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Ron Hustvedt

Ramsey, Minn.

The upcoming epic bass bite on Mille Lacs

It’s going to be a great summer to fish Lake Mille Lacs and I can’t wait for the season to begin. Unfortunately for area resorts, guides and businesses, most anglers will opt for other waters this summer.

    No thanks to a lot of the local media for that one.

    As I drove home from work the other day, I heard them talking on Minnesota Public Radio about the catch and release only season this summer on Mille Lacs. Not the usual place to hear fishing talk, the announcer barely said the word walleye. Most listeners would have incorrectly walked away from the report thinking the entire lake was catch and release.

    I shook my head and though, “That can’t be good for business.” And it isn’t because not enough is being done by those major news outlets to educate the public. The phrase “a dwindling walleye population” was also used and that’s a complete miscatgorization of the issue at hand.

    The walleye season is going to be a tough one, but that’s going to free up the lake for those of us who love this multispecies mecca. This is a lake with giant pike, at least a few state record muskie, oodles of jumbo perch a plethora of trophy smallmouth bass, and the occasional behemoth bucketmouth.

    If we hadn’t gotten to used to it being an amazing walleye fishery as well, nobody would be complaining. The town of Garrison would do good to take down their giant walleye and replace it with another species. Or, better yet, put up a few more statues to make it clear that this is a trophy lake with a lot to offer. If you only come here for the walleye, you are missing out on something really special.

    What I’m most excited about is hitting the lake for bass, starting in May and going straight through into the fall. Lake Mille Lacs is going to see a lot of bass anglers this summer as some of the top professionals prepare for the B.A.S.S. Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship.

    Will all those anglers “educate” the smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs? Plenty of us regular folk throw plenty of lures and technique past those red-eyed bronzebacks, but put some of the top anglers in the world out there and those bass will get a Master’s degree in fishing pressure.

    Most anglers know that Mille Lacs is ranked 10th on Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes in 2015 ahead of other Minnesota favorites including Rainy Lake, Lake Minnetonka, Leech Lake, Alexandria Chain of Lakes, and Pools 4 and 5 of the Mississippi River. Last year Mille Lacs was number 69, in 2013 it was 74, and in 2012 it was 35.  

    I’ve fished Mille Lacs in a big ol’ bass boat, a small fishing boat, a kayak, and from the shore. The good news is that I’ve caught plenty from each watercraft and the bad news is I’ve had some awful days on the water. On the right day, you can’t keep those smallmouth from biting and on most days you have to work hard for them.

    The rock piles on the south end are the most popular places, and some of the easiest to locate, but that’s what makes them so tough. Unless you are the first angler to roll up on a spot in a week, those bass have seen a thing or two.

    My prediction is that the elite bass angler who works the north and west structures is going to win the tournament. It could also go to the most daring angler who hits midlake structure and pops a few of the chunks roaming the sand and mud transition zone. Make no doubt about it, there are smallmouth bass all over the lake and catching five fish over 20-inches is very doable.

    Not necessarily by yours truly, but I’ve come close.

    While Mille Lacs largemouth and smallmouth bass have a tendency to be finicky, they will go for a variety of lures. My favorite has been a tube jig with a rattling jig head but six-inch plastic worms texas-rigged or wacky style are a close second. On slow days, bouncing a crankbait off the rocks or ripping through sparse weeds is great fun. The deep water reed beds are also fun places to splash around with topwater lures, just have strong line on because the shortest distance between that fish and your boat is a straight line--something those bass know just as well and will exploit if you let them.

    While I expect a few phone calls to come from bass anglers around the country looking to hit the water together, I’m more excited to get my kids on the lake this year for some tackle busting bass fishing.

    The moral of the story is this: Lake Mille Lacs is a tremendous fishery and anglers who know that are going to have nothing to complain about once again this season. While a walleye dinner will be tough to come by, and any you accidentally catch must be immediately released, this is a lake worth continuing to care for.

    Follow the lead of those muskie anglers last fall who released two probably state record fish. Both are still swimming around. Follow the lead of most bass anglers who battle a 21-inch trophy smallmouth and then photograph it in a quick grip-and-grin before returning it to the waters. Respect the trophy pike that love tricking muskie anglers and release that 40-incher.

    Those of us who wet a line in Mille Lacs this summer have the same responsibility as all the locals do--keep the fishing spots a secret but remind people how good this lake is and, until they show up in masses, make the most of it.

Glaciers as sentinels of climate change

The author (right) with Wendell Tangborn (second from left), his wife Andrea (second from left) and family friend Matti Martin (left) at his home on Vashon Island off the coast of Seattle.

The author (right) with Wendell Tangborn (second from left), his wife Andrea (second from left) and family friend Matti Martin (left) at his home on Vashon Island off the coast of Seattle.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Wendell Tangborn who is a renowned U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist, now retired, based on Vashon Island, Washington. He is originally from Minnesota and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. His life took him to the Pacific Northwest because there’s not much for a glacial scientist to study in Minnesota, no matter how cold it gets. 

