- Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - More rural South Dakota residents are moving to cities, so the state’s wildlife agency is taking the fish to the fishermen.

Specifically, it’s focusing more resources on urban and community fishing areas to ensure they’re well stocked, healthy and attracting anglers.

“Twenty years ago you wouldn’t think South Dakota’s outdoor traditions would be in danger. South Dakota’s always been known as a hunting and fishing state,” said Todd St. Sauver, regional fisheries manager for the Department of Game, Fish and Parks in Sioux Falls.

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But with the demographic shift away from rural areas, fewer resident licenses for hunting and especially for fishing are being sold, he said Friday. That’s a problem because fees from those licenses fund wildlife conservation efforts, he added.

Revenue from resident and nonresident fishing and hunting license fees was $26.8 million in 2012, down from $27.5 million in 2007, said Chris Petersen, director of administration at Game, Fish and Parks.

“We’re higher than we were a decade ago, but we’re on a downward trend in recent years,” he said.

Other divisions in the department receive funding from the Legislature, but wildlife conservation operates without such assistance.

John Lott, head of the department’s state fisheries program, said the state has been stocking lakes and other bodies of water in cities for years, but urban growth has prompted the agency to be more deliberate about it.

“We want to have fisheries near people. It’s very important to have that if you want to recruit and retain anglers. You need to have that local fishing spot,” Lott said.

Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Spearfish, Pierre, Aberdeen, Brookings, Yankton and some smaller cities such as Arlington and Winner have or are working on community or urban fishing sites managed by the department, he said.

St. Sauver said one example is Family Park on the northwest edge of Sioux Falls, which lies on an old gravel pit. The family that owns Soukup Construction donated the 90 acres, the department developed it with docks and ramps and maintains the fishery, and the city of Sioux Falls keeps up the park and will pay for future development.

Cindy Wilgers, who owns the nearby M & W Bait & Tackle Shop, said business has increased since the park opened.

“There’s a lot of people, like grandparents taking out the grandkids,” she said. “I’ve got pictures posted on Facebook of a 4-year-old who caught an 8-pound catfish and an 8-pound walleye, and he wasn’t much bigger than those fish,” she said.

The 35-acre pond was stocked with northern pike, white bass, crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, perch and bullhead when the park opened in 2009.

Part of the challenge at heavily used fishing areas is finding the right balance of stocked fish to ensure angler success, Lott said.

“To keep people fishing, you need to have a reasonable chance to catch a fish,” he said. “Fishing is all about hope … knowing there’s a good chance that if you do things right, you may end up with a fish on the end of your line.”

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