Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Dec. 22, 2003

Merry Christmas from the great outdoors

It's that time of year again. The hunting seasons, and good ones they were, are pretty much over for another year.

Anywhere from four to 10 inches of ice has covered our area lakes and, like usual, anglers are drilling holes through it. The snow is also here, just enou gh of it to sled, ski, and snowmobile on.

Most importantly, Christmas is just a few short days away, with the beginning of another new year soon to follow. Between kids programs, shopping, parties and the rush of the holidays, I always make sure to take some time and look back at another year in the outdoors. I usually do that by reviewing my outdoor journal. As I opened it up last week, memories of Christmas and ice fishing from my childhood seemed to stand out.

When I was a kid, my dad always took my twin sister and I out ice fishing on Christmas eve day. The plan, or the orders, I guess came from my mom.

The orders were to "get the kids out of here," so dad would take us ice fishing. For many years that tradition was in place. It finally lapsed just a few years ago. It's demise was due to many reasons, all good ones.

As my kids grow older, I hope to start it all over again.

Those memories and the process of looking back at another season brought me to this conclusion. The outdoors and all of things we do in the outdoors like hunt, fish, and ski are great.

But, what makes those pursuits and experiences great are the people they are shared with. So, to all the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, in-laws, husbands, wives, partners, buddies, and friends, that helped some one share an outdoor experience and create a wonderful memory - I wish you all very merry Christmas.

Another deer harvest record set

From the DNR

A count of deer registered for the 2003 firearms deer season and archery/muzzleloader seasons to date indicates that hunters in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Brainerd Wildlife work area (Crow Wing and lower Cass counties) set another deer harvest record of 19,121 deer. This harvest is up 25.7 percent over last year's previous record of 15,211 and also represents a string of four of the top five harvests records set in recent years (see following table).

"In light of increasing deer populations, it was the DNR's goal this year to reduce deer populations in most permit areas through an increase in antlerless harvests" said Gary Drotts, DNR Brainerd Area Wildlife Supervisor. "Hunters responded well to the new antlerless permit process for managed and intensive permit areas and we wish to thank them for the overall harvest (19,121) record and buck to antlerless ratio (34.9% to 65.%) we set."

The DNR Brainerd Area Wildlife Office would also like to thank the 37 private businesses that serve as big game registration stations during the bear and deer seasons.

"They provide the critical registration point for bear and deer hunters to document their harvest," Drotts added. "Please give them a thanks for a job well done."

2003

Bucks: 6,667 (34.9%); Antlerless: 12,454 (65.1%); TOTAL: 19,121 (rank: 1)

2002

Bucks: 6,570 (43.2%); Antlerless: 8,641 (56.8%); TOTAL: 15,211 (rank 2)

2001

Bucks: 5,676 (45.9%); Antlerless: 6,690 (54.1%): TOTAL: 12,366 (rank: 4)

2000

Bucks: 5,998 (50.4%); Antlerless: 5,902 (49.6%); TOTAL: 11,900 (rank: 5)

1999

Bucks: 5,182 (58.5%); Antlerless: 3,676 (41.5%); TOTAL: 8,858

1998

Bucks: 4,537 (67.0%); Antlerless: 2,235 (33.0%); TOTAL: 6,772 1992

TOTAL: 13,144 (rank: 3)

Special fishing regulations

From the DNR

The DNR is introducing a new format that would simplify special possession limits and length-based regulations for four species of game fish on individual lakes.

Known as a regulation toolbox, this format would help DNR fisheries managers maintain and improve the state's walleye, bass, crappie and sunfish populations on individual lakes through simple and commonly applied regulations. Toolbox regulations, which would be implemented only with public review and support, are more restrictive than the existing statewide regulations.

The outcome, according to Ron Payer, manager of the DNR Section of Fisheries, would be to have fewer variations of special regulations yet potentially apply them to more water bodies.

"Ultimately, this will be simpler for anglers who would have fewer regulations to remember," he said.

Interest at the local level would determine how many lakes are considered for toolbox regulations. Each of the 28 area fisheries managers across the state will be asked to consider regulations in the toolbox first when selecting regulations to meet the management needs of a specific water body.

