EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — A group of movers and shakers in Minnesota fishing circles has launched a grassroots organization aimed at giving anglers a stronger voice in the Legislature and with the Department of Natural Resources in an effort to make the Land of 10,000 Lakes an even better place to wet a line.
Known as the MN-FISH Sportfishing Foundation and Coalition, the new 501c3 nonprofit organization is planning a formal roll-out during the Northwest Sportshow, set for March 21-24 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The goal is simple: “To improve fishing opportunities in Minnesota and shorten the time between bites,” said Ron Schara, president of MN-FISH.
In a phone interview, Schara said the concept for MN-FISH surfaced last summer, when several fishing pros and industry types met to talk about the need for better information on fisheries management and to discuss options for getting the Minnesota Fishing Museum and Hall of Fame on better financial footing.
“That was the impetus,” said Schara, a veteran outdoors communicator and host of the “Minnesota Bound” outdoors TV show from 1995 through May 2018. “What came out of that was the realization that the average angler in Minnesota wasn’t well represented in the Legislature.”
The group won’t be “a DNR-bashing outfit,” Schara says.
“That’s much too easy,” he said. “We’re there to not only get our questions answered, but to also help DNR Fisheries accomplish mutual goals.”
That could include better marketing of the Walleye Stamp, an optional stamp the DNR offers as a way to raise funds for walleye stocking but which hasn’t been very effective, Schara says.
“Very little money comes in because there’s been no marketing,” he said.
At the same time, many of the DNR’s fish hatcheries are 50 to 70 years old or more and in need of funds to bring them up to date. According to a news release from MN-FISH, the Minnesota Legislature since 2010 has not made major new investments for hatcheries, public access, fishing piers and shore fishing facilities, despite the $200 million to $300 million generated annually by fishing-related economic activity.
Convincing the Legislature to fund such improvements can be a tough sell for lawmakers who might see DNR funding requests as just another state bureaucracy asking for more money, Schara says.
“But when you have a citizens’ organization, which is what we’ll be — or are — you get a different take, and the Legislature takes a more serious look,” he said.
Besides Schara, the MN-FISH Foundation’s board of directors features some familiar names in fishing circles, including John Peterson, founder of Bemidji-based Northland Fishing Tackle, vice president; Dave Osborne, CEO of Clam Corp., treasurer; and fishing promoter and Hall of Fame angler Chip Leer, secretary. Others on the executive board are Tom Mackin, Steve Pennaz, Babe Winkelman, Frankie Dusenka, Jeff Arnold, Dick Sternberg, Tom Neustrom, Craig Wilson and Jay Peterson.
During the upcoming Northwest Sportshow, MN-FISH is offering free, two-year charter memberships for individual adult and youth anglers. Club and benefactor memberships also are available.
Prizes, including lures from Minnesota companies Rapala, Clam Outdoors and Northland Fishing Tackle, will be given to everyone who signs up for a membership at the show, and there’ll be a chance to win the grand prize of a week’s stay at Trapper’s Landing Resort on Leech Lake.
“We’re going to try to assemble as many members as we can, and that’s why we offer free membership,” Schara said. “We want to get member contacts so when issues come up, we have the wherewithal to reach thousands of anglers to alert them to what might be going wrong or might be going right.”
MN-FISH developed a website, mn-fish.com, that went online last week. The executive board also plans to meet with DNR Fisheries officials and new DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen to let them know what MN-FISH is all about, Schara says.
The group won’t get involved in complex issues such as walleye management on Lake Mille Lacs, Schara says, but will take positions on stocking and invasive species work.
“The old saying, ‘We’re here to help,’ that’s true, but also to develop this pipeline of getting answers to questions that the average angler might have or we have,” Schara said. “The folks that work at DNR, the ones that I’ve met over the 50 years I’ve been involved, are very dedicated people, as a rule. But it’s a huge bureaucracy, and it’s tough sometimes to get answers. It’s tough to move the needle sometimes.
“There’s nothing new about that, but we hope to change some of that.”