Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

June 9, 2003

Huge clouds of bullheads

My late grandmother, Ida Pawelk, of New Germany was a bullhead lover. She loved to catch 'em, eat' em and even didn't mind cleaning them.

As a kid, I remember seeing her snap at least two of her favorite canepoles, each with a good sized bullhead on the end of the line.

She had a problem with always trying to pull fish up from a high bank on the Crow River. The bigger the fish, the more the pole bent.

Over Memorial weekend I wondered what grandma would have thought if she would have seen what I saw.

What I saw was moving black clouds of waterbound freshly-hatched bullheads. I mean huge clouds, the size of a small house, making their way across Diamond Lake in west central Minnesota, near Willmar.

Grandma probably would have went bullhead-berserk, with canepole and angle worms in hand.

The shear number of bullheads was amazing, and it seemed clouds of them were well-dispersed across the lake. Some of the clouds, or schools of small bullheads, were so thick it was like you could walk across them.

I estimated there had to be at least 100,000 or more baby bullheads in one huge cloud that swam right by my father-in-law's dock.

Needless to say, the walleyes, and Diamond is a good walleye lake, weren't biting. They had more then enough bullheads to eat.

Hopefully, in next week's column I'll have some answers to understanding how the DNR manages lakes with high numbers of bullheads.

For grandma, I hope the river bank she's fishing on now is giving up a lot bullheads.

Bear license lottery results available

From the DNR

Results of the 2003 bear hunting license lottery are now available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Official notification and additional information will be mailed to successful applicants this week.

Applicants who were successful in the lottery and those who plan to hunt the no-quota area may purchase bear hunting licenses ($39 resident, $196 non-resident) starting Tuesday, July 1 at more than 1,800 electronic licenses system vendors located at businesses across the state.

Bear hunters may begin baiting Friday, Aug. 15. The Minnesota bear hunting season runs from Monday, Sept. 1 through Sunday, Oct. 12.

Applicants who were unsuccessful in the lottery will have an opportunity to purchase one of at least 5,144 surplus licenses starting at noon Monday, Aug. 4.

This year, 20,110 licenses were available in 11 northern Minnesota permit areas, according to Lou Cornicelli, big game season specialist for the DNR Division of Wildlife.

"The number of applicants for bear licenses has been declining steadily for the past few years," Cornicelli said. "We continue to look for ways to reverse that trend and keep the state's bear population within specified goals."

A proposal currently being considered will allow those who did not apply for a bear license to purchase surplus licenses after unsuccessful lottery applicants have had an opportunity.

Details on the new rule will be announced this summer.

Areas with surplus licenses include: permit area 51, 1,533 surplus licenses; permit area 45, 931 surplus licenses; permit area 24, 735 surplus licenses; permit area 25, 686 surplus licenses; permit area 31, 665 surplus licenses; permit area 13, 432 surplus licenses; and permit area 22, 162 licenses.

Ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse numbers increasing

From the DNR

Minnesota's ruffed grouse numbers increased slightly this year after three years of decline, indicating that the bird's 10-year population cycle may be starting its upswing, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Statewide, drumming counts were up 13 percent compared with last year, with a significant increase of 33 percent in the central hardwoods, according to John Erb, DNR wildlife research biologist in Grand Rapids.

The northwest, north-central and northeast drumming indices remained stable. Drumming counts increased 50 percent in the southeast, although the small number of routes in that part of the state has little effect on the statewide average.

Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's ruffed grouse range.

This year, volunteers and DNR staff worked 129 routes. For the past half-century, DNR biologists have tracked ruffed grouse populations as they rise and fall in a predictable 10-year cycle.

"We will likely see a continued upswing in grouse numbers over the next four or five years, though the speed will depend on numerous factors such as nesting and brood rearing conditions, and winter severity," Erb said.

"Cold winters with relatively little snow, like that observed this winter, can negatively affect winter survival of grouse. However, our drumming indices do not suggest it caused any further decline in grouse numbers at the regional or statewide level. Hunters can expect similar to improved hunting opportunity this fall, assuming the weather is conducive to a productive nesting season," Erb said.

