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Think About It

The ice fishing season is just getting started in Nebraska; in fact some waters are NOT safe yet, but without a doubt anglers are hitting the ice where they can throughout the state.  I love to ice fish as much or more as the next guy and there are lots of reasons for that.  I absolutely understand that some fried fish are definitely part of the ice-fishing experience, and may it always be so!  Fresh fish caught from local waters are sustainable, nutritious, healthy, and downright tasty!

So, before you get upset with what I am about to say, do not call me some “bunny-hugging, vegan, snowflake”.  I ain’t.

However, angler attitudes have changed A LOT over the past twenty-some years, and some ice anglers need to figure that out.  It ain’t about filling the freezer, and if you are still whacking panfish through the ice like there is no tomorrow, you are hurting our fisheries and some of us are tired of it.

Can’t be a whole lot more blunt than that, can I?

Some will argue that “those panfish populations need to be thinned”, BALONEY.  Anglers do not thin panfish populations appropriately because they harvest panfish from the “top” down.  They take the largest panfish first and then they start harvesting the next largest, working their way down until the only bluegills, crappies or perch that are left are those that are “too small to keep”.  Then, many of them will complain that the panfish are “stunted” when in fact the anglers themselves removed the biggest, and fastest-growing fish.  If you think you are helping control panfish populations to keep them from over-populating and stunting, then you need to be harvesting small, young panfish, panfish that are less than a couple years old.  Anglers do not do that, they do not harvest from the “bottom” up–predator fish do that.

Don’t complain about the next guy harvesting panfish that are “too small”, because those sizes are almost always most abundant in a population and can withstand the harvest.  You bet, take some small- to medium-size panfish home for a meal of fresh fish, as long as you can legally harvest those fish.  Turn the big ones loose.  This video explains selective harvest of panfish as well as any I have seen:


Do it.

“But, we are only taking our legal limit”, and that may be true.  It may be legal, it may be allowed, but should you?  Especially when you go back day after day and take your limit every time?  More than once we have seen hot panfish bites on Nebraska ice, word gets out, crowds show up, limits are taken day after day, and in a matter of weeks those fish are gone.  Then, everyone waits around until their smart phone rings or the interwebs trumpet the next hot bite.  Is it OK that fisheries are over-fished to the point where fish are not able to reach the sizes they are capable of reaching?  Is it OK that fisheries go through “boom and bust” cycles because they get fished down when the fishing is good and then it takes years for them to recover?

I have said this before, will say it again here:  We have fisheries in Nebraska that have tremendous potential, but we never realize some of that potential because of the “catch-all-you-can-and-can-all-you-catch” crowd.  Is that OK?  Afterall, they are only harvesting their limit.  Are we in the business of feeding people or are we in the business of providing recreational fishing opportunities, the business of providing adventure opportunities?

One more thing before I end my rant. . . .

No, I really do not want to see your pictures of a pile of fish laying on the ice, or piled up on the cleaning table, frying in grease or piled on a plate.  See what I said at the beginning of this blog post, angler attitudes have changed!  Most of us would much rather see a photo of a big fish being held out of the water for a quick photo before it is released.  When I see that I know that fish is still swimming and I have a chance to catch it!  When I see a pile of fish on the ice, what do I see?  A bunch of nice fish that were removed from a fishery and neither I nor any other angler is ever going to have a chance to catch them.  “Wow, good for you!  Thanks for doing that.”

Now if you are still reading, I may have ruffled your feathers.  Do not complain about me sharing my opinions, that is what this interwebby thing is good for, in fact it is the best exercise of free speech ever invented!  No, if I ruffled some feathers, that is a good thing because that is the kind of thing that makes us think; something we all need to do once in awhile, like when we are sitting on a bucket on the ice. . . .

Be safe, have a great ice season, turn the big ones loose, and dry one off for me!


About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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