Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

May 12, 2003

Tips on fishing safety for the start of the season

I am on assignment this week. Look for a complete report on the fishing opener in next week's Outdoors column.

DNR offers fishing safety tips for opener

From the DNR

With 2003 Minnesota walleye and northern pike fishing season in full swing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers some tips that will help make outings safer.

Have all the boating safety equipment required by Minnesota law. This is a good idea not just because it will keep you from getting a potentially expensive ticket, but because any of the items can save your life, according to Tim Smalley, DNR boating safety specialist.

That includes a US Coast Guard approved type I, II, III or V wearable personal flotation device, more commonly known as a life jacket, life vest or PFD for each person that will be on the boat.

Boaters also need one additional type IV throwable device (boat cushion or ring buoy) in a boat that is 16 feet or longer. The life jackets also have to be the correct size for the person they are intended.

Lack of the correct number, type and size of life jackets is the number two boating law ticket issued - right behind expired boat registration, Smalley noted. And not wearing a life jacket is the number one reason people die in boating accidents, he said.

"Seat cushions are no longer good enough as the only type of flotation device on your boat," Smalley said. "They need to be the kind you can put on, zip up or buckle and wear."

The law doesn't require life jackets to be worn, but they do have to be easy to get to in case of an emergency. Sealed in a plastic bag, or locked or zipped into an enclosure is not acceptable in the eyes of the law.

"Now days, there is no reason not to wear a life jacket the whole time you are in your boat," Smalley said. "It was once argued by some that life jackets were too hot wear in warm weather. With the new U.S. Coast Guard approved inflatable personal flotation devices, you can be comfortable even on the hottest Minnesota summer day."

Navigation lights ­ Make sure they work and carry a couple of spare bulbs, Smalley advised. And check that your lights aren't blocked by equipment or passengers.

This is a common problem with bow-mounted trolling motors and the canopies on pontoons.

"The problem with many clamp-on stern lights is that the mounting pole is too short," Smalley said. "The white stern light is legally required to be visible from 360 degrees around the boat and not be blocked by people, the motor, etc. If people can't see you at night, eventually, you are going get hit."

When the boat is under power after sunset and before sunrise (even if only trolling), the red and green bow lights and the white stern light must be illuminated.

For a motorboat that is anchored or drifting, the white stern light has to be on, without exception.

Fire extinguisher ­ Many motorboats are required to carry a US Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher. Unfortunately, many extinguisher cartons are poorly marked, so Smalley said purchasers might have to open the box to check the extinguisher label itself.

Horn or whistle ­ Another little-known requirement is that boats 16 feet or longer must carry a hand or power-operated whistle or horn capable of producing a sound for at least two seconds that can be heard for at least one mile.

Spare parts and tools ­ Although not a legal requirement, tools and spare parts like spark plugs and shear pins (if your motor uses them) are a good idea.

Cell phone or marine radio ­ Bring a cell phone along in case of emergencies.

No booze or beer ­ The errors in judgement brought on by alcohol can get a person in trouble long before the level of legal intoxication of .10.

"It gets expensive if you are caught operating your boat under the influence," Smalley said. "Lawyer fees, fines, civil penalties, and a conviction for boating while intoxicated goes on your auto driver's license. You can even lose your boat if you have a couple of alcohol offenses."

"Fishing is safe and fun as long as you obey laws and use common sense," Smalley said.

To find out more about Minnesota's boat and water safety laws, call the DNR information center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-MINN-DNR (646-6367) and ask for a copy of the "Minnesota Boating Guide."

The guide is also available on the DNR web site at www.dnr.state. mn.us/boating by clicking on "Minnesota Boating Guide."

There are many other boat and water safety items that may be downloaded from the DNR web site.

Some OHV trails are ready for riding, some still too soft

From the DNR

As the weather warms and the ground dries, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is starting to open off-highway vehicle (OHV) roads and trails.

But while many road and trail conditions are improving, those further north are still too soft for travel. The DNR urges riders to check conditions before planning riding trips.

