Let there be ice

As much as I like ice fishing, I’d be lying if I said I was among the anglers who absolutely can’t wait to get out on frozen water.

The extended fall and the opportunity to fish in a boat as late as mid-November was just fine by me. I’ll wait until ice conditions improve.

On most bigger lakes, at least, we’re in that “tween-time” between open water and ice. A few people have ventured out on portions of Upper Red Lake, but areas along the south shore of the lake that were accessible to walking early this past weekend again were off limits by Sunday after south winds created sizeable cracks that made the going too dangerous.

Lake of the Woods on Nov. 27, 2014.

Lake of the Woods on Nov. 27, 2014.

Wigwam Resort on Lake of the Woods on Sunday posted a couple of satellite images on its Facebook page showing the differences in ice cover between last year and this year.

In the satellite photo from Nov. 27, 2014, Lake of the Woods was completely ice covered. The satellite photo from Sunday, by comparison, shows only a skim of ice, mainly on the western side of Minnesota waters in areas such as Muskeg Bay near Warroad and Buffalo Bay in Manitoba.

Lake of the Woods on Sunday.

Lake of the Woods on Sunday.

The ice looks very thin, though, and likely will move around as wind directions change.

Sunday’s satellite image of Devils Lake was mostly obscured by clouds, but the photo from the previous day shows what appears to be a light covering of ice in most areas. The color of the ice suggests it isn’t very thick.

Saturday afternoon, I saw a couple of anglers on a small lake between Barnesville, Minn., and Moorhead just off Interstate 94. As for me, the only ice I’ve been on so far is the English Coulee, where I joined a friend and his 5-year-old son Sunday for some skating and shinny hockey. The ice was great.

A couple of other items of note:

  • Winter barely has started, but for anglers already clamoring for summer, organizers of the Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament sent out a news release this morning announcing the tournament date is set for June 25-26 on the Red River in Grand Forks. Entry fee is $220 per two-person team, and the prize for the winning team is $2,000 based on a full field of 50 teams. There’ll also be daily prizes of $1,000 for the top team each day and $500 for the big fish each day of the tournament, based on a full field. Registration begins Dec. 7 and will remain open until the 50-team field is filled or until tournament day. For more info, contact tournament director Brad Durick at (701) 539-5808 or braddurick@gmail.com or check out the website at www.boundarybattle.com.
  • Christmas bird count season is on the horizon. Every year from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, birding enthusiasts across North America gather to count birds in specific “count circles” as part of the one of the country’s longest-running wildlife censuses. The 44th annual Crookston count is set  for 7 a.m. Dec. 19, and participants should meet at 7 a.m. at RBJ’s Restaurant in Crookston for breakfast and to plan routes for the day. Meanwhile, the count at Turtle River State Park near Arvilla, N.D., is set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 1. There’ll also be a birding basics course from 10 to 11 a.m. in the park’s chalet. A vehicle entrance pass will be required. For more information on the Crookston count, contact compiler Tom Fiero at tfeiro@crk.umn.edu, (218) 281-5515 (home) or (218) 521-0233 (cell). Call (701) 594-4445 for more information on the Turtle River count.

DNR releases new elk management plan, comment meetings set

The Department of Natural Resources has scheduled two public meetings in northwest Minnesota next month to discuss the draft of a new five-year management plan for elk in Minnesota. The existing plan, in effect since 2009, expires at the end of the year.

The meetings in northwest Minnesota are scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Lancaster Community Center, 95 Second St. W., in Lancaster, Minn., and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Grygla Community Center, 127 S. Main Ave., Grygla, Minn.

Two bull elk walk in deep snow in 2006 during the Department of Natural Resources' winter aerial survey near Grygla, Minn.  has released a draft of its new five-year elk management plan and has scheduled public comment meetings next month in New Brighton, Lancaster and Grygla, Minn. (Minnesota DNR photo)

Two bull elk walk in deep snow in 2006 during the Department of Natural Resources’ winter aerial survey near Grygla, Minn. The DNR has released a draft of its new five-year elk management plan and has scheduled public comment meetings next month in New Brighton, Lancaster and Grygla, Minn. (Minnesota DNR photo)

A meeting also is scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3 at the New Brighton Community Center, 400 10th St. N.W., New Brighton, Minn., for interested stakeholders in the Twin Cities area.

