GUEST EDITORIAL: Take a bigger view of what's underwater
I will soon be out fishing, not in the office thinking about fishing. The sun will descend toward the horizon creating a masterpiece that needs no photo filter or alteration.
Then I'll feel that pull.
Part of my success will stem not only from skill, luck or some combination of the two, but believe it or not, from knowledge shaped by watching an electronic screen.
I use an electronic fish finder on my boat. Before you get worked up, this isn't about electronics. You don't need them to catch fish and these gizmos are absent from some of my fondest fishing memories.
What a fish finder does give you is a sense of what's under the water. You learn to interpret what's on the screens to see gravel, rock piles, mudflats, drop-offs, individual rocks, where the plants get thick and where the feeder fish are congregating. As an angler, you realize how much your chances of catching fish are tied to the underwater environment and even factors like water temperature, time of year and noise.
At the Department of Natural Resources, fisheries biologists can talk plenty about fish habitat, and one of the key things they talk about is how much what happens on land changes what happens underwater.
Think about that great walleye spawning habitat we love in some of our larger lakes up north — places like Leech Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, Rainy Lake, Upper Red or Vermilion. The forests surrounding some of those lakes actually play a big role in keeping runoff and silt from flowing into the lakes and covering the gravel or other areas where many fish spawn, including walleye.
Then there are the nutrients from runoff that can lead to algae blooms. And declines in water quality in general can change where plants grow and how species interact with each other.
Rivers, too, are some of the most important resources for fish. The DNR and partners work to stabilize stream channels when possible or replace culverts that are the wrong size. Agriculture of course has a big role to play and the DNR works with organizations and landowners who want to use agricultural practices that can, in the end, make fishing better.
What can the ordinary angler do? We can't directly add fish habitat and most don't own farmland. Well, keep fishing, just for starters, and take someone fishing with you. There's no substitute for time spent on the water. When you're out fishing, remember to take a big view of what's below. And when it comes time to speak up for clean water and fish habitat, do so.
Your fishing depends on it.
Kurre is a mentoring program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.