Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

A mild winter for wildlife

Low water foils North Shore steelhead anglers

By Shawn Perich

Field Editor

Grand Rapids, Minn. Northern Minnesota experienced the second
mildest winter in 10 years, which bodes well for the deer herd and
should mean abundant antlerless deer permits for hunters next
fall.

“This year, across the northern forest we should see record or
near record numbers of antlerless permits,” says DNR wildlife
biologist Mark Lenarz.

The state’s deer population has recovered dramatically since the
severe winter of 1996-97, when high losses were sustained across
the state. Some hunters called for the season to be closed in
1997.

Now, five years later, whitetails are again abundant.
Minnesota’s moose had a good winter, too. Lenarz reports that one
of the moose that was captured and fitted with a radio collar in
February died last week. Cause of death hadn’t been determined, but
the carcass had been at least scavenged by wolves. Lenarz says that
after spending the winter in relatively small areas, some of the
radio-collared moose have begun moving about, travelling up to 20
miles from the wintering site.

In the agricultural region, pheasants and other wildlife had
good winter survival.

“In general, it was a wildlife-friendly winter,” says DNR
wildlife biologist John Giudice.

Localized storms, such as two heavy snowfalls near Windom, may
have taken a toll on birds that were caught away from cover.
However, if good production occurs this spring, pheasant hunters
will have promising fall prospects. For Minnesota pheasants, the
primary limiting factor is habitat.

“We are still faced with a shortage of good habitat,” says
Giudice.

“But within the limitations of the habitat, pheasant populations
can recover quickly.”

Fire danger low, for now

Minnesota’s spring wildfire activity has been modest, and crews
are conducting prescribed burns as weather permits.

“We’re doing routine activities,” says information officer Cindy
Sage at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.

Although Minnesota had minimal winter snow pack, cool and moist
weather this spring has inhibited fires. Most recent fire activity
has been grass fires, often resulting from illegal burns. Spring
burning restrictions are in effect.

Airplanes, helicopters, and air tankers are stationed across the
state assist firefighters. State and federal natural resource
agencies cooperate in statewide fire-fighting efforts. Additional
firefighters may be stationed near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness (BWCAW) at a later date.

Steelhead and smelt

Spring rainbow trout fishing got off to a good start on Lake
Superior’s North Shore following ice-out on tributary rivers, but
soon fizzled when water flows dropped to unseasonable low
levels.

Winter-like weather chilled stream temperatures.

“The low, cold water has put a crimp on the rainbow run,” says
DNR Lake Superior fish manager Don Schreiner.

Smelt appeared along Wisconsin’s South Shore and at Duluth’s
Park Point last weekend. Early in the week, Schreiner had no smelt
reports from the North Shore.

The DNR captures rainbow trout with fish traps in the French and
Knife rivers. All stocked rainbow trout are marked with fin clips,
so they can be identified from wild steelhead. As of last Saturday,
117 wild steelhead, 30 clipped steelhead, and about 25 clipped,
Kamloops rainbows were captured in the Knife. At the French River,
where a state fish hatchery is located, 320 Kamloops rainbows, 35
clipped steelhead, and 35 wild steelhead were taken. Eggs are
collected from captured fish for the state’s stocking program.

If it rains and raises stream levels, Schreiner expects the
spring spawning runs will continue. He says anglers reported good
fishing along the North Shore from Duluth to the Canadian border
last week.

Present low water levels limit fishing opportunities to large
rivers.

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