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.

Ice conditions improve, but slush still a problem on some lakes

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: December 24, 2013 - 3:38 PM

Yes, it's been plenty cold in Minnesota recently. And yes, that has helped solidify ice on lakes around the state.

Still, two vehicles went through thin ice last week – one near Bemidji and one near Glenwood -- and conservation officers say that while conditions generally have improved, slush still persists in some areas, making travel difficult.

As always, check ahead before you head out onto a lake.

Here are some reports from conservation officers:

Daniel Baumbarger, (Glenwood): A call of a vehicle that had gone through the ice on Lake Gilchrist was received; all occupants made it out safely, but should serve as a reminder that the ice is never completely safe.

Mark Mathy (Cass Lake): Activity remains low due to lake conditions and cold weather. Large lakes appear to have better ice than small ones; 10-12 inches is common on Lake Winnie with slush subsiding a bit, however, some areas of less ice may exist. Significant slush and weaker ice is present on smaller lakes in the area.

Duke Broughten (Longville):  Anglers and snowmobilers continue to have limited travel due to poor ice conditions. Anglers who are able to get out report poor success. Broughten advises anglers and snowmobilers to exercise extreme caution if they decide to travel on the ice.

Brad Schultz (Cook):  Ice conditions are quite poor due to heavy snow and slush. The stakes marking various trails on the Cook end of Lake Vermilion have not been placed in the ice due to poor conditions.

Sean Williams (Ely): The layer of slush on many lakes has begun to freeze and fish house towns have started to form.

Marty Stage (Ely): Found the ice to be greatly improved since a lot of the snow either blew off or was absorbed by the slush and refrozen with the cold temps. There are some real terrible spots though, so be wary. Fishermen are still few and far between and the snowmobiles are just beginning to use the trails a little. 

Darin Fagerman (Grand Marais): Slush has come up in a big way during the week. It might be wise to do a drive-by of your favorite fishing hole before settling that heavy snowmobile into what could be a very bad day. The bigger trout lakes such as Gunflint and Saganaga didn’t freeze up until after that first round of heavy snow, so they are in much better shape. 

Randy Hanzal (Duluth): Anglers are struggling to get out to their favorite ice fishing spots due to large amounts of slush on area lakes.

Mike Lee (Crosslake): Anglers were reporting a little better success, due to ice conditions getting better. Officer Lee also received a call of a dog being stuck in a leg-hold trap. The dog was removed after spending the night in the trap. The dog was doing well, and there were no violations committed by the trapper. Officer Lee also received a complaint of traps being tampered with, and some being stolen. Follow up investigation is continuing with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department.

Scott Fitzgerald (Malmo):  Area lakes are still fairly slow with most fishermen reporting a fair amount of slush and varying ice depths. Mille Lacs Lake had some activity in the bays, but again most fishermen are reporting areas of slush and varying ice depths. 

Bret Grundmeier (Hinckley):  Ice conditions have slowly improved with ice thicknesses ranging from 6 inches to 14 inches. Ice conditions on almost all area lakes are still not safe for cars and pickups. 

Doug Lage (Marshall):  Fishing was HOT on Lake Benton with a fish house burning to the ground after the fisherman smelled smoke and quickly exited the house.

Scott Fritz (LaCrescent): Ice fishermen are doing well with perch, bluegills and northern. The full moon and snow have made for some really good coyote hunting.

Wolf harvest at 182, just 38 shy of 220 harvest target

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: December 19, 2013 - 2:17 PM

Hunters and trappers have killed 94 wolves so far in Minnesota's late wolf season, including 37 in the northeast zone, where the harvest quota was 33. The Department of Natural Resources closed that zone Wednesday.

Officials aren't concerned that hunters and trappers exceeded the target harvest in the northeast.

"They are not absolute numbers, just targets,'' said Dan Stark, DNR wolf specialist.  "A few wolves over or under (the targets) isn't critical.''

The total kill this year, including wolves harvested in the early season, stood at 181 Thursday, just 39 wolves shy of the DNR’s target harvest of 220 wolves.

So far, 55 wolves have been killed in the northwest zone, where the target quota is 89 wolves. And two wolves have been killed in the east-central zone, where the target is 10 animals.

The late season ends Jan. 31, though it will be closed by zones earlier if quotas are approached.

Wolf tally stands at 175; northeast zone closes

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: December 18, 2013 - 1:41 PM

Hunters and trappers have killed 87 wolves so far in Minnesota's the late season, including 33 in the northeast zone, where the harvest quota is 33.

The DNR will close that zone at the end of shooting hours Wednesday.

The total kill this year, including wolves harvested in the early season, stood at 175 Wednesday afternoon. The DNR’s target harvest is 220 wolves. The late season ends Jan. 31, though it will be closed by zones earlier if quotas are approached.

So far, 52 wolves have been killed in the northwest zone, where the target quota is 89 wolves. And two wolves have been killed in the east-central zone, where the target is 10 animals.

Mille Lacs walleye regulations to stay the same

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: November 21, 2013 - 11:40 AM

Walleye anglers who fish Mille Lacs Lake this winter will do so under the same bag and slot limit that has been in effect since May, the Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.

Following fish population assessments this fall, the DNR determined that maintaining the existing regulation was appropriate. That regulation allows anglers to harvest walleye between 18- and 20-inches, except one over 28 inches may be harvested. The possession limit is two.

The walleye fishing season runs through Feb. 23 and reopens May 10. The walleye regulation for the 2014 open water season will be announced in late winter following an evaluation of harvest data.

Cold weather could mean more ducks over hunters' blinds

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: November 7, 2013 - 5:15 PM

Minnesota's duck season is nearing a critical point, as recent cold weather freezes some lakes and sloughs. Ducks should be migrating into – and out of – the state.

The DNR's weekly waterfowl migration report says hunters reported mixed success over the past week, but generally better than the previous week.

"Duck numbers in northern Minnesota declined dramatically as many lakes are now ice covered,'' reported Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

"Many locations in central and southern Minnesota noted increasing numbers of ducks, particularly diving ducks, over the past week,'' Cordts reported. "Migrant snow geese, Canada geese, and tundra swans were all observed moving into Minnesota earlier this week. Waterfowl hunting pressure remains very low and will be extremely low this weekend with the firearms deer opener.''

The full report is here.

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