A look back at the top 10 Minnesota hunting, fishing, and conservation stories of 2016

Jim Wackler's 36-point nontypical buck was one of the top stories of 2016.

As promised in my print column, here’s the reasoning behind what the editorial staff at Outdoor News considered the top 10 stories in our newspaper last year:

10. Inaugural Outdoor News Deer and Turkey Classic comes to St. Paul. Hey, nothing wrong with a shameless promotion for a great event, right? The staff at Outdoor News spent years wondering aloud if we could bring Minnesota a great deer hunting sportshow, and in 2016 we launched one. It was a tremendous success, and we’re looking forward to an even bigger event March 10-12 at the same site: the Warner Coliseum on the State Fairgrounds. Be there!

9. Muskie stocking brings controversy; Gull Lake chain near Brainerd and Fairmont chain get fish. Yowza! Who knew stocking muskies could be so controversial? Well, maybe anyone who’s edited a Minnesota-based outdoors publication for two decades… but the bleating about expanding the number of muskies lakes surprised even me. The DNR finally settled on two systems for stocking, both of which should provide great trophy angling opportunities inside the next decade.

8. Moose reviewed as part of potential Endangered Species Act petition. Monitor this one, folks. The fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing this petition is a small piece of protocol now, but if full ESA listing eventually evolves from this review, look out. Not judging here – in fact, biologically, there might be a case for listing given the incredible plunge in moose numbers – but if this happens, expect years, maybe decades of litigation and changes for resource management. Perhaps the recent sage grouse initiative and agreement could provide a template for how to manage a threatened species without ESA listing.

7. Howard Lake man takes 36-point buck. Sitting in a lawn chair, 78-year-old Jim Wackler blasted one of the biggest nontypicals in state history when he took this massive 36-pointer. Likely at least a top-five Minnesota buck, it will be on display at the Deer and Turkey Classic in March.

6. Gary Clancy passes. Family, readers, and staff here at Outdoor News took it very hard when longtime contributing writer and Strictly Whitetails columnist Gary Clancy passed away last summer. Clancy had written for Outdoor News for 25 years, and his folksy, upbeat words touched the hearts of so many north-country, cabin-loving Minnesotans. Working with Pheasants Forever, Outdoor News is raising money for a Gary Clancy Wildlife Management Area that we hope to dedicate in 2017.

5. Bass Pro to acquire Cabela’s. Growing up in the 1980s, traveling to visit a Cabela’s or Bass Pro store was my version of visiting Disneyland. The massive retailers and fierce competitors helped make hunting and fishing cool again. The news that Bass Pro is purchasing the institution founded by Dick and Jim Cabela marks the dawn of a new era for outdoors consumers.

4. Bloomington’s Seth Feider wins Bassmaster Angler of Year Championship. The big bass fishing championship on Lake Mille Lacs brought a ton of good vibes to the region, and it firmly established the Big Lake as one of the nation’s top trophy smallmouth destinations. Underlying all that positive energy was the story of local boy done good – in the form of 31-year-old Seth Feider, who punched his ticket into the field of 50 via a second-place finish at the Plano Bassmaster Elite Series event on the mighty Mississippi River. A week later, the Amazing Feider Man placed first in the 2016 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship tournament on Mille Lacs with an incredible 76 pounds, 5 ounces of bass. Fun story.

3. Ontario spring black bear hunt returns. The still-puzzling decision by the province of Ontario to eliminate its spring bear hunt in 1999 felt like a critical moment in the fight against anti-hunters as the 20th Century drew to a close. In retrospect, it seems like a high-water mark (or low-water mark) for efforts to ban hunting across North America, and Ontario’s announcement in 2016 that it would resume spring bear hunts in the province for nonresidents recaptures an important hunting opportunity. Many Minnesotans took spring bears in Ontario prior to the ban, and I’m surprised and happy that can resume.

2. CWD found in southeastern Minnesota. A couple tough headlines to wrap up this blog, starting with the discovery of chronic wasting disease 30 miles west of where I hunt. The DNR first announced two infected deer about a mile apart in the Preston and Lanesboro area, then in late December, another one popped up five miles north. This feels like the big one folks, and I worry Minnesota may have its own permanent CWD endemic zone. We’ll be dealing with the fallout of this discovery for years, at best.

1. Lake Mille Lacs hosts catch-and-release open-water walleye season. I wish the treaty fishing debacle wasn’t the biggest outdoors story of 2016, but there’s no way around that fact when state anglers – for the first time ever – faced total catch-and-release walleye fishing on Mille Lacs. The all-release fishery began with the beginning of the open water season, and even that ended when hooking mortality resulted in state anglers reaching their “harvest quota.” Despite watching anglers dutifully releasing their fish all season, that closure still didn’t come fast enough for the bands, who complained about C&R fishing continuing after the state topped its quota.

During the treaty litigation and early days of co-management, fisheries managers and other DNR brass told me I was painting a negative, “worst-case” scenario when I asked if catch-and-release seasons or closures could ever happen mid-season. We just witnessed one that encompassed an entire open-water fishing season.

On the bright side, the state is allowing some ice-fishing walleye harvest, and anglers are reporting a great bite this first week of the year.

Bring on a great 2017!

Categories: Bass, Bloggers on Hunting, CWD, Deer & Turkey Show, Hunting News, Rob Drieslein, Walleye, Whitetail Deer

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