Doug Smith

Even if the fish aren’t biting, the ducks aren’t flying and the pheasants aren’t flushing, Doug Smith says any day spent outdoors is a good day. A Minnesota native, he’s been covering the outdoors for the Star Tribune since 1995. He considers walleyes fried over a campfire to be gourmet cuisine.

Warm water means anglers must switch to summer tactics

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 3, 2014 - 6:11 PM

Summerlike temperatures have turned spring fishing into summer fishing in just days

Water temperatures that were in the mid-50s have jumped to the low 70s in many areas,  including as far north as the Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids and Bemidji areas, DNR conservation and fisheries officials repoort.

That meaning anglers have had to switch from spring fishing tactics and locations to summer mode and locations.

Meanwhile, a boater in central Minnesota experienced a major bummer: Conservation officer Dan Starr of Onamia helped a motorist whose boat motor had been scraping on the tar for miles.

“The lower unit was worn down right to the gear case, and most of the prop was gone,’’ reported Starr.

Also, if you're heading out fishing soon, be prepared for bugs. The combination of rain and warmth has caused an explosion of mosquitoes that have harassed anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts in recent days.

New deer population goals set for southeast

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 29, 2014 - 2:58 PM

Deer densities in a large area of southeastern Minnesota will be increased, while densities in other southeast areas will remain the same or be reduced, the Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.

The changes are the result of the agency's ongoing deer population goal-setting review. The new deer population goals are the result of a public process initiated late last fall that included public input before convening a citizen stakeholder advisory team.

“By managing for these new goals, the majority of permit areas should experience population increases,” said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

DNR increased goal densities in deer permit areas 341, 342, 345, 347 and 348. Permit areas 343, 346 and 349 will maintain existing goal densities, as will Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, permit area 344.

Although deer density goals were not changed for permit areas 343, 346 and 349, populations in those areas already are above goal so management will continue to be designed to lower deer densities to goal in those areas.

“Deer densities in 343, the area that includes Rochester, will be managed to remain roughly the same,” McInenly said. “The special disease management zone in the Pine Island area will be eliminated and merged with permit areas 341 and 343, allowing deer numbers to recover from chronic wasting disease management efforts.”

DNR will allow hunters to harvest more deer in permit areas 346 and 349 to significantly reduce deer densities because of extremely high deer densities observed during aerial surveys this past winter.

Here's more from DNR news release:

With the exception of those two far southeastern permit areas, deer management to achieve goals in many permit areas will require conservative harvest strategies this coming fall that likely will include a one-deer bag limit. Harvest management will be designed to gradually move populations toward goals during the next few years.

“By seeking a consensus-based recommendation from a group of local citizens with diverse perspectives and experiences, the process was designed to result in sustainable, citizen-based goals that were publicly supported,” McInenly said. “We had a good deal of public interest and very dedicated volunteers.”

Southeast advisory team members were selected through an open nomination process and members were tasked with developing recommendations for new deer population goals after considering biological and social data.

Team members considered more than 4,000 responses to hunter and landowner surveys, comments from nearly 600 online or meeting questionnaires, public meetings and written communication to the DNR. They reviewed information related to deer populations, harvest trends, habitat, browsing impacts and public health and safety. Other factors associated with deer management also were considered.

After collecting public comment on team recommendations, the DNR approved eight of the nine team recommendations without revision. A slight revision to the team recommendation for permit area 342 was necessary to prevent a population increase of nearly 50 percent from the current level, which would have established a deer density that available habitat could not support.

“Only three percent of surveyed hunters desired such an increase and a number of team members suggested they would have preferred an intermediate level of increase,” McInenly said. “The revised density range still exceeds the level suggested by most survey respondents but better reflects desires identified from more recent public comment and advisory team discussion.”

More information on southeastern Minnesota’s new deer population goals and plans for goal setting in the remainder of the state during the next two years is available on the DNR’s deer management webpage at (

Northern Wisconsin will be mostly bucks-only hunting this fall to help herd recover

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 28, 2014 - 3:48 PM

It will be bucks-only deer hunting for most of northern Wisconsin next fall as officials try to help the herd rebound from a brutal winter.

Wisconsin's Natural Resources Board approved the Department of Natural Resources' recommendations for the 2014 deer hunting season, which includes antlerless quotas, antlerless permit levels and an updated CWD-affected area.

"With the severity of this past winter, recommending a buck only hunting season for much of northern Wisconsin is a first step in allowing the deer population to recover," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "We have received a great deal of public input on these recommendations and have received great support."

Here's more from a state news release:

In 2014, 19 counties (all or in whole) and four tribal reservation deer management units will allow buck only hunting with an antlerless quota of zero for most hunters. New deer management units will follow county lines and reservation boundaries. It is important to note that youth hunters, disabled hunters and qualified military personnel will be allowed to harvest a limited number of antlerless deer in buck only units. All proposed buck only counties fall within the northern and central forest deer management zones.

