South Dakota anglers no longer subject to Feb. 28 ice shack removal on most public waters

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Aug. 31—SIOUX FALLS — Ice anglers in South Dakota can now leave their ice shacks on the state's inland waters for longer, after the state's Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) Commission adopted new administrative rules Wednesday.

At their latest meeting at Good Earth State Park — roughly five miles outside the southeastern edge of Sioux Falls — on Wednesday afternoon, the GFP Commission updated its administrative rules to allow ice fishermen to leave their unoccupied fish houses on public waters overnight beyond Feb. 28.

In winters past, anglers were required to remove their fish houses and other similar structures from all public waters for the duration of the overnight hours each night beyond the final night of February.

Though the requirement can be extended by the department's secretary due to favorable ice forecasts — a situation that most recently occurred in February 2019 — the commission unanimously voted to nix the rule entirely.

John Lott, an aquatic section chief with the GFP, indicated that the Feb. 28 removal date was initially adopted as a multi-faceted effort to ensure ice shacks were able to be removed.

"Currently, with regards to ice shacks on the ice, they cannot be left unoccupied overnight after Feb. 28. The idea being that as you approach the end of the ice fishing season, the ice may be unsafe for an ice shack that's been out the whole season," Lott said. "Or, it may have been melted into the surface of the ice, and you may have anglers who decide not to retrieve it or they're unable to."

In the past, Lott noted some anglers would intentionally discard their homemade fish houses on the waters, but that changing times and greater investment by a majority of anglers would discourage them from leaving their shacks behind.

"In the past, it was certainly the case that a lot of the ice shacks were homemade and inexpensive. However, these days, the shacks we're seeing on the ice that are being used for an overnight stay are commercially-manufactured items that are a large investment for people," Lott said. "As a result, you don't see shacks that are being left on the ice like that."

The proposal was first brought to the GFP Commission at their July meeting in Spearfish. After commissioners and anglers signaled interest in the idea, it was moved for finalization at their August meeting, but Lott said it needed a single tweak.

"The idea here is removing the removal dates on ice shacks. The [needed] change from the original proposal would be that the ice shack removal date would be removed from inland bodies of water, but on the Minnesota-South Dakota border waters, the removal date would actually change from Feb. 28 to March 5."

In Minnesota, anglers are subject to a rule requiring the daily overnight removal of fish houses on March 5. Having different regulations on shared bodies of water, Lott said, would cause confusion.

"If South Dakota had no date on the border waters, that would create a lot of confusion for the anglers and for law enforcement," Lott said. "So, actually keeping the date on the border waters and moving it about a week later to match Minnesota is the recommended change from the proposal."

Without needing further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve the amendment. A second unanimous vote adopted the policy outright, effective this upcoming winter.