GRAND FORKS, N.D. — There was quite an uproar on social media early this past week when the city of Baudette, Minn., and neighboring Koochiching County in northern Minnesota voted to close the boat ramps they own on the Rainy River until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lake of the Woods County doesn’t own any boat ramps on the Rainy, but members of its county board approved restricting rights-of-way to the accesses within the county.
County officials will revisit the closures on Tuesday, April 14.
Not surprisingly, the reactions to these moves on social media ranged from rational to ridiculous, the latter being along the lines of, “How dare the government deprive me of my right to put my boat in the water? Let’s see them try to stop me.”
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep our family, friends, neighbors and ourselves safe. In that context, whining over not being able to catch a walleye is nothing short of selfish and short-sighted.
That’s not fear-mongering, that’s common sense.
These are unprecedented times.
The move to close the boat ramps was made to discourage the annual spring influx of anglers who flock to the Rainy River in droves for a shot at a trophy walleye as prespawn fish swim up the border river from Lake of the Woods.
The spring walleye season runs through April 14, but the crowds that converge for spring sturgeon fishing on the river can be just as substantial.
When fishing’s good, it’s not uncommon to see vehicle-boat trailer rigs lined up for more than a mile on the roads and highways leading to the access points. The word “zoo” comes to mind, and inevitably, that many people at some point come within 6 feet of each other, whether at the boat ramp, at gas stations or wherever they stay.
Much has been made about the benefits of getting outside during this strange time we’re in, and I agree. But it needs to be done within the social-distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to reduce the potential for catching or transmitting the virus, since many people who carry the virus show no symptoms at all.
In fishing terms, Terry Steinwand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, might have said it best in a news release encouraging anglers to follow the 6-foot rule, whether fishing from shore, in a boat or on the ice:
If you can reach out with a fishing rod and touch the person fishing next to you, you’re too close.
Traveling from all over the state and region to the border country is not worth the potential health risk. Especially now, when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has issued an emergency order in effect until at least April 10, stating that “all persons currently living within the state of Minnesota are ordered to stay at home or in their place of residence” except for essential work or to restock supplies.
There was a time I lived for spring fishing on the Rainy River. For several years, it was an event not to be missed. Hit it right in terms of weather and river conditions, and the fishing can be spectacular.
These days, though, I find the idea of big crowds and long lines at boat ramps less appealing, and so I stay home. I haven’t fished the border river in the spring for the past five years, and I haven’t felt I’m missing out on anything.
Regardless of how people might feel about the ethics of targeting prespawn walleyes when they're especially vulnerable, closing the boat ramps this spring isn’t an anti-fishing move; it’s an effort to thwart the spread of a potentially deadly virus.
That’s no joking matter.
“People have to understand, it’s not that we don’t want them here,” Lake of the Woods County commissioner Jon Waibel said Tuesday. “We just don’t want an influx here now.”
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