Annual grouse trip and other fall updates

I’ve been in catch-up mode after spending most of last week out of the office hosting friends for our annual “October trip” grouse excursion at the getaway in northwest Minnesota. Ruffed grouse numbers were down, at least in the areas we hunt, but the weather on two of the days was about as close to perfect as you can get this time of year, and the get-together was as enjoyable as ever.

Everybody saw ruffed grouse, a lucky few bagged birds and a limit of sharp-tailed grouse one afternoon provided a nice bonus for one hunter in our crew.

Needless to say, my Inbox was full upon my return. Here are a few highlights:

  • Gary Lund of Roseau, Minn., shared this photo of a snowy owl he photographed Oct. 15 near Roseau. The heavily streaked plumage suggests a young bird.

    Gary Lund of Roseau, Minn., shared this photo of a snowy owl he photographed Oct. 15 near Roseau. The heavily streaked plumage suggests a young bird.

    Gary Lund of Roseau, Minn., sent a photo of a snowy owl he photographed Oct. 15 near Roseau. That seemed early to me, so I checked with Mike Jacobs, who writes the weekly “Always in Season” bird column in the Herald’s outdoors section, to get his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say: “Yes i would say it is unusual,” Jacobs writes. “Early November is more likely but that’s not so far away.” The owl clearly was a young bird, Jacobs said, because its plumage is heavily streaked. Whether the early sighting is a sign of an influx of snowy owls this winter remains to be seen. Here’s hoping it is.

  • If the road leads you to the Twin Cities in the next few months and you purchased a Minnesota hunting or fishing license, the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Wild are offering ticket discounts to several of the NHL team’s home games at the Xcel Energy Center. According to the DNR, the promotion includes games Wednesday, Nov. 25, against the Vancouver Canucks; Thursday, Dec. 3, against the Toronto Maple Leafs; Monday, Jan. 25, against the Arizona Coyotes; Sunday, Feb. 28, against the Florida Panthers; and Sunday, March 6, against the St. Louis Blues. Ticket costs vary based on game and seating options. More information is available here.
  •  The main feature in this coming Sunday’s outdoors section will be a roundup of upland game and fall fishing reports from around the region. In a nutshell, pheasant hunting in much of North Dakota has lived up to expectations, ruffed grouse hunting in much of Minnesota has fallen short of expectations and fall walleye fishing is improving on the Manitoba portion of the Red River and the Winnipeg River near Pine Falls, Man., both of which are Lake Winnipeg tributaries. Just a few minutes ago, my phone buzzed with a message from a Canadian friend who’d just landed a 28-inch walleye on the Red. … As if being in the office on such a beautiful October day wasn’t tough enough already. Sigh.

The mystery of the catfish puncture wounds

Catfish action is winding down for the season with the onset of cooler weather and falling water temperatures, but there still may be a few more days to do battle with the whiskered brutes that roam the Red River — especially with weekend forecasts that call for highs in the 70s.

Puncture wounds cover the side of a catfish caught recently on the Red River near Grand Forks. Could it be the work of a large northern pike?

Puncture wounds cover the side of a catfish caught recently on the Red River near Grand Forks. Could it be the work of a large northern pike?

Kent Hollands of Grand Forks shared a photo of a catfish he caught the other day on the Red near Grand Forks. The side of the fish shown in the photo is peppered with small puncture holes and a larger wound near the tail that obviously is bleeding.

Hollands speculates a big pike attacked the catfish, and that’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Big northerns definitely inhabit the Red, and I’ve heard of the fish swallowing prey as large as adult ducks.

I’m at a loss to explain what else would have inflicted so many puncture wounds on the side of the catfish, but it obviously survived the ordeal well enough to take the bait Hollands put in front of it.

One things for sure, it’s a cruel world down there in the Red’s murky depths.

Looking back on the Cabela’s NWT championship tourney

I’ve been out of town and on vacation the past few days, so I’m in catch-up mode with the results from the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour that ended Saturday on Devils Lake, but Scott Larson of Mayville, N.D., won the pro category with a three-day total of 74.89 pounds of walleyes. With the victory, Larson won a fully rigged Ranger 621FS fishing boat with a 225-horse Evinrude outboard and $15,000 cash for a total prize package worth $83,000.

Here’s a news release from Cabela’s NWT about the championship event:

Larson started out the tournament in second after he brought in 27.52 pounds using a one-two punch of a morning trolling bite and a big-fish jigging bite. However, he admits he played it extra safe on day two, just trying to assure himself that he’d make it to the final day. He nearly played it too safe, as he boxed his first five trolling fish, but then went to his jigging area and never got a bite in four hours. With only 18.12 pounds on day two, Larson went into the final day of competition sitting in sixth place with ground to make up.

Larson opted to start the final day targeting big fish jigging isolated rock piles in the Six Mile Bay area. He had one main spot, but would search around using his Humminbird Side Imaging to mark and come back to other ones, which eventually proved crucial.

Larson’s trolling bite was one many other anglers had found in Pelican Lake. The difference is that Larson was able to quickly catch limits thanks to one key adjustment while others barely caught anything.

“I slowed way down,” Larson said. “Most guys were in that 2-2.2 mph range. I was trolling at 1.5-1.6. That really worked to allow the lead-core to take my lures (Berkley Flicker Shad and Rapala Jointed Shad Raps in bright perch patterns) and get them to bump against the sidewall of the long structure we were trolling. Other guys were just going too fast and trolling above the fish’s heads.”

While the trolling bite had been good for quick limits, on day three it produced quantity and quality. Larson said he was throwing back too many four-pounders to count, and by the time he opted to try and jig up one more big fish, he already had 26-27 pounds.

Still, he had an hour and wanted to see if those rock piles would produce. With about 30 minutes left he marked a big fish suspended off the bottom.

“I just hovered over that fish, and she finally bit,” Larson said. “It was a 7-8-pounder, and once I caught that one I laid down in the bow of my boat. I had a good feeling I had a chance.”

With nearly every angler above him stumbling, Larson’s chance turned it a realized dream.

“It’s incredible,” Larson said. “To beat the best of the best, it’s such a privilege. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had since my kids were born. This is my first major win, and to do it on my home waters makes it that much better.”

Ed Stachowski (second), Gary Maher (third), Robert Bruegger (fourth), Paul Steffen (fifth), Todd Zemke (sixth), Gary Parsons (seventh), Chad Schilling (eighth), Mike Gofron (ninth) and David Andersen (tenth) round out the top ten for pro-anglers.

Clint Glass, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, won the co-angler category for the championship event with a three-day total of 69.78 pounds. The angler was paired with Gary Larson on day one and with Paul Steffen on day two. His final-day pro partner, Gary Maher, had brought in the largest bag of the tournament the day before.

Unfortunately, those big bites eluded the Maher and Glass on the final day. The anglers’ 16.46 pounds was enough for Glass to hold off the hard-charging Aaron Saar who finished 1.77 pounds behind Glass. The winning co-angler took home $6,739 in winnings.

“All of the guys I fished with were excellent fishermen,” Glass said. “Gary had a great game plan, but the fish just weren’t there for us. Still, it feels amazing to win. I couldn’t be happier.”

Aaron Saar (second), Karl Sprengel (third), Chester Jones (fourth), John Hoyer (fifth), Kurt Zins (sixth), Bernard Schauer (seventh), tom Wiehoff (eighth), Leon Mucha (ninth) and Scott Cisewski (tenth) round out the top ten for co-anglers.

Mark Courts and John Hoyer captured the pro- and co-angler Angler of the Year titles. Both anglers will receive custom Lucas Oil rings and paid entries for the 2016 NWT season.