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Woodland Trails: Panfish limit cut by DNR

I remember when I was a kid going fishing with family and catching lots of fish. I don't mean lots of fish. I mean LOTS of fish! Most of the people I know tell me the same stories. Lakes full of fish, and getting a limit was always as easy as 1-2-3! Crappies, sunfish, bass, pike -- it just never mattered because it seemed like everyone was doing it.

We all thought that there would be no end to the supply of fish, that the lakes we fished would just continue to produce every year. That was then, and this is now. That "now" -- according to local DNR headquarters, and concerns raised by anglers -- has cut the daily bag limit for panfish in St. Croix County from 25 fish to 10.

I really noticed a difference in the numbers of fish being caught through the ice this winter and the number of people plying local water in search for fish. Fish catches were down and angler numbers are up. So let it be known that as of April 1 many lakes will have reduced bag limits, and the reduced limits apply to all inland waters of St. Croix County.

Let's look at Cedar Lake first. Cedar lies in both St. Croix and Polk counties, and it will be included in the bag limit reduction. I fished Cedar this winter, and we had some good days and many not so good days. Everyone on the lake this winter saw lots of fish on underwater cameras, and there were several anglers that kept limits day after day when they figured them out.

The main St. Croix County lakes that really get hit hard are Squaw Lake and Bass Lake. This winter I fished each lake a couple times and never had very good luck on either lake. But history tells me that Squaw Lake gets tremendous fishing pressure, so much that it was given a 10-fish limit a few years ago. It is a smaller lake that has required aeration in winter to keep it from periodic winter kills.

Bass Lake is a deep, clear lake that also gets a lot of fishing pressure, but ice fishing pressure has been down in recent years because of its reputation as the Dead Sea. In years past, there were large cities of ice shanties all over the north end of the lake. But over the past few years, those cities have dwindled to the point that you only see a few on the lake anymore. I guess I am not surprised by the cutting of limits there. But summer pressure on Bass Lake is great!

The main problem is that there are just not many lakes in St. Croix County so the few we have get hit hard. The other side of that coin is there are way too many people living in these two counties who like to fish. Add to that recipe electronic fish locators, better fishing equipment and more leisure hours and you can understand the problems involved and the devastation it would have on fish populations. From 25 to 10 tells it all. But who out there remembers when the limits dropped from 50 to 25? We should have paid more heed back then!

Panfish include bluegill, sunfish, crappie and yellow perch. There is no minimum length limit in St. Croix County. The daily bag limit was reduced to 10 in order to maintain or increase the density of moderate-sized to large adult panfish. In a few lakes with low panfish densities, DNR biologists hope to see improved spawning success because success can vary from year to year with conditions. Reduced bag limits have been successful on test lakes in Minnesota.

St. Croix County is one of the fastest growing counties in the Midwest. There are only 18 panfish lakes, compared to over a 1,000 in many of the northern Wisconsin counties. Most of these local lakes are small, less than 150 acres, with just three larger than 250 acres. I've sat in Spring Conservation Congress hearings and I have heard people express concern about overly large harvests and the diminished size of fish in many of these waters including Squaw, Pine, Bass, Dry Dam, Hatfield and Bierbuaer lakes. Regulations on the Wisconsin-Minnesota boundary waters -- Lake St. Croix and the St. Croix River -- remain unchanged.

Many people saw this coming years ago. They warned us, but not many listened including me. I'm listening now. All of our resources have limitations. It all started when the first angler put a boat on a trailer and dropped that boat into a lake so many miles away. Gas outboards, electric trolling motors and cabins all around every inch of shoreline have just put too much pressure on the lakes.

Today we are putting too much pressure on the lakes themselves, and it's showing up in the quality of the water. Jet-Skis are running over spawn beds, too much lawn care is polluting water, there are no buffer zones as cabin owners mow right to the lake edge, people cutting lake weeds to create swimming areas, and that is taking away needed habitat for young fish. Boats with unnecessarily huge outboards and inboards are taking their toll on the entire resource. On the one hand we are drawn to water to recreate. On the other hand we are destroying that which we love most. Where do we draw our own lines?