Some North Shore anglers are wondering whether they can continue to use a form of home-packaged bait to fish for kamloops rainbow trout and steelhead.
Recent comments by Duluth-area Conservation Officer Kipp Duncan on KDAL-AM radio have raised questions about the legal use of spawn bags. The topic was also discussed in a recent newsletter of the Western Lake Superior Trolling Association.
Spawn bags are small mesh bags of trout spawn, about the size of a marble. Many anglers tie their own spawn bags, but some anglers buy them from bait shops.
Fish feed naturally on spawn that drifts downstream in rivers, and anglers have used spawn bags for decades to fish for steelhead and Kamloops rainbows.
Ken Soring, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regional enforcement supervisor at Grand Rapids, clarified the issue in a telephone interview Monday morning.
Were not going to blindside any of our anglers, he said. People dont have the opportunity to be in compliance because they dont realize its illegal. Our officers are going to use discretion and common sense.
Soring said the enforcement division may pursue changing the law to make an exemption for using spawn bags as bait. But any changes would also have to be considered in light of the threat of VHS, a disease found in other Great Lakes that can cause fish die-offs, he said.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Duncan explained state law makes it technically illegal for anglers to use spawn bags they tie themselves. It is legal to use spawn bags purchased from bait shops, he said.
Here, in simplified form, is why spawn is illegal to use, Duncan said: Minnesota law prevents anglers from using gamefish as bait in fishing. A rainbow trout is a gamefish. Another law says that any part of a wild animal is considered a wild animal. Still another measure defines a fish as a wild animal.
Therefore, Duncan said, spawn would be defined as part of a gamefish and could not be used legally for bait when prepared by the angler.
The laws prohibiting use of home-tied spawn bags for bait have never been enforced on the North Shore. The pertinent question is whether conservation officers will enforce the laws this spring.
Ive had that question asked of me on the shore, too, Duncan said. I say, heres the answer. We didnt write these laws. We just have to go enforce them. But we have officer discretion.
The North Shore steelhead and Kamloops rainbow trout spawning run is in its early stages. Duncan said he has not written any tickets for anglers using home-tied spawn bags this spring. He knows of no other conservation officers who have written tickets for that practice.