IF YOU like picking on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) when they goof up in one way or another, you’re going to love this one.

The first proposed rule change that went to the Natural Resources Board last month for approval, to get on the spring fish and game questionnaire, was a proposal that would reduce the daily walleye bag limit from 5 to 3 on the Lake Winnebago System.

Apparently that includes the lake and everything that flows into it, including the Wolf River system, because they listed nine affected counties in the heart of central Wisconsin.

For the record, this is the first time in recent history that a massive walleye fishery outside the “ceded territory” impacted by tribal spearing is facing a reduced walleye bag limit to three fish daily.

So of course, the question everybody will ask and contemplate debating is, why? I instantly went looking for the reasons behind the proposal, thinking natural reproduction was lacking or that the fishery was in some sort of trouble.

But guess what. There’s no mention in the proposed rule change of a biological problem, adverse survey finding or anything else for a tangible argument on why the walleye harvest needs to be reduced.

The DNR just wrote this: “The heavy fishing pressure, concentration of walleye, and post-spawn feeding patterns often result in periods during April to June when anglers, including novice anglers, can limit out with five fish.”

Did you get that? The problem is that too many anglers are catching a limit of walleyes in spring and early summer, when conditions are right. And apparently, that’s a bad thing.

The DNR claims in its proposal that reducing the daily bag limit to three should aid in reducing exploitation levels on adult and immature females, and reduce the overall harvest pressure on single year classes moving through the system.

But nowhere in the proposal do they say why that reduction is necessary, or that any kind of problem exists with the Lake Winnebago System walleye population.

That’s the goof-up you don’t expect from natural resources experts who are trying to make an argument for a rule change that impacts tens of thousands of anglers. You’ve got to answer the “why” question, the science part of the equation, and the DNR failed.

The scribbler hasn’t fished the Wolf River walleye run for a few years now, but I grew up fishing that system. All I hear from anglers down there is how incredible the walleye fishery is year in and year out.

A friend, John Olson, an avid walleye angler on both the Wolf River and on Lake Winnebago, said it really won’t affect him because he’s obsessed and fishes all the time.

“I’m okay with it. But the guides aren’t going to like it, when their clients can take only six walleyes instead of 10,” he said. “There have been rumors but I hadn’t heard about this. All we’ve heard is that the fishing pressure is too heavy. And it probably is. Yet the walleye population seems to have held up to it over the years.”

Olson said his catch rates have been pretty consistent since the late 1980s, when low-water conditions hurt spawning and impacted the population.

Olson said he’s aware of the potential impact of targeting walleyes while they are on their spring spawning runs.

“They probably thought about opening the season a little later, after the spawn, but that run is so important economically to the small communities on the river,” he said. “Maybe this is the tradeoff, keeping the year-round season but lowering the daily bag limit.”

The proposal is destined for controversy without adequate proof of a problem that needs solving, so there’s a chance it might not pass the spring hearing vote.

But if it does, and the walleye bag limit is reduced in 2020, there’s no doubt that it could be good for northern Wisconsin’s tourism industry.

Thousands of walleye anglers stopped making regular trips to Vilas and Oneida counties when the walleye bag limits dropped to two or three fish daily on many of the best lakes. Places such as the Wolf River and Lake Winnebago attracted many of those anglers because bag limits remained at five per day.

If anglers in central and east-central Wisconsin were suddenly limited to three walleyes a day, their bag limit would match the one that applies to most lakes in northern Wisconsin.

So who knows, if this passes, we could get some walleye anglers back. Suddenly our three-walleye lakes wouldn’t look so bad.

It’s worth noting that while most of our lakes have a three-walleye limit, the statewide daily bag limit is still five walleyes per day. The catch is that moving to another lake to complete the daily bag limit is easier here than anywhere near the Lake Winnebago System.

“There are not a lot of options for moving to another waterbody outside the Winnebago System,” said Olson. “There’s the Green Bay and the Fox River, but both of them are more than an hour away from me. Up north, the nearest lake is five minutes away.”

Besides the vast number of lakes and fishing options we have here, you can’t find this kind of scenery and tranquility anywhere in central Wisconsin.

Sometimes the boats on the Wolf River are so thick during the walleye and white bass runs that you’d swear a person could cross the river just by jumping from boat to boat.

The Natural Resources Board should have rejected this proposed rule change based on the lack of scientific evidence that a problem exists that needs solving.

A gut feeling about too much pressure and even novice anglers taking too many limits of walleyes isn’t enough proof from the professionals.