Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

Jan. 14, 2002

Tough ice fishing season continues

A warm November, late freeze over, and questionable ice conditions have all lead to a tough and very slow ice fishing season so far.

In the past week, just after the ice fishing season finally got going, the weather got warm again, snow melted, a few inches of water developed on top of the ice, and according to some reports ice thickness has even diminished.

On top of that, throw in varying ice conditions and thickness across our area lakes, and you've got a tough and slow ice fishing season. Reports still say there may be up to a 12 inches of ice in one spot on a lake, and only five to six inches of ice on another spot.

To make things worse, just imagine if we hade a large snow fall before another cold snap came. The snow mixed in with the water on top of the ice and varied ice conditions could put a big dent in the rest of the ice fishing season.

On a couple of other notes, the walleye and northern pike season closes Feb. 17, and if you have a fish house out on the lake right now it would be a good idea to block it up off the ice a couple of inches.

Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake reported: Fishing activity the last week has been pretty quiet. The warm weather and varied ice conditions have just slowed everything up.

On Howard a few walleyes are coming off, and the sunfish action is just starting to pick up. Ann is still producing a few small walleyes, Henry, Ramsey, and Granite have been the hottest lakes in the area for sunfish, and anglers on Collinwood and Washington are picking up a few walleyes.

Lil' Angie's Bait and Tackle at the Porthole in Lester Prairie reported: Action and activity on our area lakes had been pretty slow. Varied ice conditions and thinning ice have kept anglers at home. Dave Groff, owner, also noted that walking on the ice last week was very tough. "With a little wind, it was like ice sailing or wind surfing."

Regarding fishing, Howard was giving up a few walleyes and small sunfish, and the walleyes were still hitting on Lake Ann.

Minnesota Pheasants: a look back at the season

If there's one group of outdoor enthusiasts that's been pretty happy about the warm weather and mild winter, it's Minnesota's 70,000 plus pheasant hunters. Warm and mild winters bring visions of great pheasant hunting the next fall.

In this scenario, the only problem is there just aren't many pheasants in Minnesota. To get really good hunting back will take a couple of mild winters in a row, mixed in with dry springs, for good nesting, and, of course, more and more habitat development in the areas of undisturbed nesting cover, food plots and wintering areas.

Although weather is important, in any scenario that involves pheasants, habitat and, a lot of it, is always the key.

Looking back at the past season, I'd rate it right in the middle of the pack of 20 plus years of extensive pheasant hunting across Minnesota's pheasant range; and not all that much different than last years.

In September, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources came out with the results from August roadside accounts, it stated that Minnesota's pheasant population had declined by about 50 percent from the previous year.

In some areas of the state and in general, the DNR and the roadside counts were right. However, and especially in western Minnesota, bird numbers were, I believe, higher, than the DNR and the survey numbers indicated.

First of all, the hunting season of 2000 was great in western Minnesota and there were a lot more birds out there than anyone anticipated.

Secondly, western Minnesota, and probably a few other parts of the state had a very late pheasant hatch. A wet spring, which hampered pheasant reproduction in May and early June, forced birds to re-nest.

When they re-nested in mid to late June they found excellent nesting conditions, and those birds that hatched late were too small to be seen or counted in the August road side surveys.

These factors and few more added to more birds and better hunting, especially in the later part of the season, in western Minnesota than most hunters and the DNR anticipated.

Locally, it was pretty much a very typical season. The hatch was also late, and avid hunters who worked hard at it got birds and found pockets of birds in areas of good habitat.

One hunter stated the local hunting was good, a little better than expected, but you had to get what you saw.

For area, which has limited pheasant habitat and limited hunting opportunities, that's a pretty average year.

In southwestern Minnesota, where pheasant numbers were very good in 1999 and 2000, the numbers and hunter success did take a pretty steep drop. Compared to western Minnesota - Morris, Ortonville, to Marshall, areas of the southwest like Jackson, Windom and Worthington, have far less pheasant habitat, especially good winter cover.

Also, many of the public lands and other nesting areas are very low ground or sloughs. Throw in a long tough winter, and a wet spring, which all occurred last year, and in the southwest that spells trouble for pheasants.

All in all, the 2001 version of Minnesota pheasant hunting was a bit better than most expected. The biggest downfall was the number of hunters.

I tried diligently to get information regarding pheasant stamp sales in previous years for this column. But, if I would have waited any longer, the 2002 season may have been started. Several reports I read stated that pheasant stamp sales were at about 70,000 this year, and considerably less than previous years.

For Minnesota pheasants and other wildlife, that's bad news. Fewer hunters mean fewer dollars and fewer dollars mean less habita. Like I mentioned before, habitat is the key to good pheasant numbers and good hunting now and in the future.

Outdoor notes

­ The 56th annual Howard Lake Fishing Derby, sponsored by the Howard Lake Sportsmen's Club, is set for Saturday, Feb. 9, 2 to 4 p.m. on Howard Lake.

The grand prize in this years drawing is a 6 1/2 foot by 12 foot King Crow deluxe fish house.

Tickets are available from club members and at Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake.

­ The Prairie Archery Club, located above Angvall Hardware and Mercantile in downtown Lester Prairie, is open for archery shooting evenings on week days and Saturday mornings.

­ For better luck ice fishing, make sure your bait is fresh and your line and tackle are clean. Typically, the lighter weight line and rig you use the better luck you will have.

­ Remember that no ice is ever completely safe, and that ice conditions can vary dramatically from lake to lake, and from one spot on a lake to another.

­ A few reports last week indicated that Big Waverly Lake still had open water in the middle.

­ Howard Lake was featured on the back page of the Jan. 4 issue of Outdoor News as the Lake of the Week.

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