Many roads and trails were temporarily closed to prevent damage during the spring thaw. Now, the agency is starting to open them where conditions allow.

"But, conditions vary greatly across the state. Not all roads and trails have progressed to the same point," said Tim Browning, DNR Trails and Waterways.

"There is still frost in the ground in many areas which means the ground underneath the dry surface is still soft and fragile," Browning added.

In some places the frost is still causing spring rain to sit on top of the ice layer and not percolate down.

"Trails wind their way through a variety of conditions," Browning said. "And we won't open the trail system or the state forest until the whole unit can handle the traffic. The DNR may open some roads in stages, but the trails in the woods will generally stay closed until all the trail system has improved enough to hold up to traffic."

To find out which roads and trails are open for use and which are closed, check the DNR web site www.dnr.state.mn.us under "current conditions," or call the DNR information center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-MINN-DNR (646-6367). Road and trail closing information is updated weekly.

According to Browning, although the DNR has had to temporarily close some roads and trails, the agency wants to give riders as many riding opportunities as possible.

"We will open roads and trails as soon as we feel they can handle traffic. We urge riders to check the web site or call before riding, and to ride responsibly."

DNR also reminds riders that Minnesota law prohibits ditch riding south of the agriculture line between April 1 and Aug. 1. The agricultural line runs roughly from Moorhead to Taylors Falls along Highway 10 and 95.

Minnesotans urged to report trumpeter swan pairs

From the DNR

Trumpeter swans, once almost eliminated due to market hunting and habitat loss, have made a dramatic comeback, and Minnesotans are being asked to help in the restoration effort.

The Department of Natural Resources is asking the public to report sightings of new swan pairs in wetlands in order to help locate new nesting sites, said Steve Kittelson, DNR nongame wildlife trumpeter swan restoration project leader for Minnesota.

The DNR's trumpeter swan restoration project has released more than 300 swans since 1987. But keeping track of the fate and whereabouts of new nesting pairs has become increasingly difficult, according to Kittelson.

The Minnesota flock of trumpeter swans now consists of more than 1,500 individuals.

"These free-flying birds could show up virtually anywhere in the state," Kittelson said.

The DNR trumpeters have expanded their range and have paired up with trumpeters from other state restoration projects, including Iowa and Wisconsin.

Kittelson asks anyone seeing a new pair of trumpeter swans at a wetland, to write down the date and location of the sighting; the number of tagged and untagged birds; the color and the ID number from wing tags or neck collars, if possible.

Minnesota DNR swans have orange plastic wing tags (right wing on males, left wing on females).

New swan pairs should be reported to Steve Kittelson at (651) 296-9662 in the Twin Cities metro area, toll-free at 888-MINN-DNR in greater Minnesota, or e-mail steve.kittelson@dnr.state.mn.us.

"With this valuable information we can determine which birds are nesting, where they nest, and whether or not they are successful," Kittelson said.

More local lake fishing reports

Lake Marion Fishing Report

Lake Marion is located north of Brownton on State Hwy 15. The main basin of Marion is 419 acres and has a maximum depth of 15 feet. There is a public access on the east side of the lake.

There is a fishing pier at the county park and shoreline angling is available at the park as well as well as along State Highway 15. Marion has consistently been one of the best fishing lakes in the area.

Netting conducted by the DNR in 2000 indicated net catches above the normal range for walleye, with many fish in the 15 inch to 24 in. range.

Walleye fry (day old) are stocked two out of three years. No stocking is scheduled for 2003. The net catch for northern pike was also above the normal range with lengths ranging from 18 inches to 30 inches.

The net catch for black crappies was over six times higher than the average net catch for a lake of this type. Many crappies were available in the 7.5 inch to 9 inch range.

Crappie fishing this past winter was very good and shore anglers this summer are already catching limits of fish.

Bluegill sunfish would also be a good choice for anglers with a net catch of over five times the average. Many fish will be in the 6.5 inch to 8 inch length range.

Marion Lake provides a unique opportunity to catch channel catfish. Anglers have a chance at catching a 20 pound plus channel at Marion.

