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Here is the Star/Tribune Airplane Story (02/09/02)


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Fishing trip leads to seizure of plane
Doug Smith
Star Tribune

Published Feb 9, 2002
It was a fishing trip Justin Fuhrer will never forget.

But he'd like to.

Fuhrer, 33, of Pine River, Minn., and his cousin Shawn Fuhrer of St. Cloud flew Fuhrer's small plane onto the ice of Red Lake in northwestern Minnesota two weeks ago, hoping to sample the phenomenal crappie fishing there, which has attracted thousands of ice anglers the past few winters.

But the pair had to hitch a ride home -- without crappies, their fishing gear or Fuhrer's $25,000 airplane.

The Fuhrers, who had never been to Red Lake, landed and began fishing on Lower Red Lake -- in the middle of the Red Lake Indian Reservation -- on a Saturday afternoon. They say they never realized they were on the reservation waters, which are closed to nonband anglers. Only a portion of Upper Red Lake owned by the state is open to nonband anglers.

Two tribal conservation officers arrived on snowmobiles, cited the men for illegally fishing on reservation waters and confiscated their fishing gear and the 1965 Cessna 172.

Now Justin Fuhrer doesn't know whether he'll get his plane back.

"The whole thing is really crazy, over something so simple," Fuhrer said Friday. "I didn't know we couldn't be there. This is like getting caught for jaywalking and having the officer break both your ankles.

"I told them I wouldn't have landed in broad daylight if I knew it was Indian land."

Pat Mills, the tribe's director of public safety, said a tribal judge will determine Fuhrer's punishment and whether his plane will be returned.

"We expect people to abide by our laws," Mills said. The band is a sovereign nation, he noted, and Fuhrer clearly violated tribal law.

Mills said the case is very unusual. It's the first airplane that has been confiscated in the four years that he was been head of tribal law enforcement. And boaters rarely stray onto tribal waters in the summer, he said. The most frequent problem is nonband hunters who cross onto tribal lands during the fall. They usually are fined, and some weapons and vehicles have been seized, he said.

But those vehicles have been returned, which might bode well for Fuhrer.

"We have no use for the plane," Mills said.

No court date has been set. Fuhrer said he received notice this week that band authorities might confiscate his plane and other equipment, fine him and his cousin each $500 and ask for $1,000 for towing the plane off the ice to a storage area on the reservation.

"That's pretty steep for not knowing something," Fuhrer said. He remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached with the tribe's prosecuting attorney and that his plane will be returned.

"I want my plane back," he said.

The tribal attorney declined to discuss the case.

Mills said it was common knowledge in the area that tribal lands and waters are off-limits to nonband members. But Fuhrer said that for outsiders unfamiliar with the area, that information is limited.

He said his air navigational maps don't show where the Red Lake reservation is and don't indicate that planes can't land on the waters.

The Department of Natural Resources fishing regulations also don't mention that most of Red Lake is off-limits to nonband members, he said.

"There's virtually no way to know, unless you happen to know ahead of time," he said.

Of course, it didn't help, Fuhrer said, that a friend at a Pine River coffee shop told him that Lower Red Lake was the place to go, not Upper Red Lake. "He feels terrible," Fuhrer said.

The 289,000-acre lake -- twice the size of Lake Mille Lacs -- is actually two interconnected basins: Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake. Most of the water, 241,000 acres, is owned and controlled by the tribe. About 48,000 acres is state water.

Winter anglers have been buzzing about Red Lake and flocking to the state waters by the thousands the past few years because of a fluke of nature: The lake is full of 12-to 14-inch crappies -- huge by panfish standards. The fish are there in great numbers for two reasons: the virtual collapse of the lake's once-fabulous walleye fishery because of commercial overharvest, and the tremendous reproduction of crappies in just one year, 1995.

Those 7-year-old fish now are chunky slabs that have anglers making long pilgrimages to Red Lake.

Which is where Fuhrer plans to go, if he gets his plane back.

"Absolutely," he said. "After all of this, I've got to go there now."

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does any one know if the band has a web site or email address to start a petition or just put in your $.02 it was kinda stupid to land there but to be able to take what they want and tell ya to bad for you is just a crappy thing it is still the usa isnt it? rolleyes.gif


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First, I'm not a Indian, but he lived only 110 miles from Red Lake. He must not read the paper or watch TV. Or listen to the radio. Atleast once a week I hear about not being able to fish LRL or over Half of URL. If u don't see anybody, Daa, maybe he was wrong spot. From the air u can see the people and u can't tell me that ya can't. Next time he'll check things out before landing and fishing

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i agree with you in some respects viking. The man did make a mistake, but if he honestly didn't know than i am on his side. I dont think they should have the right to confiscate someone's plane even if he is on their property. I would understand giving him a fine and teaching him the rules, but the tribe needs to give the man his $25000 plane back

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So does anybody know if he caught any crappie on LRL?? I really want to know whats in there!! I assume it would have the same crappie situation as URL, just with no fishing pressure and thousands of crappie never having seen a jig!!

Clueless - -

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I have heard that the test nets from the western part of URL and LRL show the same amount of crappies as the area we can fish.
My gut feeling is that the reason we can not find large numbers of crappies in the summer is that they are acros the "line" in the deeper water.
I feel that issue about returning the plane has some past history to go by. When members of the Red Lake Band were caught netting on this side of the "line" their boats and motors were returned.

Waskish Minnow Station

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He had only been there a very short time.
He landed right outside of Redby. So he
didnt have time to catch any fish.

He did have a bunch of perch they had caught
on Winnie earlier in the day.

I feel bad for the guy. But when you do
something real stoopid you must pay some
price. He can blame the DNR, the tribe,
the feds all he wants but HE'S the one
who broke their law.

He knew thousands of people fished
Red Lake, there were only a couple of fish
houses within miles of where he landed and
tried to fish. What was he thinking? obviously not much.

My money says the tribe gives him the plane
back. While I worry about this guy flying
a plane I do hope his adventure ends happily
for him

Curt Quesnell

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  • Your Responses - Share & Have Fun :)

    • smurfy
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