In addition to each hunter receiving one free antlerless permit for use in farmland zones in 2014, approximately 175,000 bonus antlerless deer permits will become available for purchase in mid-August. At purchase, hunters will designate the zone, county and land type where they will use each bonus permit. Public versus private land designation will allow the department to limit antlerless harvest on heavily-hunted public lands.

The board also established the boundaries of an updated CWD affected area. This area will include 35 counties where CWD has been detected in either wild or game farm deer or elk since 2008. The department will continue to work with stakeholders throughout Wisconsin to learn more about the disease. For more information, visit and search keyword "CWD."

Implementation of the approved recommendations will involve public outreach to inform hunters, landowners and others about changes and opportunities prior to the 2014 deer season. For more information, see and search keyword "deer."

South Dakota to reduce antlerless deer harvest because of declining deer population

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 15, 2014 - 11:08 AM

Minnesota isn't the only state coping with declining deer populations.

South Dakota officials have announced big changes this fall to try to boost deer numbers there.

With decreased deer populations across the state, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission has proposed to reduce the number of licenses and tags for many of the state’s deer hunting seasons.

The proposed East River deer season would result in a reduction of 7,240 licenses and 20,560 tags compared to 2013. The substantial decrease in antlerless tags is intended to increase deer populations in several management areas.

Officials said the response is being implemented where deer populations have declined over the past few years due primarily to outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), habitat loss and weather.

Here's more from a news release:

The proposed West River deer season would result in 3,775 fewer licenses with a corresponding reduction in tags by 25,120 (56 percent). Similar to the East River deer season, the most significant reduction in tags for the West River season will be antlerless tags, which are proposed to decrease by 86 percent or 23,145 compared to 2013.

The commission proposal for the Black Hills deer hunting season would have no antlerless licenses for 2014. The Black Hills proposal calls for 200 resident and 16 non-resident any deer licenses and 3,000 resident and 240 non-resident any whitetail deer licenses.

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks recommended no changes to the Custer State Park deer hunting season and will again have 10 any whitetail licenses and 20 antlerless whitetail muzzleloader licenses.

The proposal for the 2014 archery deer hunting season would only allow the harvest of whitetail deer on antlerless deer licenses. Each hunter could only have one antlerless license. In addition, several management units in both the eastern and western parts of the state would be closed to antlerless archery deer licenses. 

Youth deer hunters could have one antlerless license; which would be valid statewide under the Commission’s proposal.

The commission will finalize these proposals at itsr June 5-6 meeting in Yankton at Lewis and Clark Resort. Written comments can be sent to To be part of the official public record, comments must be received by 12 p.m. on June 5. Please include your full name along with the city and state of residence. If you would like to comment in person, the public hearing will be held Thursday, June 5, at 2 p.m. CDT at Lewis and Clark Resort in Yankton.

South Dakota angler breaks state record with 128-pound paddlefish

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 12, 2014 - 5:10 PM




A South Dakota man has landed the largest fish ever recorded by an angler in that state – a 127-pound, 9-ounce paddlefish.


Bill Harmon of Chamberlain shattered a 35-year-old state record when he snagged the monster on May 7.

Harmon drew a permit for the Lake Francis Case paddlefish snagging season. His fish surpassed the old record of 120 pounds, 12 ounces set in 1979.

Here's more from the Game, Fish and Parks news release:

Annual stocking efforts of paddlefish began in the early 1990s and have resulted in quality numbers of the species in Lake Francis Case.

Jason Sorensen, S.D. Game, Fish and Parks’ fisheries biologist, noted, “One of the original goals of the paddlefish stocking program was to initiate a sport fishery for this species. Paddlefish are a long-lived species and the Lake Francis Case population has some very old fish.  There is potential for anglers to harvest large paddlefish and Bills’ recent catch is proof of that.” 

Paddlefish are among the largest and longest lived species of freshwater fishes. Native to the Mississippi River drainage, these prehistoric fish once roamed freely throughout the network of rivers in the central United States. From the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in the west to the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers in the east, paddlefish are believed to have made long seasonal migrations throughout the Mississippi River basin.

The unusual appearance of paddlefish amazed early European explorers. Different from most fish species, paddlefish can best be distinguished by their very large mouths and a paddle-shaped snout that is about one third their body length. Paddlefish are bluish-gray in color and appear dark when viewed from above. Similar to many freshwater fishes, they are white on the bottom. Paddlefish lack scales and have smooth skin similar to catfish.

Paddlefish feed primarily on zooplankton by swimming with their mouths open and filtering zooplankton out of the water with their gill rakers. Since paddlefish do not feed on bait fish and invertebrates, conventional fishing methods prove useless to anglers pursuing paddlefish.  Anglers typically snag for paddlefish using heavy-duty equipment and heavy fishing lines.


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