By Roz Kohls
Timing is everything in the commercial fishing business, said Ken Seemann of Dassel, an inland commercial fisherman.
First, during the winter, rough fish tend to congregate in schools, making them easier to catch in a seine or net, Seemann said.
Second, the cold Minnesota winter temperatures keep the fish, such as carp, bullhead, buffalo and sheephead, fresh while they are pulled out of the lake, hauled to shore, sorted by size, and loaded into trucks or tanks, he said.
Third, because fish are so perishable, buyers must be ready to take them immediately. The 26 inland commercial fishermen in Minnesota must be ready as soon as the buyer is ready, Seemann added.
Much of the carp and lake fish Seemann catches is sold to processors in Iowa and Illinois; to New York, where there are many ethnic groups who prefer freshwater fish such as carp; to Jewish canneries; and to restaurants, he said.
Although most Minnesotans don’t consider carp their favorite freshwater fish, carp is the most popular lake fish in the world. Asians eat a lot of carp. European immigrants in the US, especially around Easter, eat a lot of carp. Much of Seemann’s catches are hauled live in tanks to mom-and-pop stores on the East Coast, he said.
Big Swan Lake, north of Dassel, and Collinwood Lake, southeast of Dassel, are two of Seemann’s best sources, he said.
Most lakes need about five years to replenish after a major haul is pulled from the lake. The carp need time to reproduce or filter in from other connecting lakes.
Big Swan Lake replenishes rapidly, however. It also supplied Seemann’s biggest lake haul, 180,000 pounds of fish.
The biggest river haul was near Prescott, WI, where the St. Croix river joins with the Mississippi River. There, Seemann caught 300,000 pounds of fish, he said.
Huge harvests of fish are a mixed blessing, though, unless a buyer is ready to take them. There’s no way to store all the excess fish and keep them fresh, Seemann said.
Seemann catches a lot of bullheads from Lake Ripley, and carp and other rough fish from Greenleaf, Cedar Lake and Howard Lake. The biggest carp Seemann ever caught was a 45-pounder from Howard Lake.
Restaurants usually want fish between 3 to 6 pounds for deep frying. The buyers who want live fish, though, want a variety of sizes, he said.
Not all of the area lakes are right for a seine, a net that hangs vertically in the water from floats on the surface or just under the ice. During the drought in the 1930s, many lakes dried up, and trees grew on the bottoms. Other lakes have too many rock piles in them or have too much of a contoured bottom, such as Lake Washington, Seemann said.
In the winter, Seemann uses a seine that is 2,000 feet long. First, he locates a school of fish with sonar. Then he cuts a hole in the ice on one side of where the fish are clustered. Using a remote-controlled submarine, a rope pulls the net under the ice. The submarine pulls the rope to a series of holes in the ice, so the cluster of fish is surrounded by a series of holes and ropes holding up the seine.
A large hole is cut in the ice on the opposite side of the school of fish.
Then Seemann and his crew pull in the seine, trapping all the fish inside.
During the summer, when the lake is open water, Seemann moves the fish he catches in an underwater wooden crib to a truck on shore, he said.
Seemann wasn’t always a commercial fisherman, however. Originally, he and his wife, Ginny, and their three children, Ray, Joe and Susan, lived in the Arlington-Gaylord area.
“I always liked the out-of-doors,” Seemann said.
Seemann worked at a service station in Arlington and did commercial fishing part time. During the 1980s, Seemann switched to commercial fishing full time. His territory included Meeker, McLeod and Wright Counties, he said.
Because he spent the majority of his time in the Dassel area, the Seemanns moved to Dassel 14 years ago. They live about two miles west of the intersection of Highways 15 and 12.
Probably because of the numerous pieces of commercial fishing equipment stored on their property, people often thought their home was an office of the Department of Natural Resources. Sometimes people walked right into their home without knocking, Ginny Seemann said.
Because Seemann had the equipment, experience and expertise to harvest large quantities of inland fish, he was asked by officials from California to harvest Lake Elsinore, about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The next year, they asked him to return and teach them how to harvest the lake themselves.