A father and daughter angling together last week on a frozen lake near Fergus Falls made quite a catch.

And it didn't end up in a fry pan.

They lowered their underwater camera into 20 feet of water to check for fish and instead spotted trophy elk antlers, still attached to the skull, resting on the lake bottom.

"They drilled some holes and were able to hook the antlers and bring them up through the ice,'' said conservation officer Troy Richards. He saw the rack later and said it is huge.

"The antlers were definitely worthy of trophy status, 6-by-5 [with] heavy mass,'' Richards said.

No one knows how old the antlers are.

"They look old, but pretty well-preserved,'' Richards said. "My speculation is the elk has been down there since the turn of the century or longer. It truly is a mystery.'' 

Don Schultz, DNR area wildlife manager at Fergus Falls, agreed.

"There were elk in this area prior to European settlement,'' he said. "So they could be several hundred to maybe thousands of years old.''

Schultz, who hasn't seen the antlers, said the closest elk herd today is near Grygla, about 200 miles north of Fergus Falls.

The find is rare but not unprecedented. In 2008, an Alexandria scuba diver pulled elk antlers from the bottom of Lake Carlos. A Science Museum of Minnesota researcher said radiocarbon dating tests are the only way to determine if the elk dates back to the 19th century, or thousands of years beyond.

The winter that wasn't

How strange a winter has it been? Hennepin County closed all lakes to cars and trucks last week because of the poor ice conditions. Conservation officer Jackie Glaser, who patrols western Hennepin County and eastern Carver County, said she hasn't used her DNR truck or ATV on lakes this winter, as a precaution. And there hasn't been enough snow to use her snowmobile.

"I've been walking out to check anglers,'' she said.

She said five or six ice fishing houses have fallen through ice on Lake Minnetonka this season.

Knock, knock

Conservation officer Jeff Johanson of Osakis caught an angler in the Sauk Centre area using one too many lines. While he was in the fish house writing the citation, there was a knock on the door followed by a shout: "Game warden!"

"The fish house owner sheepishly opened the door and a friend of his was standing there,'' Johanson reported. The friend's expression changed when he saw a real officer inside.

Changing northern regs

Last spring, in a controversial move, legislators passed a law directing the DNR to reduce the number of lakes with special northern regulations.

The agency had 115 lakes with regulations intended to boost the average size of northerns and other fish on those lakes. But legislators said the regs, which often included protected slots, effectively restricted spearers from using those waters. Spearers, they said, feared they would accidentally take a protected fish.

The bill signed into law last spring limited the number of lakes with special northern regs to no more than 100.

Now the DNR has selected the 15 lakes where the special regulations will be dropped, and will explain the actions and accept public comments at meetings Friday at some DNR area fisheries offices. Those who can't attend have until Friday to submit comments in writing or by phone, and comments also will be accepted during an open house Feb. 22 at the DNR central office in St. Paul.

For a list of meetings and other contact information, see my blog at www.startribune.com/outdoors.

Did you know?

• Conservation officer Thephong Le was on patrol at Fort Snelling State Park when he received a call to contact the Airport Police regarding a report from a pilot who observed the word "HELP ME" drawn in the snow on the frozen river near the park. Le found the spot but reported that someone had actually written "HELLS ANGELS" in the snow.

• Fishing has been very good on the Mississippi River near LaCrescent. Anglers are catching bluegills, crappies, perch and northerns. "Many northern 38 inches and larger were seen in the bag,'' reported conservation officer Scott Fritz.

• Coyote hunters have been having good success near Rushford.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com