Fish photo reminder

The recent cold snap — hopefully, it’s short-lived — provides an opportunity to remind anglers to be careful when photographing fish that will be released.

Jason Hamilton, a Lake Winnipeg guide who provides occasional fishing reports for the Herald, posted an item on Facebook this week reminding anglers not to pose with big fish outside in cold weather and scolding those who do.

Lake Winnipeg, of course, is a hotbed for trophy walleyes, a destination where there’s a better than 50-50 chance that anglers will catch the biggest walleye of their lives.

It’s also known for extreme cold temperatures, and that’s where photo problems can occur.

In cold weather, take those fish photos inside the heated shelter — which most of us use if we’re fishing in these extreme conditions. The photo might not be as striking and the lighting not as good, but exposing a fish to subzero temperatures will freeze its eyes and layer of protective slime in seconds.

The fish might swim away when put back down the hole, but it soon will die.

That’s an unintended consequence that easily can be prevented. Unless you plan to keep the fish, don’t take outside fish photos until temperatures improve.

Closing out 2012 on the ice

I closed out 2012 on a fine note, fishing three out of the last four days of the year.

Friday, a friend and I joined Darwin Sumner and Daris Rosebear of Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake, Minn., for a day of trout fishing on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. This winter, for the first time, the band is allowing nontribal members to fish four small lakes on the reservation stocked with rainbow trout and brook trout.

To fish the lakes, nontribal members must be accompanied by a reservation guide, and Seven Clans Casino is offering fully outfitted trout-fishing trips throughout the winter months. In other words, just show up and they’ll provide the gear and heated portable fish houses. A one-day license costs $10, and longer-length licenses also are available. Because the Red Lake Indian Reservation is a sovereign nation, regulations differ from state-managed waters in Minnesota, and a trout stamp isn’t required.

An average-size rainbow trout from a small lake in the Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Brad Dokken photo)

The lakes might be small, but the trout are dandies. One of us who shall remain nameless had trouble putting fish on the ice, but the trout mostly cooperated, and “we” landed several rainbows ranging from 16 inches to 22 inches. No brook trout were landed, but my fishing partner lost one at the hole.

We fished two small lakes and didn’t see another person the entire day. The scenery and the quality of fishing rivals the kind of experience you might expect venturing into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter — within a 2½-hour drive of Grand Forks.

I’ll have a story about the reservation’s trout fishing opportunities in Sunday’s Northland Outdoors Section. For more information on the reservation’s winter trout excursions, click here:

Saturday, I ventured north to join longtime friend and fishing partner Jim Stinson of Lockport, Man., to try our luck on Lake Winnipeg and the Red River.

Hmmm … where do I go now? Trying to navigate a large expanse of rough ice Sunday on Lake Winnipeg proved to be a challenge even by snowmobile (Brad Dokken photo)

Late Sunday morning, as we drove snowmobiles onto the massive expanse of Lake Winnipeg, we were greeted by several miles of some of the roughest ice I’ve ever seen. Jagged shards of ice, some more than 3 feet tall, covered one area of the lake for what seemed to be several miles in every direction, preventing us from reaching one of our time-proven fishing spots.

The rough ice forced us to backtrack and search for a smoother place to set up the portable, but we finally had our lines in the water about 12:30 p.m. Considering we basically picked a spot at random, fishing wasn’t bad at all, and we landed 10 walleyes

Few places can rival Lake Winnipeg, where walleyes generally seem to be 20 inches or longer. Brad Dokken landed this 25-incher early Sunday afternoon.

ranging from 20 inches to 27 inches in length by the time we packed up and headed for shore four hours later. In my experience, there’s nowhere within easy driving distance that rivals Lake Winnipeg for quality-size walleyes. There’s not much infrastructure such as the rental houses and plowed access roads, but for anglers with the means and desire to explore, the walleyes are well worth the effort.

Monday, we shifted gears and fished the Red River not far from Selkirk. We accessed the river by snowmobile, but lots of anglers were getting around in full-size pickups on ice that was about 14 inches thick.

Winter fishing on the Manitoba side of the Red River generally is better early in the morning in my experience, and while we didn’t start fishing until after 11 a.m., the two of us managed to scratch out an eight-fish limit — five walleyes and three saugers — before heading home about 4 p.m.

Jim also had a fish snap his line that left us wondering what might have been.

Nothing came easy those two days, but there are worse ways to wrap up a year than catching fish on Lake Winnipeg and the Red River.

Good ice fishing reports are still the norm across the region

Despite the unseasonably warm weather we’re having, it continues to be a great winter for ice fishing across the region.

I got my first report from Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg yesterday, and it was a good one. Three anglers reported limiting out on “greenback” walleyes and threw back several fish, as well. “None over 27½ inches but they were fat,” was the report I got from my source. The best fishing definitely was in the early morning hours, he said.

Meanwhile, fishing on Lake of the Woods continues to be off the charts, as well. A friend who fished the big lake this past weekend ranked the trip among the top five he’s ever taken to the lake. That’s saying something, because he’s logged a lot of hours on Lake of the Woods over the years. Saugers dominated the catch, but they also caught their share of walleyes, including several 20- to 23-inch fish and a 27½-incher that took bragging rights for the weekend.

Good reports also are coming in from Devils Lake, but I haven’t heard any personal accounts from people fishing over there. One thing’s for sure — the lack of snow means getting around is a lot easier than it’s been the past couple of years. Be careful, though, especially near current areas. A friend who has a cabin near the lake said there was open water for about 200 yards on either side of the Six-Mile Bay bridge when he crossed it Sunday.