The meetings will begin with an open house followed by a formal presentation and opportunities to provide both oral and written comments.

Minnesota’s three elk herds are located near Lancaster and Caribou Township in Kittson County and near Grygla. In a news release, the DNR said the draft plan addresses elk population goals, elk-landowner conflicts and opportunities to hunt and view elk.

Local elk work groups made up of a broad spectrum of stakeholders in northwest Minnesota helped the DNR develop the new draft plan.

“The goal of the draft elk management plan is to maintain a healthy elk population that offers recreational and economic opportunities to citizens of the state,” said John Williams, DNR northwest region wildlife manager in Bemidji. “To provide these opportunities, the DNR must also address conflicts between elk and landowners.”

Minnesota’s elk population is estimated at 130 animals between the three herds. The Caribou-Vita herd — also known as the “border herd” or “international herd” because it roams between northeast Kittson County and the Vita, Man., area in Canada — has an estimated population of 120 to 150 elk, the DNR said, including 79 that were counted on the Minnesota side of the border during last winter’s aerial survey.

The Kittson-Central herd near Lancaster includes just over 30 elk, the DNR said, while the Grygla herd, which has declined in recent years, had only 18 elk during last winter’s survey, the DNR said.

The comment period for the new elk plan opened today and continues through Dec. 27. After reviewing the draft plan, comments may be submitted online at www.mndnr.gov/elk or via electronic or postal mail.
Email comments, including your name and address, to elkplan.dnr@state.mn.us or send via postal mail to: Elk Comments, DNR Wildlife, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd NE, Bemidji, MN, 56601.

Changing seasons

Barely a dusting of snow covers the ground here in Grand Forks, but winter seems to have arrived in full force just a couple of hours away.

I made a trek to the getaway in northwest Minnesota over the weekend and was surprised at the amount of snow I encountered. There seems to be a line that begins somewhere west of Karlstad, Minn., and from that point east, the ground was covered with at least 3 inches of snow on the level — that’s just a rough guess; there could be more — everywhere except plowed fields.

Snow falls Sunday afternoon as ice forms along the shoreline of a northwest Minnesota river. (Brad Dokken photo)

Snow falls Sunday afternoon as ice forms along the shoreline of a northwest Minnesota river. (Brad Dokken photo)

Saturday afternoon, friend and frequent fishing partner Brad Durick of Grand Forks and his 5-year-old son, Braden, joined me for an overnight stay. There was nothing particular on the agenda except a big campfire, but with the amount of snow on the ground, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fire up the snowmobile and take it for a spin.

Braden and I made a couple of laps around a snow-covered field, and I had to laugh when we pulled back into the yard, and Braden exclaimed, “That was the best ride of my life!”

This kid obviously is easy to please.

The mercury again has risen back above freezing — at least during the day — but the abrupt cooldown that took place last week has resulted in a drastic change to the countryside, even in areas where snow hasn’t fallen. Wetlands are frozen, ice is forming along the edges of rivers across the region and it won’t be long, at this rate, before anglers begin taking the first tentative steps on the hard water of smaller lakes.

Anglers who are especially brave may have tried walking out in a few places already, though it’s not something I would recommend.

Nature’s calendar is behind schedule compared with last year, when cold temperatures arrived unusually early. Last year, we ventured onto frozen Lake Laretta near Michigan, N.D., before Thanksgiving and found 10 inches of solid ice.

This year, I don’t anticipate getting out on the ice for at least another week, and that’s fine by me.

I’m not a big fan of winter driving, especially when it means traveling icy roads, but I do hope this winter brings more snow than last year. If we’re going to have winter — and that’s inevitable here in the Northland — we might as well have enough snow to enjoy snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, which is one of my favorite forms of winter exercise.

Despite its early arrival, last winter was a disappointment for everything but ice fishing.

This year’s extended fall no doubt was a treat, but I’m ready for winter. About as ready as I can be, at least.