Despite state warning, anglers fish without license

MPR File Photo

As news broke in St. Paul today around a potential end to the government shutdown stalemate, anglers enjoyed a day on Lake Bemidji, and some were fishing without a license.

The state Department of Natural Resources made clear Wednesday that its officers would not cut anglers any slack for not having a valid fishing license, even though the shutdown made it impossible to buy one.

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But out-of-state visitors I spoke with at a public boat landing on Lake Bemidji are determined to fish -- with or without a license.

"I'd hoped that the shutdown would have been over so I could have purchased my license online before I came here for vacation," said one man, from Madison, Wis.

The man didn't want to give his name because he knew he was breaking the law by fishing without a license.

"I guess I'll take my chances," he said. "I came 500 miles to get here, so I'll get the license as soon as they're able to sell me one. For now, I'll go ahead and fish."

I talked to other groups of anglers -- from Iowa and Indiana -- who said they had their licenses, but would have fished without one if they had to.

It's still unclear just how hard local DNR officers are working to check for valid fishing licenses. With the department's statewide staffing levels down to just over 200 because of the shutdown, the officers are likely stretched pretty thin.

None of the folks I talked with had run into DNR conservation officers on Lake Bemidji or any of the other lakes they'd visited this week.

One Ely-based outfitter told MPR News this morning that he hadn't run across anyone who'd been tagged for fishing without a license. Earlier this week, the Crow Wing county attorney said his office had not seen any license violation citations referred by the conservation officers since the shutdown began July 1.

Perhaps the conservation officers have their hands full without worrying about whether a family from Iowa purchases a fishing license. They've been charged with keeping an eye on Minnesota's shuttered state parks and are doing their best to make sure boaters are checking their boats for invasive species.

One Bemidji area conservation officer told me he's been running ragged since the start of the shutdown. Like everyone else, he is anxious for leaders in St. Paul to solve the two-week old budget impasse.