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Commission might make muskies a true trophy fish in South Dakota

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks. (Republic file photo)

PIERRE—Muskellunge rank as one of the largest and trickiest species of game fish to catch in South Dakota. Now the state Game, Fish & Parks Commission is pondering whether to make anglers who catch muskies to put all of them back in the water.

The commissioners rejected a petition Thursday from Taylor Anderson, of Groton. He asked the commission to increase the minimum to 50 inches for keeping muskies and tiger muskies.

The rule currently is 40 inches. Anderson argued that length is too small to be a true trophy, at least as muskies go.

But the commissioners instead seemed willing to give Anderson what he really wanted. They proposed a new rule: Nobody could ever keep a muskie again in South Dakota.

The big fish would be designated as catch-and-release only.

A public hearing on whether the big fish should be designated as catch-and-release only is Thursday, March 1, at 2 p.m. when the commission meets again in Pierre.

"I would love to see it catch and release. If it was up to me, it would be catch and release," Anderson said.

He primarily fishes Linn Lake east of Groton for muskies. He said Minnesota has a 54-inch minimum.

Wildlife Division director Tony Leif said the 2018 fishing regulations have been published and the minimum was 40 inches.

He said a rule change would be generally "unenforceable" this year.

"We do believe this is something that requires an evaluation," Leif said.

John Lott, the division's aquatics chief, said his office actively manages five lakes in eastern South Dakota for muskies. Stocking occurs every two years.

Lott said those waters hold "substantial" numbers of fish between 40 and 50 inches. "I don't know if we have any documented natural reproduction, or not, of those fish," he said.

Commissioner Gary Jensen, of Rapid City, led the way. He asked the commission to adopt Anderson's petition but next asked whether Anderson preferred catch and release.

Anderson said he would. So Jensen changed plans. He offered the catch-and-release proposal. Commissioner Russ Olson, of Wentworth, backed Jensen throughout.

Anderson suddenly was on the way to a what probably winds up a win.

"I think we're seeing support for either fifty, or catch and release," commissioner Doug Sharp, of Watertown, said.

"I don't think he (Anderson) should feel nervous leaving town," Sharp added. "Either way we do it, I think we're on the right path."