Otters showing up on the Red in GF

Daniel Johnson of Grand Forks sent me a photo and a video clip of river otters he has been watching from the walking bridge that crosses the Red River downstream from the Riverside Dam rapids.

Daniel Johnson of Grand Forks shared this photo of a river otter he photographed in late November along the Red River near Riverside Dam rapids in Grand Forks.

He described the encounters in an email as follows:

“The day before Thanksgiving, I was on my normal afternoon walk and as I started across the north end pedestrian bridge from the EGF side I happened to look down on the small island of ice underneath the bridge.  I thought I saw a black lab sitting in the middle of the ice eating something.  That’s what it looked like from above.  I whistled at it and it looked up and I realized from the narrow face and light colored hair on its lower mouth area it was an otter.

“It ran into the water and I watched it dive in the brown water. I stepped back and hid for a bit and it came back up on the edge of the ice looking for me. I got a few pictures and some video but it was pretty concerned about me.  This was at 4:30 p.m. the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I walked the same route the next two days and saw it again. On Sunday afternoon (Nov. 30), I had my binoculars with and watched four of them playing in the Red, about 200 to 300 yards north of the bridge, behind the old Pillsbury plant.”

This past Thursday afternoon,Johnson said he saw another otter, this time sitting on the ice along the edge of the river about 30 feet below the dam and upstream from the walking bridge. The otter was sitting on the ice eating what appeared to be a fish, Johnson writes.

“It saw me and darted around for a bit and went swimming,” Johnson said. “Fun to watch.”

I’ve also seen otters along the Red River, and they are indeed fun to watch. UND Professor Emeritus of Biology Robert Seabloom, in his book, “The Mammals of North Dakota,” writes that river otters never were abundant in North Dakota but historically were present in all of the state’s major streams. Numbers declined to the point where there were only two reports of otter sightings in the early 1960s, Seabloom writes, but river otters in recent years have become more abundant.

“There have been numerous reports of river otters from the Red, Sheyenne, Missouri and Souris rivers and nearby wetlands,” Seabloom writes in his book. “Of these, most have been since the year 2000.”

Ice fishing in full swing across the region

If an ice fishing season that’s in full swing by Dec. 1 seems early, you’re right.

It is.

“This is by far the earliest best freeze-up I can remember,” longtime Devils Lake fishing guide and outdoor TV host Jason Mitchell said earlier today. He said ice in the Devils Lake region varies from more than 10 inches on shallow bays and areas such as Pelican Lake and Lake Irvine to 4 or 5 inches on the main lake.

He said he hasn’t heard any reports of anglers venturing out on widespread hunts for perch, but walleye fishing has been great. Mitchell says he’s had nights where every walleye he marked on his electronics has bit.

On Upper Red Lake, West Wind Resort in Waskish, Minn., posted a Facebook report this morning that it is allowing half-ton pickups out to the first break line, where there’s a consistent 12 to 14 inches of ice atop 8 to 10 feet of water. There’s less ice beyond that, the resort post indicates, so vehicles are advised to stay near the road. The best walleye action is in 8 to 10 feet of water anyway, the resort said, so there’s no need to venture any farther.

Ice fishing also is off to an early start on Lake of the Woods. Deanna Painovich of Zippel Bay Resort north of Williams, Minn., said the bay already has 12 inches to 14½ inches of ice while the main lake as of Saturday had 6 to 12 inches.

The resort was scheduled to shuttle its first group of winter anglers onto the ice this afternoon, she said. The ice is rough in places, Painovich said, but early reports indicate good water clarity and good fishing.

Farther east, the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau shared a report from Morris Point Resort, where there’s about 10 inches of ice, and the resort’s ice road is open to ATVs and portables.

Painovich says this is earliest start to winter fishing she can remember in quite some time.

“It’s been a lot of years ago, but I know we were out right after Thanksgiving one year,” she said. “It’s amazing to be out the first of December, after all the late years we’ve had.”

Anglers planning to venture north to tackle the big “greenback” walleyes on Lake Winnipeg would do well to wait until there’s more snow to fill in the rough ice that’s piled in along the south shore, said winter fishing guide Jason Hamilton of Jason Hamilton Outdoors.

“Frozen but ultra rough — need snow,” said Hamilton, who’s headed to the Twin Cities on Friday for the annual St. Paul Ice Show extravaganza at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

He said a road trip to the Twin Cities is a better option than ice fishing for now.

“I don’t even want to go out on the ice it’s so bad,” he said.

Minnesota hunters register 111,000 deer through third weekend of firearms season

Minnesota hunters registered 111,000 deer through the third and last weekend of firearms deer season, down 31,000 from the same period last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported this afternoon.

So far this year during special hunts and the archery, early antlerless and firearms seasons, hunters have killed 127,000 deer, down from the 2013 to-date harvest total of 144,000.

This year’s lower harvest is by design because regulations were implemented to place more deer — particularly does — off limits to increase Minnesota’s deer population.

In a news release, the DNR said its ongoing deer management work also includes upcoming revisions to the deer population goals for large portions of northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota. This is part of a multi-year goal-setting process for the entire state. People interested in helping set these deer population goals can get more information on the process and opportunities for involvement here.

Additional deer will be taken during the late season in southeast Minnesota, which runs through Sunday, and the muzzleloader season, which begins Saturday and continues through Dec. 14. The archery season is open through Dec. 31.