Muskie-walleye war spills into Minnesota Capitol

The Pioneer Press’ Dave Orrick describes the environment in which anti-Muskie bills have been thrown into the bin at the Capitol as a “civil war” with walleye fans firing the latest salvo.

They think muskies destroy the walleye population so the bills would give counties veto power over lakes where the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stocks muskies and puts a moratorium on plans to expand lakes with muskie.

It also bans muskie stocking in Otter Tail County, where anglers have pulled record-sized muskie in recent years.

You think this is about fish? It is. It’s also about something politicians tend to ignore: science.

State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, the chief sponsor of the bill, suggested the science isn’t set on the question. “It goes back and forth with the science as to what they do to (other) game fish,” he said.

That’s a stretch. Researchers in Minnesota and Wisconsin have not found walleye populations suffer from muskie stockings. In fact, studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found that on some types of lakes, walleyes might benefit. Wisconsin researchers have found it’s possible to overstock muskies, with stocking far more aggressive than what Minnesota does, but the victims weren’t other fish; it was simply that the muskies didn’t grow well.

Like so many other aspects of our lives anymore, this is less about fish and more about the type people who fish.

In broad strokes, a typical Minnesota walleye angler is anyone with a bucket of bait, a rod and a motorboat. It’s the state fish and the state’s most sought-after fish — and a fish-fry dinner is often part of the goal.

typical muskie angler has several rods and an arsenal of pricey lures and is best served aboard the deck of a high-performance fishing boat that costs in excess of $20,000 — and he wouldn’t dream of killing one.

If the walleye is the lunch pail of Minnesota waters, the muskie is dinner out (without the eating).

Ingebrigtsen said he’s working for the lunch-pail crowd, who might be less organized but easily outnumbers the dinner-out crowd.

“Really and truly, the state fish is what everyone goes up to the cabin to catch,” he said. “Way more people want walleye than muskie, simple as that. And the muskie guys, they’re not going to lose opportunities. There are plenty of places for them to fish.”

In that environment, civil war was the right phrase.

A public hearing is being held at the Capitol Monday night.