Trout angler touts changes


Area trout fisherman lands his day in court

The former fish manager hopes his act of 

‘civil disobedience’ will catch attention, reel in regulations

By Ted Pennekamp


A former Wisconsin DNR fish manager has taken a rather unusual and, some might say, drastic step in his ongoing quest to change some of the state’s trout regulations. Roger Kerr of Boscobel got himself arrested on purpose in an attempt to get his message heard, and to hopefully change some attitudes, minds and laws. 

“It was an act of civil disobedience,” said Kerr, 75, who is charged in Crawford County Circuit Court with illegally catching and keeping three brown trout. “I would like to gain attention for the problem. I would like to have the jury give a ruling of nullification and find me innocent and thereby reject a bad law.” 

Kerr admits to using worms to catch and keep three brown trout in Crawford County in April of 2014 during the catch and release season. Jury selection is scheduled for Aug. 19 and Kerr’s jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 21 at 9 a.m.

Kerr, who managed the trout streams in Grant, Richland and La Fayette counties from 1972-1992, says that the science dictates that bag limits need to be increased, the trout season extended and the regulations simplified in order to reduce the number of trout per mile in many of Southwest Wisconsin’s streams so that these streams can once again have a much healthier population of trout.

Unfortunately, Kerr says, the regulations, bag limits and season lengths have been kept in place because of social reasons rather than biological reasons due to pressure from organizations such as Trout Unlimited and other “elitists.” 

Kerr said that the current bag limit of three was appropriate in 1990 and prior because most streams had 100-200 trout per mile. Such a bag limit is very inappropriate today, he said, because streams now have too many trout, as many as 2,000-5,000 trout per mile. 

Kerr said that he was one of the fish managers who helped to increase wild trout populations in the 1980s. He moved wild brown trout from Crooked Creek near Boscobel to the Big Green River from 1986 to 1989. DNR “shocking” surveys in 1994 revealed that the trout population in the Big Green increased from 200 per mile to more than 2,000 per mile. The DNR kept up a program to turn numerous streams in Southwestern Wisconsin into self sustaining, naturally reproducing trout streams. The program has been wildly successful and has all but eliminated any need for further stocking. 

Kerr says that the program became too successful, however, and many streams such as the Big Green have too many fish per mile, with all competing for a limited food supply. The result, Kerr says, is that the fish in the Big Green and other streams don’t get very long and are on the skinny side. Anyone who has fished the Big Green in recent years knows that there is an abundance of trout in the 11 to 12-inch range, but that’s about as big as any will get. Current fisheries biologists in Southwestern Wisconsin agree with Kerr that too many fish limit growth. In fact, biologists have been proposing to increase bag limits, expand the season and simplify rules. Advisory questions at the 2014 Spring Wildlife and Fish Rules Hearings in April attempted to address some of these issues. It has been proposed that the bag limit for some streams be increased from three to 10 trout. For other streams the proposal is for an increase from three to five. 

“All of the science is on the side of people like myself,” said Kerr, who noted that increased catching and keeping of trout will make for a more healthy (if lower) population of trout with all sizes including bigger and more robust fish. Kerr also says that over-regulation and overly long catch and release, artificial lure only seasons have driven anglers away from the sport, thus leading to too little taking of fish.  

Kerr contends that Trout Unlimited and others are exerting too much influence, however, thus preventing current fish biologists and people like himself from making the regulations appropriate for the streams. 

“I’ve tried all other avenues,” said Kerr about his ongoing battle. “But, I haven’t gotten anywhere.” This prompted his action of civil disobedience, he said. 

Kerr will get his day in court, and it may well prove to be much more interesting than the usual fish story.

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