the south end of the lake, several key groups in and around Baudette finally took steps to save the lake from this annual rite of spring. In October 2012, in preparation for the fast-approaching ice-fishing season, stakeholders from Lake of the Woods created “Keep it Clean.” It took five groups of mostly heavy-hitters from around the area — the DNR, Lake of the Woods Tourism, Lake of the Woods County, the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District and Friends of Zippel Bay State Park — to make it happen.
As a journalist in Lake of the Woods County at that time, I was at those county board meetings when “Keep it Clean” was being pitched. As is the case with government most anywhere, at least at that level, decisions don’t always come quickly. But there was no dawdling when it came to funding and support for “Keep it Clean.” To at least some extent, most everyone in the county had a stake in the lake.
Funding mostly went toward a half-dozen large dumpsters that since have been placed at strategic, high-pressure locations on the south shore during the hard-water season. Yes, “Keep it Clean” is a mindset, too — the garbage isn’t going to pick up itself. And community cleanup drives after ice-out help the cause. But the dumpsters alone have made a monumental difference at Lake of the Woods over the last four winters.
I have to believe that if the same were available on the ice at Pout Fest — or even other lakes across the state — we might not be talking trash.
Eelpout, maybe. But that’s OK. Not nearly as ugly as the alternative.