Tangborn has over half a century of field knowledge with significant experience measuring glacier mass balance, runoff and related variables. If anyone questions the impact of glaciers on Minnesota, they should read on because our location in North America makes us particularly susceptible to climate change. We are also sitting in the middle of one of the largest supplies of freshwater in the world and the global population is thirsty, and getting thirstier. 

It was a great privilege to sit down with Tangborn and talk about the outlook for our future. I only wish the news was a bit brighter, but there are still things we can do as a society to prepare for what’s coming. The sooner we prepare, the better we can weather the challenges climate change will bring. Here’s the Q&A I had with Tangborn:

Q: In what ways are glaciers serving as a bellweather for climate change?

Tangborn: “The Earth’s 190,000 glaciers are sentinels of climate change and appear to be more sensitive to the climate than are humans.  But we have ignored what they are telling us.  Most of the world’s glaciers began changing in the late 1980s from relative stability to negative mass balances.   Mass balance is the difference between ice gain derived from snow accumulation and ice loss from snow and ice melting.  Thus, negative balances mean a glacier is losing mass from melting faster than it is gaining mass as snow.  (See www.ptaagmb.com for detailed explanations and examples.) 

The relatively abrupt change to negative glacier mass balances strongly suggests a climate tipping point, when the climate changes from one stable state to another. 

Q: That term “tipping point” comes up often when talking about climate change, but many speculate as to what that point will look like. What evidence is there to support these claims?

Tangborn: “There is other compelling evidence to indicate a climate tipping point has been reached.  One of the most critical is the loss of the floating sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean.  In 2014, the late-summer extent of sea ice in the north polar seas was the lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979.  Before 1979, evidence based on shipping and whaling charts suggests it has not been this low for at least hundreds of years. Paleo climatologists believe that Arctic sea ice cover last melted completely during summers about 125,000 years ago, during a warm period between ice ages.”

Q: How will the loss of Arctic sea ice impact the world? 

Tangborn: “Reduction of northern-hemisphere sea ice is a positive feedback mechanism:   More incoming solar radiation or insolation (light) is absorbed into darker ocean water instead of being reflected by ice and then re-radiated into the atmosphere as infrared radiation (heat). This, in turn, reduces the extent of the annual northern-hemisphere snow cover, which further accelerates global warming. A related positive feedback mechanism that could be even more environmentally devastating is the release of methane from permafrost and seafloor hydrates as the ocean warms.”

Q: What other evidence is there that we’ve already experienced a tipping point?

Tangborn: “Another tipping-point indicator is the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which have shown signs of disintegrating during the past two decades. Just partial melting of these ice sheets will raise sea level several meters.”

Q: Much of this has been in the works for over 30 years. What’s the impact of a lack of action when we first saw these signs? 

Tangborn: “If the warning glaciers gave us in the 1980s had been heeded, and a crash program to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy had been initiated then, the climate-change crises we are facing now would be less acute.  Transitions to alternative energy such as solar and wind are underway now, but we’re late getting started and are not yet substantial enough to reduce the rate of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. These emissions have resulted in releasing into the atmosphere about 40 billion tons of carbon per year, and the rate of emissions was increasing by about two pecent annually in 2014. It should be declining if we want to avert a humanitarian crisis caused by food shortages in an out-of-control climate.

Q: Sounds pretty bleak. What can be done at this point?

Tangborn: “The implications are stark. For civilization to survive, fossil fuel burning must taper off dramatically and be replaced with renewable sources of energy.  The United Nation’s International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) could provide guidance on how this might be accomplished.  The panel is composed of climatologists and other scientists from more than 100 member countries.  Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis.

The recent visit of President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and Interior Secretary Jewell to Alaska to observe glaciers and the effect of climate change symbolically emphasized the problem of global climate warming and its impact on the well-being of humans. The GLACIER conference as it was called was organized to increase awareness of the environmental problems that face Alaskans such as coastal erosion, wildfires, sea level rise and permafrost thawing – problems that the entire world will soon be facing.”

Tangborn lives on Puget Sound on an island made of glacial till. That large body of water is fed by glacial meltwater so he is among the many who are seeing incremental changes creeping up. The impact of global warming is already mounting in many places and that will only increase. Will many Americans continue to deny that it’s a problem, only to realize too late that they could have been better prepared?  

Planet Earth will survive either way and the cyclical nature of the geologic time scale will allow for the pendulum to swing. The problem is that geologic time gets counted in millennia as human time is counted in seconds. The clock is ticking. 

Tangborn’s parting comments were, “Mountain glaciers and humans have coexisted for roughly 200,000 years, waxing and waning but surviving as entities. It is ironic that the impending demise of glaciers is being driven by human activities. The fate of both humans and glaciers will depend on drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions during the next decade.  Glaciers began sending mankind a warning that the climate was changing three decades ago. Are we ready to pay attention to them now?”

Let’s hope we are. This is a human problem, not a partisan issue to be swept under the rug or argued into a grave. The forecast is bleak indeed if we continue to do little to nothing.