Netting conducted in 2000 sampled catfish from 17 inches up to 33 inches in length.

Belle Lake Fishing Report

Belle lake, north of Hutchinson, should provide good angling this summer. Belle Lake is 545 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 25 feet.

There is a state-owned public access on the east shore and a county-owned access on the southeast side. There is a popular fishing pier and shoreline fishing available at the county park on the southeast side.

This past winter, anglers reported catching high numbers of 2 year old walleyes. By late summer, these walleyes should reach a catchable size of 12 inches to 14 inches.

After the bass season opens, anglers should also be able to catch some nice sized largemouth bass.

If you are a bullhead fisherman, you may also want to try your luck at black and yellow bullheads.

Jennie Lake Fishing Report

Jennie Lake is about six miles north of Hutchinson and should provide good angling opportunities. The 1,056 acre lake has a maximum depth of 14 feet.

There are public accesses on both the north and south shorelines. If you do not have a boat, shoreline access is available at both accesses.

A netting survey conducted by the DNR in 2000, indicated an above average net catch for walleye. Walleyes ranged in size from 15 inches to 25 inches.

If you like to fish for walleye but do not have a boat, you might be encouraged to know that anglers have had good success slipping on a pair of waders and working the shorelines at night.

Jennie Lake has excellent numbers of northern pike with most fish being in the 20 to 25 inch range. In 2000, some northerns were up to 31 inches in length.

There are good numbers of bluegills that should be in the 7-8 inch range. Jennie should also provide some action for largemouth bass later on.

Washington Lake Fishing Report

Washington Lake will likely be one of the most popular fishing lakes again this summer. Washington is located between Darwin and Dassel.

There is a large public access on the south shoreline. The 2,639 acre lake has a maximum depth of 17 feet and has a history of being an excellent walleye lake.

In summer 2001, the DNR conducted netting operations on Washington Lake. The net catch for walleye was above the normal range with many fish from 12 inches to 16 inches in length.

Even with good net catches, walleye fishing might be a little difficult due to the high numbers of small yellow perch. Walleye prefer perch as a forage base.

With millions of small perch on which to feed, the walleyes will not have to look very hard to find a meal. Washington should provide good angling for northern pike.

In 2001, the DNR net catch for northern pike was within the normal range. Lengths of northerns ranged from 17 inches to 36 inches with most fish ranging from 19 inches to 25 inches.

Bluegill numbers in Lake Washington are above the normal range. During the last few summers, anglers have reported many nice sized bluegills with many fish being from 8 inches to 10 inches.

Washington will also provide good angling for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass this summer.

From local reports last summer, it is likely that Eurasian watermilfoil will again create dense mats of vegetation at Washington. Anglers may need to adjust their tactics to deal with these beds of vegetation.

Boaters should be especially careful to clean off their boats and trailers when leaving the lake so as not to spread the exotic plant species.

Stella Lake Fishing Report

Stella Lake, south of Darwin, should be an excellent choice for walleye fishing on the opener. Stella is 553 acres in size and is 75 feet deep.

There is a public access on the south side of the lake. DNR netting conducted in 2001, indicated the number of walleye was over three times higher than the upper range for a lake of this types.

Though there are several age classes of walleye in Stella, many fish will be taken in the 12 inch to 18 inch range. Stella has good numbers of northern pike with lengths from 17 inches to 34 inches.

For anglers looking for that trophy northern pike, Stella would be a good choice. Stella Lake would also be your best choice for taking a "trophy" sized smallmouth bass.

Manuella Lake Fishing Report

Lake Manuella is about 3 miles southwest of Darwin. The lake is fairly deep at 51 feet and is 286 acres in size. The number of walleye was above the normal range in netting completed in 2001.

Many walleye were in the 14 to 20 inch range. Manuella had average numbers of northern pike. Northern pike ranged from 16 to 28 inches.

Angling for bluegills should be good for 7 inch to 8 inch fish. Manuella Lake has fair numbers of largemouth bass and if your interested in catching high numbers of smallmouth bass, Manuella Lake would be your best choice.