Payer said the new format would also be an agenda item for discussion among angling groups at the fishing roundtable in January.

Specifically, the regulation toolbox contains three specialized regulations for walleye, three for crappie, two for bass, and one for sunfish. Each of the nine regulation options is restrictive enough to result in a measurable difference in fish size or quality.

"Many special regulations, though socially and politically acceptable, have not resulted in a measurable difference in size or quality," Payer said. "Simply put, regulations that require no pain result in no gain in fish size or quality."

Generally, bass and walleye populations are considered in good shape statewide, especially in the state's large natural walleye lakes. Therefore, the proposed bass and walleye regulations are designed to maintain the populations, he said. Conversely, the average-sized sunfish and crappie has been on a downward trend for many years. In the case of sunfish, the regulation will help maintain current size where populations of large sunfish already exist. For crappie, the proposed regulation aims to improve the population.

DNR teams comprised of research and field biologists developed the nine regulation options in the toolbox. Each team reviewed years of data and literature to determine regulations that have succeed in other states and have the best potential for working in Minnesota.

Aside from alleviating confusion for anglers, the regulation toolbox should improve fisheries management in several ways. Fisheries managers will have ready-made regulations that could be tailored to their work area, leaving more time for productive discussion with anglers and others who support conservation regulations.

Another benefit, according to Payer, is that researchers will be better able to measure the success of each regulation because it will be applied to a greater number of lakes. Fisheries managers would also be able to consider options outside the regulations toolbox if there are significant special circumstances.

Citizens or local fisheries managers who want more restrictive regulations on an individual lake to maintain or improve the fishery would be encouraged to consider the regulations from the group of toolboxes first. Once a regulation is agreed upon, the state's rule-making process would begin. The process includes posting the proposed regulation change at public boat-launching sites, publishing notices in the local newspaper and conducting public meetings in pertinent counties and St. Paul, if necessary. This process is used for all existing experimental and special regulations.

Toolbox regulation options for specific species are:

Walleye: three fish possession limit, 17-inch minimum size limit, or 17 to-26 inch protected slot size limit.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass: No harvest or a 12-inch maximum size limit. Both of the above regulations include the option of allowing harvest of one fish over 20 inches based on being able to keep a trophy fish.

Sunfish: Five fish possession limit

Crappie: Five fish possession limit, 10-inch minimum size limit, or a 5 fish possession limit with a 10-inch minimum size limit.

Current special regulations will remain in effect. Special regulations now in place are reviewed regularly and may be modified to fit within toolbox specifications when they are evaluated.

To learn more, anglers are encouraged to contact their local fisheries manager or visit the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Outdoor notes

­ The ice fishing season is here. Several anglers are reporting four to 10 inches of ice on our area lakes and some pretty good early ice action. With the season underway we should all remember that no ice, especially early ice, is ever completely safe.

­ Please note area lakes like Winsted that are typically aerated every year. Aerations systems are not in operation yet, but will be very soon.

­ Four inches of good solid ice is recommended for foot traffic.

­ Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor related sports is a big part of Minnesota's economy. Just take a look back a see how much you spent on those outdoor pursuits in 2003.

­ With most of the hunting seasons over for another year, make sure your firearms are put away in secure locked storage. Ammunition should not be stored or locked in the same location as the firearms.

­Area snowmobilers have been out in full force and there has been a lot activity. A few sledders have reported poor conditions and a lack of snow on the trails. They also noted a few snowmobile safety training courses that will be offered in the area this winter. When available, that information will appear in this column.

­ Next week, look for a final review of the 2003 pheasant hunting season and how things could shapeup for next year.

­ Put new line on your ice fishing rods and jiggle sticks. Make sure your auger blades are sharp and don't forget about your shelter or fish house license.

­ With fish houses starting to be put out in good numbers all fish house owners should make sure heating systems are clean and in good working order. Houses should be properly ventilated and propane tanks should always be kept outside the house.

­ Look for the first ice fishing report of the season in next weeks column.

­ Take some time to get out and enjoy winter. Participating in it makes it go by a lot faster.

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