Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



John Myers column: DNR plan to rework Minnesota fishing records gets it half right, half very wrong

New catch-and-release categories are great, but don’t short-shrift the state's historic records.

LeRoy Chiovitte state record walleye
In this photo taken in 1999, LeRoy Chiovitte is reflected in the glass case surrounding his Minnesota state-record walleye catch from 1979. Chiovitte died in 2019, but the record still stands 44 years later. The Minnesota DNR has a plan, however, to relegate all record fish caught before 1980 to a separate "historical" category and open up 12 old state records to newly-caught fish.
Josh Meltzer / 1999 file / Duluth News Tribune

If you haven’t heard about the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ plan to overhaul the state’s fishing record book, you aren’t alone.

The DNR has made little effort to publicize the plan: no press release and no media event by the commissioner. Heck, the annual reminder to get ice houses off melting lakes gets more DNR hoopla.

John Myers

Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes:

The Minnesota DNR’s Record Fish Program has been in place for nearly 100 years. The program recognizes two record categories: harvested (kept) fish based on weight and released fish based on length.

Sometime in 2022, the DNR unveiled a plan to add 18 new species to the state’s official list of “catch-and-release” big fish records. Joining muskie, flathead catfish, sturgeon and northern pike already on the list would be blue sucker, bowfin, channel catfish, freshwater drum, shovelnose sturgeon, tiger muskellunge, bigmouth buffalo, lake trout, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, smallmouth buffalo, brook trout, brown trout, longnose gar, sauger, shortnose gar and walleye.


The DNR plan is to phase in six new species annually over three years. The requirement that the fish be photographed, measured and witnessed before being released will remain in effect.

That’s the good part. The plan will encourage catch-and-release conservation of nearly all commonly-caught species in the state and allow more people to get their name, and favorite fish species, in the record books. If that's what they want.

Lawmakers must act to put a constitutional question on the 2024 election ballot or the trust fund expires.

But here’s where the DNR plan goes terribly astray. The agency also plans to set aside every “kept” fish record set prior to 1980, when the DNR began requiring record kept fish to be weighed on a DNR-certified scale. That’s 12 state fishing records, including walleye, northern pike, crappie, coho salmon, lake trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, bullhead, channel catfish, carp and flathead catfish.

Starting March 1, 2024, the DNR would toss the records into a separate “state historical record” category for the 12 species that have been some of Minnesota’s most famous record fish, and then begin installing new "certified" kept-fish records in their place as the official state records.

That part of the plan is pure hogwash.

It’s unclear how or why this idea came forward. Shannon Fisher, who is handling the proposal for the DNR, said the idea came not from the public or Legislature or DNR officials, but from a Minneapolis newspaper columnist.

Volunteers are needed in several counties to pick a lake and survey loons on one morning.
The EPA project has 300 swallow houses up around Duluth and Boulder Lake to study PFAS impacts.
Program aimed at kids who don't have access to bikes or live near trails.
Tuesday is World Turtle Day to draw attention to the plight of several species.
Lawmakers adjourn after making “historic” improvements for the environment and outdoor recreation.
The memorandum of understanding is the first of its kind.
The legislation faces slim chances in the Senate.
The new deal requires that any logging be based on “sound wildlife biology.”
Volunteers improve habitat in hopes sharp-tailed grouse will return.
With more than 4,000 towboat trips in some recent years, group suing to limit them to 1,342.

The DNR plan casts aspersions on the credibility of the 12 anglers who caught those record fish, assuming that the old records are somehow lesser, inaccurate or falsified. (The agency is putting too much stock in the old saying: "All fishermen are liars except you and me, and I’m not so sure about you.")

The DNR's brief explanation, if you can find it, claims that old records are “potentially questionable" due to the lack of documentation in some cases.


LeRoy Chiovitte and his 17 lb 8 ounce walleye
LeRoy Chiovitte holds the state-record walleye he caught May 13, 1979, and weighed on a scale that DNR staff inspected. The Minnesota DNR has a proposal to relegate Chiovitte's record, along with 11 other state record fish caught before 1980, to a "historical record" category and then open up those 12 species to new, official state kept-fish records. The DNR says documentation for the 12 species caught before 1980 is "potentially questionable."
Charles Curtis / 1979 file / Duluth News Tribune

But in some cases, there’s more than enough documentation.