For those people interested in bullhead fishing, there are yellow bullheads between 12 inches to 13 inches.

Stahls Lake Fishing Report

Stahls Lake is located just north of Hutchinson. The lake is 142 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 35 feet. There is an access to the lake at the county park on the southeast side. Stahls is somewhat unique in that there are two earthen fishing piers available to shoreline anglers.

The channel between Stahls Lake and French Lake has also been a popular fishing spot. The shoreline of the channel belongs to McLeod County Parks.

A 2001 netting assessment indicated excellent numbers of northern pike with lengths between 17 inches and 32 inches. Walleye are present in low numbers with lengths ranging from 18 inches and 26 inches.

Net catches of bluegills were above the normal range with some bluegills in the 6 inch to 8 inch range. Numbers of black crappies was average with most fish being 7 inches to 9 inches.

There should also be good fishing for yellow bullheads from 11 to 12 inches.

Minniebelle Lake Fishing Report

Minniebelle Lake is a very popular fishing and recreational lake, located about 4 miles south of Litchfield.

The lake is 545 acres in size and is fairly deep at 49 feet. A public access is located on the east shoreline.

During the spring of 2003, the DNR conducted netting at Minniebelle. One purpose of the netting was to gather base line information on lengths of northern pike in order to evaluate the new protected slot limit of 24" to 36" which goes into effect this year.

Another purpose of the netting was to get population estimates for walleye and northern pike. As part of assessment work the DNR captured and marked 227 walleyes and 754 northern pike.

Most walleyes were from 2-6 pounds and most northerns ranged from 1.5 to 3 pounds. The largest walleye was 27 inches in length or 7-8 pounds.

The largest northern pike was 36 inches or between 10-11 pounds. Netting also indicated black crappies up to 13 inches, bluegills up to 10 inches and largemouth bass up to 19 inches so fishing for these species should be good.

For those anglers interested in bullheads, Minniebelle Lake has an excellent yellow bullhead population. Many of these bullheads are in the 12 inch to 16 inch range.

Something new for Lake Minniebelle is that about a year ago, the DNR purchased an Aquatic Management Area (AMA) on the lake.

Aquatic Management Areas are designed to provide angling opportunity and protect valuable resources. Site clean up, parking lot and trail construction should be completed this summer.

Outdoor notes

­ Hope you had good luck and a great outdoor experience during Minnesota's 2003 fishing opener.

Look for a complete report on how the first week of fishing went in our area in next week's column.

­ Look for trapshooting league standings from the Lester Prairie Sportmen's club in Herald Journal sports.

­ The Winsted Sportsmen's Club will meet Tuesday, May 13 at the Lake Mary Club House.

­ The annual "Take a Kid Fishing Day" sponsored by the Winsted Sportsmen's Club is set for Sunday, June 8. To pre-register, or for more information contact Tom Kieser at (952) 955-1704.

The event begins with registration at 1 p.m., with fishing from 2 to 4 p.m., with a meal and prizes from 4 to 5 p.m. Pre-registration is recommended.

­ Seventeen students graduated last week from the Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club DNR certified Firearms Safety Training.

­ In last week's column I listed my top 10 local spots for this year's fishing opener. I accidentally forgot spots seven through 10.

Spot number six was: All the lakes in southern Wright County that got hammered by flooding last summer. No one fished them most of last summer and activity on them was slim this winter ­ they should be ready to go. I wanted to say spots 6 through 10 were those lakes in southern Wright County.

­ There is a new fishing pier on Winsted Lake. The pier can be accessed from Mill Reserve Park and provides an excellent fishing opportunity. Look for a photo and more info on the pier in next weeks column.

­ Get your dog checked for heartworm and on a heartworm preventative medication.

­ Look for morel mushrooms to be out very soon. Typically the best time to hunt morels is when the lilacs begin to bloom.

However, because of some cold weather lately, good morel hunting may occur a bit later. The lilacs in my backyard began to bloom late last week.

­ If you haven't noticed, spring has happened. Lawns are being mowed, the trees are becoming full and green, and dandelions are popping up.

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