Minnesota continues as a leader in grouse hunting opportunities, with cyclic population lows often exceeding grouse peaks in other regions. The ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle occurs naturally.

However, hunters have helped enhance populations overall through hunting license fees that help fund DNR habitat programs, providing the birds with improved food and cover.

One such program is cooperative work among DNR wildlife managers and foresters to increase grouse habitat in state forests.

Sharp tailed grouse numbers increase

Erb also reported that sharp-tailed grouse numbers increased in both the northwest and east-central parts of their range.

Observers look for male sharptails dancing on traditional mating areas, called leks. For leks monitored in 2002 and 2003, surveyors counted 10 percent more birds in the east-central range and 21 percent more in the northwest range.

"Throughout the past 15 years, sharptail population fluctuations have mirrored the ruffed grouse population cycle," Erb said.

"However, superimposed on these periodic changes, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long haul as a result of habitat deterioration," Erb said.

In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keeps trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to survive.

Snowshoe hares near peak

Snowshoe hares are also counted on grouse survey routes. Their numbers appear to be remaining near a peak, though notably lower than the peak observed in the 1970s, Erb said.

Snowshoe hare populations also fluctuate on an approximate 10-year cycle, and, if pattern holds, a cyclic downturn in hare numbers is expected soon.

Ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse surveys are conducted each spring by DNR Division of Wildlife staff and other cooperators.

This spring, ruffed grouse drumming routes were completed by cooperators including staff from DNR Wildlife, Chippewa and Superior national forests, Tamarac and Agassiz national wildlife refuges, Vermillion College, land departments of Cass and Beltrami counties, Blandin Paper Co., 1854 Authority, Indian bands from Fond du Lac, White Earth, Leech Lake, Red Lake and Grand Portage, and numerous volunteers.

Staff and volunteers from the DNR Wildlife Division, and Agassiz and Rice Lake national wildlife refuges conducted sharptail dancing ground counts.

Minnesota moose season application deadline June 13

From the DNR

The application deadline for the 2003 Minnesota moose hunt is Friday, June 13.

Applications may be made from any of the 1,800 statewide ELS-POS license vendors, and from the DNR license center at 500 Lafayette Road in St. Paul.

This year, a total of 224 permits are available in 30 zones in the northeastern part of the state. There is no hunting season in northwestern Minnesota.

The season dates are Saturday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Oct. 12. Moose hunters must apply in parties from two to four individuals.

An application fee of $3 per individual must be included with the application. Only Minnesota residents, at least 16 years of age, are eligible for the moose hunt.

Permits are issued through a random drawing, except that applicants who have been unsuccessful at least 10 times since 1985 will be placed in a separate drawing for up to 20 percent of the available licenses.

A person who is still unsuccessful in this separate selection will also be included in the regular drawing.

Because the moose hunt became a once-in-a-lifetime hunt in 1991, hunters who received permits for moose hunts for the 1991 hunt and later are not eligible to apply for the 2003 drawing.

The bag limit is one moose of any age or either sex per party. The license fee is $310 per party.

There will be mandatory orientation sessions required for all hunters chosen for moose licenses.

In 2002, 2,580 parties applied for the 208 available state permits.

State licensed hunters killed 118 bulls and 23 cows, for a party success rate of 68 percent.

Outdoor notes

­ The fishing on our area lakes has been good.

Although the sunfish spawn is pretty much over, the bite has still been excellent, Dave Groff of Lil' Angie's Bait and Tackle at the Porthole in Downtown Lester Prairie reported.

Sunfish are biting in six to 10 feet of water on several lakes in the area. The walleye action on Lake Waconia has been good in very shallow water at night.

Round Lake has been giving some good-sized panfish. The panfish action has also been good on Ida, Dog, and Mary, and the action on Howard Lake is picking up with anglers taking some nice catches of walleye.

­ Fishing on the Crow River has been difficult so far this season. Water levels have remained high, the current fast, and now the mosquitoes are out.

For the rest of the summer, the best times to fish the Crow will be on very windy days, at least enough wind to keep the bugs down.

­ The first official day of summer is Saturday, June 21.

­ The muskie fishing season in Minnesota opened Saturday, June 7.

­ Take a kid fishing ­ he or she will have fun and so will you.

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