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Should Minnesota allow 2 fishing rods per angler?

Anglers in Minnesota are allowed only one line on open water, while those in neighboring states can fish with two. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

Two fishing rods per angler, or one?

It’s a perennial question in Minnesota, and one that might spark heated disagreement in the otherwise-friendly confines of a boat.

And it’s back — even with a partisan flavor.

On Tuesday, April 23, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to allow anglers to use two lines while fishing, while the Democratic-controlled House seems unlikely to agree.

Today, you can use two lines while ice fishing, but only one when fishing on open water inside the state. Two lines are allowed on border waters, such as the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, and in all the states that border Minnesota — Wisconsin, Iowa and North and South Dakota.

But Minnesota has remained stubbornly a one-pole state for years. Which raises the first question: Why?

Why one pole?

There are two primary arguments behind only allowing one rod per angler in Minnesota.

  • Fish can unintentionally be harmed or killed with two lines. The idea is that people can’t tend both poles at once, and with two poles with live bait, the odds will increase that a fish will swallow the bait, and the hooks.
  • People will catch too many fish. For years, the Department of Natural Resources has cautioned that if more rods are allowed, more fish will be caught and killed, and the only way to protect fish will be to lower limits.
Why two poles?

There are two primary arguments by those pushing for two lines per angler to be allowed.

  • Let us fish. This is basically a libertarian argument that says Minnesota’s one-line rule is a needless restriction. “Plenty of other states do it,” said state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who chairs the Senate environment committee.
  • It’s more effective, fun and traditional. Here are some examples: Walleye anglers double-fisting it, jigging a rod in each hand over a bar, are more likely get action and fill the cooler. Musky anglers can cast large lures toward structures for active fish, while dragging a sucker beneath a bobber for less-active fish. Bank fishermen can cast two lines into a river, set each rod on a forked stick and enjoy a beverage while they wait for a fish — whatever it may be — to pick up their bait from the bottom.
What's the proposal?

The proposal this year isn’t to universally allow two lines everywhere for all anglers.

It would be optional. An angler, resident or nonresident, could pay an extra $5 to buy the privilege.

“That’s an enforcement nightmare,” said Bob Meier, policy and government relations director for the DNR. Today, Meier said, an angler with two lines in the water — which can easily be spotted from a distance — is pretty much an automatic violation. But if the change were adopted, he said, conservation officers might feel compelled to check anglers they wouldn’t otherwise check.

The proposal would not allow more than one line to be used on the scores of lakes with special regulations, which would include major destinations like Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods.

Is it really partisan?

To be clear, most lawmakers don’t have strong opinions on what is often referred to as “the bobber bill.”

Nonetheless, over the years, it’s tended to break with Republicans more likely to support, and Democrats more likely to oppose. This year, it’s contained in a much larger bill that includes environmental policy and appropriations, as well as game and fish laws.

The Republican-controlled Senate included the two-line measure in its version. It appears unlikely the Democratic-House will include it in its version. Whether it makes it into a final version that reaches the desk of Gov. Tim Walz remains to be seen.