Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Dec. 9, 2002

Ice fishing season off to a fast start

Very little snow and extremely cold temperatures have added up to good, but still only a sheet of, ice on our area lakes.

As of Friday afternoon, Dec. 6, reports say there is three to six inches of good, clear, solid ice on most of the area lakes.

A minimum of four inches of good clear ice is recommended for foot traffic and ice fishing.

Small fish houses have already popped up on Howard Lake and Lake Mary, and anglers have nabbed a few walleyes through the ice on Lake Washington.

Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake reported that we are about a month ahead of last year. If the weather stays cold, we could be off to a fast start for the ice fishing season.

On a few fishing notes, look for Lake Jennie to be a good producer for early-ice walleyes. Don't shy away from lakes in the area that received little fishing pressure this summer due to flooding ­ they could be hot this winter. Please note lakes in the area that are being or will be aerated.

Also, just because there are six inches of ice in one spot on a lake doesn't mean there are six inches of ice across the entire lake. At this time of year, ice conditions on any one lake and from lake to lake, can vary dramatically.

South Dakota pheasants

If I had the opportunity to create an area for the specific purpose of producing pheasants and pheasant hunting, it would be just like the area in Eastern South Dakota I spent a few days in last week.

Tons of CRP, grassland, and nesting cover, dotted with small cattail sloughs, tree lines, groves, and brush piles are apparent. Throw in a good share of crop fields and this area was perfect for pheasants.

However, and to my disappointment, pheasants were few and far between.

The area is in Eastern South Dakota, near the little town of Gary, right on the Minnesota/South Dakota border.

According to many of the landowners I spoke with, the area isn't known for good pheasant numbers and receives very little hunting pressure. They also noted that much of the CRP was recently enrolled in the program, and that the pheasant population never really recovered from the severe winters of the mid-'90s.

These, and I'm sure many other factors, add up to very few pheasants in an area that should produce world class pheasant numbers.

For me this is an interesting issue, and one I plan on digging into.

Finally, the Minnesota pheasant hunting season ends Sunday, Dec. 15. The South Dakota season ends Tuesday, Dec. 31.

Agreement allows flexibility in walleye management

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will move toward a less restrictive slot limit and more stable regulations for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake, thanks to a recent agreement with eight bands of Chippewa that exercise adjudicated federal court rights in the 1837 ceded territory.

The agreement, reached in a mediation session, is a five-year plan to address overages that occur when recreational anglers exceed the state's allotment of the safe harvest level of walleye.

It also establishes a limit on the amount that angler's can exceed the state's share in any year. The plan is now being formally adopted by the bands, many of which have already done so.

According to the state's five-year management plan, which corresponds with the five-year harvest plan developed by the bands, the DNR will regulate recreational walleye harvest with a 17 to 28-inch protected slot limit and four-fish bag limit, with one fish more than 28 inches.

Since a 1999 Supreme Court ruling affirmed harvest rights of bands on Mille Lacs under the 1837 treaty, total walleye harvest by bands and recreational anglers has been limited to 24 percent of the lake's harvestable-size walleye population.

"This plan was very carefully crafted," said DNR commissioner Allen Garber. "It allows the state to continue to manage the Mille Lacs Lake walleye population at sustainable levels while minimizing the impact on the business community and providing the greatest opportunities for our anglers. It gives us the flexibility to avoid in-season regulation changes in most years, collect valuable long-term data, and effectively manage walleye populations."

The new regulations will be implemented in 2003. However, the current 14- to 16-inch harvest slot will stay in effect throughout the winter fishing season.

Depending on feedback gathered at the Dec. 3 meeting of Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Input Group (composed of local business operators, guides and other interested parties), the new slot limit will go into effect at the start of the open-water fishing season in May, 2003, or when the night-fishing band is lifted in mid-June.

"We are going to listen and make the decision in coordination with the people who live and work in the area," said DNR fisheries division director Ron Payer. "Certainly, everyone looks forward to a less-restrictive slot limit, but a conservative approach might be best in the first month of the season."

The agreement reached with the bands allows the DNR to combine and average years when anglers exceed the state's allocation of walleye with years when the anglers are under the states allocation over a five-year period. It will also allow the state to apply the bands' unused portion of their allotment, if any, to any overage.

The agreement includes last year's harvest, when walleye mortality exceeded the state's 300,000-pound allotment by 73,000 pounds. Taking into account the bands' unused portion of their allotment for the past year, the remaining approximately 30,000 pounds will be applied against the state allocation over the next five years, about 6,000 pounds per year.

"The key to this plan is that total walleye mortality from recreational angling cannot exceed the state's cumulative allocation over the five-year period covered by the plan," Payer said. "This gives us a lot of added flexibility in setting and maintaining stable regulations. In addition, we will benefit from collecting data under stable regulations and have a much better idea of what impact our regulations are having on the walleye population."

To further protect Lake Mille Lacs walleye populations, the DNR and the bands agreed on a series of harvest caps that will be determined by the health of the lake's walleye population as agreed to by the Minnesota 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Committee of state and band biologists.

If walleye populations are considered healthy (condition one), the state harvest will be capped at 30 percent over its allowable share of the safe harvest level for any single year between 2003 and 2005. The percentage drops to 22 percent from 2006-2007. Last year, anglers exceeded state's share by 24 percent.

In years of less healthy walleye populations (condition two), the state harvest will be capped at 10 percent over its allowable share of the safe harvest level for any single year. In years of poor population health (condition three), the state cannot exceed its share of the harvestable surplus. In the past 20 years, Lake Mille Lacs has never been in condition three. Condition two has occurred three times in the past 20 years.

The state will continue to manage its fishery to remain within its share of harvestable surplus. If walleye mortality due to recreational harvest appears to be too high during the fishing season, a series of more restrictive regulations will be implemented to insure anglers do not exceed the state's allocation of walleye in an individual year or across the five-year average.

"With this plan, we have the ability to be more flexible with regulations and avoid in-season regulation changes in most years," Payer said. "We feel this plan does a much better job of providing a reasonable, stable regulation while still addressing the rights of the bands in a framework that protects the resource with sound biology."

Wright County Pheasants Forever corn giveaway

The Wright County Chapter of Pheasants Forever will have a corn giveaway for pheasants and wildlife Saturday, Dec. 14, from 8 to 11 a.m., at Lampi's Auction, located at Highway 55 and Wright County Road 6.

Bring your own containers. Quantities may be limited due to demand. For additional information please call (320) 274-CORN (2676).

Snowmobile safety training classes

Snowmobile safety training classes will take place Wednesdays, Jan. 8, 15, 22, and Saturday, Jan. 25.

Registration will take place Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m., at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club. All classes will begin at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, call Sheldon Ehrke at (320) 395-2344.

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