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South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks Commission agreed Thursday duck hunters should get to take two pintails per day rather than one and the duck season should start two weeks later than past years for six southern counties along the Missouri River.

The commissioners also moved Lawrence County into unit two for the main season of goose hunting. But they kept neighboring Meade County in unit one.

People who hunt in Meade County told commissioner Scott Phillips of New Underwood they feared cold weather could cost opportunities.

“I think it makes sense and the worry of freeze-up is legitimate,” commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown said.

As for moving the start of duck hunting to the fourth Saturday of October for the Low Plains South zone, the change was a victory for Kit McCahren of Pierre.

McCahren testified at the public hearing Thursday that his preference would be an opening day as late as possible, but he would accept the first Saturday in November.

Last year the opener was the second Saturday of October. The commission originally proposed moving it to the third Saturday of October for this year.

The Low Plains South Zone covers much of Gregory and Charles Mix counties as the Missouri River flows south, then a relatively narrow strip of Union, Clay, Yankton and Bon Homme counties as the river turns east and separates South Dakota from Nebraska.

McCahren told commissioners that if ducks arrive earlier, they could “live in peace” until the season opened.

“They don’t hit that big water until very late in the year,” he said.

He also suggested opening day could coincide with the start of the dark goose season.

Sharp said the first Saturday of November in 2020 would be Nov. 7, late enough for a serious freeze to happen. “That would be my concern,” Sharp said.

Commissioner Gary Jensen of Rapid City offered the fourth Saturday of October as a compromise that found unanimous support.

Commission might make muskies a true trophy fish in South Dakota

Muskellunge rank as one of the largest and trickiest species of game fish to catch in South Dakota. Now the state Game, Fish and 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. CT 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.

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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.”

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