Take LeRoy Chiovitte’s massive state record walleye. It was caught the second day of the 1979 walleye fishing season when the avid Hermantown angler, who died in 2019 at age 82, was fishing with Lorin and Todd Palmer, of Cloquet, on the Seagull River, which flows into Saganaga Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail.

That was a cold spring and the walleyes were still spawning, meaning many big females were still heavy with eggs. And they were biting like crazy. The Chiovette group and others were catching lots of big walleyes. But none as big as the one LeRoy caught that Sunday.

LeRoy Chiovitte’s fish will be permanently displayed at the Chik-Wauk Museum on Saganaga Lake.

Chiovitte’s walleye was weighed on an accurate scale at End of the Trail Lodge with multiple witnesses who saw the scale hit 17 pounds, 10 ounces before stopping. But the DNR later found the scale was 2 ounces off perfect at that weight, so they revised the new record to 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Then they gave Chiovitte a certificate signed by the DNR commissioner. (The fish is now on display at the Chik-Wauk Museum at the end of the Gunflint Trail, not far from where it was caught.)

State record fish certificate
The Minnesota DNR gave LeRoy Chiovitte a certificate authenticating his state record walleye in 1979.
Steve Kuchera / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribne

Yes, you can argue by today’s standards that the river should have been closed to fishing (as it is now) to protect the spawning fish, but it wasn’t. And you could argue that everyone fishing should have been releasing those big fish, but that wasn’t the norm back then.

But not "DNR certified?" Relegate the state’s most famous record fish to a lesser, "historical" category because it was caught a year too soon?

Give me a break.

Instead of throwing out all 12 historic records the DNR should instead put the burden of proof on the doubters. If someone can prove a record fish wasn’t really a record, come forward and make the case. Until then, the 12 old kept-fish records should continue to stand right along those that were set since 1980.


The Voyageurs Wolf Project finds that wolves catch and eat spawning suckers every spring.
Send us your big fish photos by email to outdoors@duluthnews.com.
Send us your big fish photos by email to outdoors@duluthnews.com.
Never Surrender and Courage Kenny teamed up to get ALS patients on the water during the Island Lake tournament.
Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation allowing two lines during open water season on Minnesota River downstream of the Granite Falls dam to Pool 2 in the Mississippi River.
Durham, 46, of Park Rapids, Minnesota, just wrapped up his 22nd year as a kindergarten teacher in his hometown of Nevis, Minnesota. This is his 32nd year of guiding.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
A typical tour will begin at 7 a.m., Laurin says, usually departing from a resort on the Northwest Angle mainland or from Flag or Oak islands; full- and half-day trips are available.
Walleyes are hitting jigs with minnows or worms on the St. Louis River Estuary, but try crankbaits, too.
Residents and nonresidents are invited to try something new outdoors.
Area off-roading parks are perfect for any thrillseeker looking to kick up some dirt and get muddy.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report for the week of May 30, 2023.

The DNR apparently has notified some fishing groups of the proposed changes, although it’s unclear which groups — and realize only a tiny fraction of Minnesota anglers belong to any organized group. Despite their lack of public outreach so far, the agency claims to want the public’s feedback on the proposal. So let’s give it to them.

Should the DNR expand the state’s catch-and-release record program and add 18 new species? Absolutely.

Should the DNR relegate 12 of the state’s kept-fish records to a lesser “historic” category to make way for newly "certified" caught fish? Absolutely not. Minnesota doesn’t need two tiers of kept-fish records. Those old records don’t deserve an asterisk.

That’s my feedback. Send yours to Shannon Fisher at shannon.fisher@state.mn.us .

You can find out more about the DNR Record Fish Program (but not about the plan to change it) at dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/staterecords.html .

more by john myers
It was the third-driest May in 151 years of records at the National Weather Service in Duluth.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
What To Read Next
Get Local