Odds and ends to start the week

A few nuggets for this first day of April:

Hunting can be a pricey sport, to be sure, but the winning bidder spent a whopping $75,000 for a North Dakota bighorn sheep tag March 23 at the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation’s annual meeting in Bloomington, Minn. The previous high of $50,000 was set in 2007. Proceeds are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota, and the auction has raised more than $1 million for the cause since 1986.

Speaking of bighorn sheep, the odds of drawing one of the three lottery tags in North Dakota are somewhere between slim and none. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, a total of 8,704 people applied for the three available tags last year. That puts the odds of receiving a sheep tag at a miniscule .03 percent. The odds are considerably better for elk and moose, which round out the “big three” in North Dakota. Hunters last year had a 1.39 percent chance of drawing an “any elk” tag, a 50 percent chance of drawing a cow elk tag and a 30.17 percent chance of drawing a landowner tag. Moose license applicants last  year had a .75 percent chance of drawing a “bull/any moose” license, a 12.93 percent chance of drawing a cow license and a 12.67 percent chance of drawing a landowner moose license. If you didn’t apply for one of the big three licenses this year, you’re out of luck; the deadline was March 27.

Don’t forget you need a new North Dakota fishing and/or hunting license as of today, which marks the official start of the new season.

Anglers in Lake of the Woods country have the best of both worlds right now. According to the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, the ice on the big lake, including Four-Mile Bay at the mouth of the Rainy River, is still in good shape. And if you’re itching to get into a boat, anglers have been dragging small boats over ice to reach open water on the Rainy River near Birchdale, Minn. I talked to a fisheries biologist in Baudette, Minn., the other day who tells me the open-water walleye action has been good. Look for it to stay that way until spring runoff muddies up the water. Walleye season on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River is open through April 14.

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.

Lake of the Woods produces big walleyes at recent AIM tourney

Most anglers who’ve had the good fortune to fish Lake of the Woods the past few years would probably say these are the good old days for trophy-size walleyes on the big lake, but last week’s AIM Pro Walleye Series tournament drove the point home in a record-setting way.

Professional walleye angler Rick Olson set an AIM tournament record with this 32.75-inch Lake of the Woods walleye that was estimated to weigh more than 14 pounds.

Walleye pro Rick Olson broke the all-time size record for AIM — which stands for Anglers Insight Marketing — with a 32¾-inch walleye that was estimated to weigh more than 14 pounds. Unlike most fishing tournaments, AIM uses a “catch, record and release” format to estimate the weight of fish based on their lengths rather than bringing them to the scales. The walleyes are released on the water after measuring and a couple of quick photographs, which greatly reduces the risk of mortality.

Tournament anglers can “weigh” their seven largest fish each day of the tournament.

Walleye pro Sam Anderson of Eagan, Minn., won the recent AIM tournament on Lake of the Woods with a two-day tally of 98.92 pounds for 14 walleyes. That’s an average of more than 7 pounds per fish.

High winds forced organizers to cancel the first day of the tournament last Thursday, but Sam Anderson of Eagan, Minn., on Friday got off to a fast start with four of his seven fish weighing more than 10 pounds. He held the lead Saturday to win the tournament with a two-day weight of 98.92 pounds for 14 walleyes — an average of more than 7 pounds per fish.

Anderson landed a Lund boat with a 150-horse Mercury four-stroke and trailer package valued at more than $35,000 for winning the tournament. Olson finished in second place with 82.94 pounds.

Marianne Huskey won the AIM Angler of the Year award, marking the first time in the history of professional walleye fishing that a woman has received the distinction. She placed 14th on Lake of the Woods, which was high enough to keep her at the front of the back because of her finishes at previous AIM events.

The fishing tournament was just one of the events held in conjunction with the inaugural “Walleye Fest” in Baudette, Minn. Besides weigh-in events at Willie Walleye Park, there was a “Party with the Pros” on Saturday night at Sportsmen’s Lodge and numerous kids’ activities.

AIM will be back on Lake of the Woods next year.

“The entire community of Baudette and Lake of the Woods area were honored to host some of the greatest anglers in the world, AIM Pro Walleye Series and representatives throughout the fishing industry,” Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said in a news release. “It was great to see the big crowds at weigh ins. Fishing for our community means so much to so many and we are extremely blessed to be able to show off our world class fishery, beautiful natural resources, friendly people and local businesses to visitors.”