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A passion for the outdoors

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WINDOM -- Ryan Doorenbos had never been to Windom before he started as the fishery specialist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Hailing from LeMars, Iowa, Doorenbos was working with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in 1999, but he knew that his heart was set on being back in the Midwest.

"It was like the minute I got there, I started looking for jobs back here," he joked from his office at the Windom Area Office of Fisheries, where he now works as the area supervisor.

Doorenbos remembers most of his childhood time being spent outdoors fishing.

"I spent a lot of time fishing at a local sand pit," he said. "It was just me and a buddy."

On Sundays, he and his dad would enjoy their time fishing for catfish on the Sioux River.

"My dad has always been a proponent of 'you have to follow what you like to do," he added. "I remember him saying that if I got paid to fish, I'd have it made."

As an undergraduate at Luther College, Doorenbos majored in biology -- a seemingly a natural fit for him especially in his family.

"My dad is a doctor. My oldest sister is a doctor, my second older sister is a pediatrician and my younger sister is a physician assistant," he explained. "So I was the black sheep when I went into fisheries."

After graduation, he interned with the Iowa DNR at a management office on the Mississippi River. As an intern, he admitted that his responsibilities were a "grunt job" that involved cleaning. Despite the nature of his internship, Doorenbos got to observe the operations at the hatcheries and management offices.

"After that, I was a baker for Bruegger's Bagels as I was looking for lab or science-related job," he detailed. "I never found any, so I applied for grad school to get a master's in fisheries. As I was working for the Iowa DNR, it was obvious that if I wanted a full-time position, I would need an advanced degree."

With that goal in mind, he graduated from South Dakota State University with a master's degree in wildlife and fishery.

When Doorenbos started working as the fishing specialist, his job responsibilities changed with the seasons.

Spring and fall seasons are dubbed the "walleye harvest" seasons. The DNR stocks rearing ponds with high densities of walleye fry to breed the much-sought-after species. During these two seasons, walleye fingerlings are captured and transferred to area managed lakes.

"In the summer, I'd spend my weeks with a crew member netting lakes," he continued. "I'd take information on number of fish, water quality, and documenting habitat pollution and/or enhancements that could be made."

All the information collected would be used to reflect what the fish community was on each lake.

"We stock fishes and, depending on how and when we do it, certain fish communities respond better to certain stocking regimes," he detailed, adding that it was his duty to determine what stocking methods worked best for each fish species.

Office time begins with the frigid winters.

"That's the time we start crunching numbers from what we've collected all summer long," he detailed. "We have to make reports on each lake that we put online."

Winter is also when the fishery staff members analyze reports and evaluate practices that could be adjusted to achieve management goals.

"Essentially, we try to come up with recipes for each lake," he added.

Being a fishery specialist was a job Doorenbos highly enjoyed and remained with for 10 years.

Two years ago, he was promoted to area supervisor -- a position with new territory.

"I'm more responsible for administrative duties and responding to public information," Doorenbos said. "I can't spend as much time on the lake, but every opportunity I'm needed, I jump at it."

While he may not be outdoors as much as he'd like, Doorenbos explained how he still enjoys work.

"I don't wake up every morning, thinking, 'Oh boy, here we go again,'" he added. "I love my job.

The Windom Area Office of Fisheries manages lakes in 10 counties.

"Ironically, when I was a specialist, we had seven or eight people in the office," Doorenbos said. "We are now an office of four."

The downsizing in office staff has largely been caused by state budget cuts.

"A fishery area office in Minnesota is considered full staff at five," he added.

Doorenbos noted that the fifth staff position is unlikely to be filled until there is a license fee increase for hunting and fishing.

"The work we do is funded by the Minnesota Game and Fish Fund, which is projected to be in the red by July 2013," he explained. "There is urgency for license increase. This is why we have to encourage our supporters to contact their legislators to express their support."


When he's not working, Doorenbos spends most of his time with family.

He married his high school sweetheart, Kelli, after she graduated from college. The couple has twin boys, Sam and Austin, 9, and a 6-year-old daughter, Mackenzie.

Moving to a town without knowing anyone was an easy adjustment thanks to community involvement.

"Kelli was a teacher and she coached some volleyball," he said, adding that his wife currently teaches second grade at Winfair Elementary. "We met some people through coaching and work. We found a group of friends that we could do things together."

Naturally, Doorenbos still enjoys fishing as a recreation with his family.

"My insider training knowing where the fish are will dictate which lake we go to," he joked.

As a parent of young children, he tries to be involved with activities his kids enjoy.

Doorenbos is the assistant coach for a third-grade football league. In the winter, he helps with basketball coaching.

"My boys are huge into baseball so we try to go to a few Twins games every year," he added.

Why Windom?

Doorenbos explained that although many enthusiasts are more enamored with fisheries in the north, he enjoys what southern Minnesota has to offer.

"A lot of times in the past, Windom was a revolving door for people to get trained. The first opportunity they had to move further north, they jumped at it because of the fisheries they have up north," Doorenbos explained. "For me, being from northwest Iowa, this is home."

He continued to explain how the resources for fishing are "dramatically different" in southern part of the state than the north.

"We're in the Prairie Pothole Region, where we have little depressions when the glacier receded. The divots in the landscape are our lakes," he detailed. "We have shallow lakes but highly productive because of the geologic scenario and agricultural practices that the lakes are in."

While shallow lakes create the perfect conditions for winterkill, Doorenbos stressed that winterkills are not as prevalent as years ago.

"Most of our lakes have aeration systems in place to create a refuge for the fish," he added. "But in the past five to ten years, we haven't seen large-scale fish kills that eliminate most of the fish communities. Total scale winterkills are a thing of the past now."

For Doorenbos, Windom is a great fit for him and his family. People in the Midwest are the best, he added.

"I like the benefits of a small town because of what I like to do for recreation -- fishing and hunting," he continued. "I know I can get off work and be hunting in 15 minutes. I don't have to make it a half-a-day event. Southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa is dominated with agriculture, and that's a surrounding I'm comfortable with."

As for his work with the Minnesota DNR, Doorenbos admitted that he does not foresee himself moving up the hierarchy of positions, thereby limiting his outdoor accessibility. His goal is to remain at his present job as area supervisor, but to hone skills that would enhance resources for anglers in Minnesota.