Scott Rall: The rules of human nature

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist There are days when I wake up that I feel really old. There are other days that I feel a lot younger. At the age of 55 I think I have learned just a few things about life, and one of those is my three rul...


Daily Globe outdoors columnist

There are days when I wake up that I feel really old.  There are other days that I feel a lot younger.  

At the age of 55 I think I have learned just a few things about life, and one of those is my three rules of human nature.  Unless you are a robot every human has what I call bouts of human nature.  

First, the three rules of human nature. I came up with these on my own.  I did not read them in a book. The first rule is that you often want what you know you cannot or most likely will never have.  The next rule is that you want more of what it is you already have, and the third is that in the absence of good information the human will almost always assume the worst possible outcome.


Who does not want to win the lottery or have some expensive something that they know is out of their reach?

Some guys want to be dating Jennifer Aniston. What are the odds of that happening.

This is an example of wanting what you can't have. When I go pheasant hunting, all I want is to see a rooster.  When there is a rooster in my bag, human nature whispers in my ear and tells me to want a second one.

This qualifies as rule number two, wanting more of what I already have.  For most hunters, but not all,  when a limit is reached human nature is happy.

There is not a parent alive who has not gotten a call in the middle of the night (the current condition at that moment is the absence of good information) from a child and immediately thought something horrible has just happened only to find out the car died and the kid just needed a ride.

No big tragedy. We assume the worst even when conditions don't warrant it.

The outdoor connection to this story is rule number two: Wanting more of what you already have.

There is talk circulating around the state about reducing the walleye limit. With certain exceptions for certain lakes, the walleye limit is currently six fish per day with six fish in possession.  What this means is that if you catch six fish today, you have to eat those fish before you can go fishing again.


I think this hardly ever happens.  A six-fish possession limit, for the most part, is almost unenforceable. It takes a search warrant for a conservation officer to come and check your freezer to count your possession limit and this is just about as stupid as anything I have ever heard of.  If you get caught with 20 fish over your limit, the CO should load you up in his car and take you home and have you open the freezer door for him, no warrant needed.

The overall state of the fishery in Minnesota, for the most part, does not indicate a need for a reduction in the walleye limit.  There are several reasons for this.  

First off, most anglers never catch a limit of six walleyes. The average angler catches numbers short of a limit and more often than you think, no fish at all.  If the average angler catches two walleyes per outing, lowering the limit from six to four would have no effect on harvest rates in that situation. Yet other lakes have such good natural reproduction, or successful stocking programs, anglers catching and killing up to six walleyes per outing does not adversely affect the overall walleye population.

On other lakes, the fishing pressure is so great that the limits are very low, maybe one or two fish per person per day and then there are restrictive slot limits that require only fish of a certain size may be kept. There is one lake in Minnesota where the walleye limit is currently zero fish per day.

So if most lakes are doing pretty good, then why would anyone consider lowering the limit? The answer lies in the new technology of fishing today.  There are GPS systems that can guide anglers to a spot five miles from shore and pinpoint a rock hump within inches.  Fish finders and high-tech trolling motors follow underwater lake contours and make catching fish easier and much more successful.

With the extreme pressure being put on some of our lakes today, should there be a preemptive change to ensure our walleye populations stay in a high quality condition?  

My answer to this question is yes, but not for any of the reasons mentioned earlier.  In southwest Minnesota we have lakes that are either red-hot or completely dead. I know a guy who trolled in Lake Okabena one year for 75 hours and never caught a fish. A few weeks later he limited out as did 35 other boats in about an hour each.  

When a shallow prairie lake gets a red-hot bite it can explode. With cell phones and social media, the news travels so fast that there is often as many as 50 or more boats that can converge on any one lake all at the same time the very next day.


When this happens, many hundreds of walleyes can be removed from a small lake in only a few weeks time. This is where rule number two kicks in high gear.  

Some fishermen who have caught a few fish just want a few more, and in some cases, many many more. Boats can go back to a lake day after day for two weeks or until the bite subsides.  

I have heard stories where one non-local family took more than 125 fish from Round Lake over the long Memorial day weekend about a decade ago. I don't think there is a very large number of these fishermen, but they do exist. If the limit was reduced to four fish per day it would limit the harvest on our prairie lakes by 33 percent when a lake is on a really hot bite.

It won’t keep some anglers from going back over and over but it will curtail the number of fish they keep if they do choose to do so. Some boats will fill a limit, go home and then return that same day to do it again.

It takes about three years for a walleye to grow to a keeper size. When a lake is fished down, as some lakes in southwest Minnesota have been, there might not be another decent bite on that lake for several years.

With a smaller limit the harvest would get spread out a little more and our area lakes might not be quite as boom or bust as they have been known to be over the past 30 years.

Pheasant hunting, on the other hand, is different.  Hunters can harvest 70 percent of the roosters one fall with no measurable difference in the pheasant populations the following season. It does not take three years to recover those birds. It only takes one nesting season with decent weather.

Walleye lakes, on the other hand, take far more time to replace those members of the population that are removed due to angler harvest.

 Limit reductions are nothing new.  Other states have been working their way to smaller limits for the past 10 years or more.  In Iowa, there used to be no limit on panfish.  Managers thought that panfish could reproduce at rates high enough to allow for unlimited harvest.  They learned better and now panfish have limits across the Midwest of 10-15 per day and in some cases less. Others states lump all panfish in the same category and then give you a limit of several different species combined.

How many fish is enough?  Can an angler have a great day on the lake with a four walleye limit?  

Most, if not almost all, of the anglers I know would be more than happy with four fish. It is important for hunters and anglers to have the ability to keep some animals they harvest for their personal consumption.  Without this consumption the anti-hunters and anti-fishermen would move to ban all of these outdoor activities as nothing more than animal harassment.

I think you will see a move to lower the rate of harvest on walleyes in Minnesota in the coming months. I hope it happens.

In the end, wanting much more of what you already have can be really hard on our natural resources.  Each outdoor person will have to answer that question, how much is enough, for themselves.

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