It’s the dead of night – 1:00 maybe 2:00. The would-be thief grabs the bolt cutters and heads for the barbed wire. Besides, barbed wire doesn’t protect a bank or a jewelry store. It protects the winter home of the fish at the DNR State Fair.
Yes, our fish at the Minnesota State Fair require protection as priceless treasures, as they are roughly analogous to collections of other state treasures, such as art in Mia. They are our collective collection of really big, really old fish. Muskies, paddlefish, longnose and shortnose snow, lake sturgeon – the big guys.
“Oh yeah, a lot of 50 inches or more, easy,” said TJ DeBates, who oversees fisheries in the East Metro for the DNR. “They are trophy fish, show fish, beauties.”
DeBates is tall, drunk and handsome. He looks like the Hollywood version of a DNR guy, not real. But it is real. I know because he is with me within the safety perimeter of the pond.
While I can’t reveal the exact off-season home of the DNR’s State Fair fish list for safety reasons, I can say that our prize trophy isn’t much to look at, just a wet divot with weeds. among the cottonwoods.
“Welcome to our perfect fish retirement community,” says DeBates. “We feed them 20 gallons of root meat at a time and keep them safe. In return, they help us educate the public and encourage people to fish.”
They are so excited that in some cases they try to hunt them. This usually ends with sirens, because in addition to fences, there are alarms, cameras and countless anti-fishing floating screens. However, even without all these safety measures, poachers would still not be successful, as the internal architecture of the pond is a complex mixture of levels, bars and obstacles, all of which allow for the placement of special nets and nets. draining the water so that the big fish can be carefully lifted like patients on a stretcher and taken to the fair by the DNR water truck. Poaching here is really like trying to draw a line through an Escher print.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” DeBates says. “You could probably get a 50-inch muskie out of Bald Eagle Lake if you tried. They’re not trying what they should be trying.”
Do you know about the DNR eagle nest camera? The one we all watch in March for baby eagles and flashes of spring? It is also near this pond. For the State Fair, the DNR supplements our mega trophy fish with maybe three dozen other species, rainbow trout and the like, and over the next year our EagleCam eagles take every fish they can carry.
Poaching attempts are not limited to the hidden pond. DeBates, who, like everyone else at the metro’s two DNR offices, holds a regular State Fair position, has repeatedly seen people bring in fishing rods to cast lines. To the actual fishpond at the fair during the actual fair. Yes, every year DNR fair workers find lures that are thrown into the tank. Once, they even discovered a multi-hooked lure firmly attached to one of the wooden posts around the State Fair pond, as if someone was trying to make a powerful cast – only to get stuck.
“Sir, you can’t do that,” DeBates recalls telling a fisherman who wanted to participate in the State Fair. “Your license does not allow you to catch these fish here.”
Since purchasing it from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, AKA the St. Louis World’s Fair, our State Fair fish pond has really seen some things since it began wowing fair crowds in 1905. One of the things he’s seen are some of the same fish since at least the 1980s. Do you have a picture of your grandfather in front of the tank with a lake sturgeon behind him? This is the same fish you will see this year, added to the collection in 1989; and lake sturgeon can live 150 years.
If that fact makes you want to go fishing, well done! DeBates and his coworkers spend the rest of the year not only stocking the lakes with rainbow trout, but also developing a website featuring the state’s fishing secrets. Check out the Minnesota DNR LakeFinder online and you can search by lake and species and call any lake’s fish census date. If that’s too much work, DeBates offers two fishing tips: St. Paul’s Lake Como is full of large, harvest-sized walleye, and Lake of the Isles is stocked with fat largemouth bass.
The best part about these spots, as opposed to what DeBates is sworn to protect? If you catch one of those fish, you can keep it! But if you ever find yourself at the State Fair and see someone throw a fishing line into a DNR fish pond, start yelling, “Like you, I own those award-winning retired fish, and we plan to meet up here again next year! “