Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

May 21, 2007

No walleyes or morels, but we caught five anglers

Compared to recent years, the weather on the 2007 Minnesota fishing opener made it one to remember.

That’s right, when you have to talk to about the weather it usually means the fishing wasn’t very good.

In five or so hours of fishing on Diamond Lake near Atwater we didn’t land a walleye or see a walleye get caught.

Then, hunting for morels for an hour or two, which is an opening day fishing tradition of mine - we also got blanked.

The only saving grace of the day came from five young anglers ages two to nine that got there first taste of opening day fishing on one of Minnesota’s many lakes, and from two very small northern pike.

For my boat the fishing can only get better and the bass opener is just a week away.

Moving on, opening day activity was great on many or most of the lakes in our area, with the best reports coming from Washington, Stella, Lake Mary near Winsted, Big Waverly, and the Western Bays of Lake Minnetonka.

Although the walleye bite for most area anglers didn’t include anything near limits it wasn’t bad.

Other anglers reported northern pike action on lakes like Francis was super.

The best reports came from anglers that gave up on walleye fishing and switched gears to crappie.

Without question, on many lakes in the area including Mary, Big Waverly, and Waconia the crappie bite was on.

The best bet was drifting shallow bays with a tube jig tipped with a crappie minnow.

Strong winds on Sunday that carried into the early part of last week slowed down the fishing activity and also slowed many of the opening weekend reports that I got.

Farther north on Lakes like Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnie, Vermillion, and Red many anglers reported the best opening day weather and action they’ve had in many years.

Catching a few opening day walleye mixed in with a bunch of pan fried morel mushrooms would have added to the adventure, but the real prize was getting five new anglers started into what I hope is a lifetime of opening day fishing on a Minnesota lake.

Waverly Gun Club to start ladies only shooting for summer

Ladies Only shooting practice will begin in June sponsored by the Waverly Gun Club, taking place once a month on the second Tuesday of every month.

The program runs from June to October with the first practice taking place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 12 at the Waverly Gun Club shooting range.

Those interested may bring their own gun and ammo, or it will be provided for them.

A league is being set up as well. Those with questions may call Allan Moy at (763) 658-4636.

Keg’s Bar fishing league

The Keg’s Bar fishing league will begin Thursday, May 17 with fishing from 6 to 9 p.m.

The season runs 14 weeks on 14 different lakes with walleye, bass, and northern pike what anglers are looking to catch.

There will be a season ending tournament for anyone that has competed on seven of the dates.

To participate, or for more information, stop by Keg’s Bar in Winsted and talk to Brian Langenfeld.

Public access ensured to more than 1,600 acres
From the DNR

Access to more than 1,600 acres of forest lands has been protected.

The Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, a public-private coalition formed to help keep the state’s working lands working and accessible, announced today it has completed its first project by conserving more than 1,600 acres in Itasca County.

Federal, state and private money totaling $1.7 million has been used to purchase a working forest conservation easement that restricts development of the property.

The agreement will protect jobs, conserve wildlife habitat and guarantee public access for outdoor recreation.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Minnesota has made great strides in recent years to protect jobs and forests through public-private partnerships.

“Minnesota’s forests are an important part of our nation-leading quality of life. Our forests are enjoyed by hunters, anglers, hikers, birdwatchers, cross-country skiers and many more. Protecting our forests is a key element of our conservation efforts and I applaud the partners who made this deal a reality.”

“We will continue to be proactive and visionary like this in order to protect access to great habitat for hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation, and to keep working forests working,” said Mark Holsten, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which provided about half of the funding for what is being called the “Sugar Hills” project.

Under the recently-completed agreement, Liila Forest Products, a division of Rajala Companies, a fourth generation family-owned company based in Deer River, Minn., will continue to own a 1,660-acre tract in southern Itasca County known as Sugar Hills.

“We have a long history of providing good jobs and managing our lands so that the forest remains healthy and open to the public,” said John Rajala, president of Liila Forest Products Company. “This deal helps ensure that the Sugar Hills land will remain a working forest that is also open for public recreation with protected conservation values. This is truly a victory for all who love this forest and its multiple benefits.”

Sugar Hills includes a 26-acre lake, 77 acres of wetlands and Big Thunder Peak, one of the highest named summits in the state.

The property also includes stretches of two clearwater creeks and some of the best cross-country ski trails in the state.

Its mixed hardwoods are home to abundant and diverse populations of wildlife including black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, fisher, marten, red-shouldered hawk, ruffed grouse and neotropical migratory songbirds.

Thanking all partners, DNR Forestry Director Dave Epperly said, “Programs like Forest Legacy are critically important at a time when Minnesota’s forests face many threats to the commodities and values they provide, as well as the quality of life they provide for Minnesotans.”

The Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership was created almost two years ago by The Nature Conservancy and the Blandin Foundation.

The partnership includes The Trust for Public Land, which facilitated the Sugar Hills transaction and helped secure the necessary public funding for the deal, and the Minnesota DNR, which will hold and monitor the conservation easement.

Additional partnership members are: the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, The Conservation Fund, Minnesota Forest Industries and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

The Sugar Hills conservation project was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service for federal Forest Legacy Program funding and, with strong support of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, received $750,000 this year.

Matching funds were provided by the DNR and The Nature Conservancy.

The DNR contributed $728,000, including $478,000 that was recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The Conservancy contributed $250,000 via a grant from the Blandin Foundation. Liila Forest Products also contributed financially to the project by offering the easement at a discounted price.

Bud Stone, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased Sugar Hills would be conserved.

“This is a great deal for our community and for visitors,” Stone said. “Anyone who’s been up to Big Thunder Peak knows that it affords an absolute spectacular view. Keeping this land as a sustainable, working forest that remains open to the public is an enormous accomplishment.”

The Minnesota congressional delegation has also supported efforts to ensure Minnesota’s forest resources are protected by securing federal Forest Legacy Program funds for several projects in the state.

“Forests can be saved without sacrificing timber-related jobs or sources of revenue for local government,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. “We can use conservation easements to protect our natural areas and keep the land in private ownership and on the tax rolls. This is an example of how partnerships among private landowners such as the Rajala family, governments at all levels and nongovernmental organizations can come together to preserve the great Northwoods of Minnesota for our children and grandchildren.”

“Minnesota’s forests also provide benefits even to those who don’t experience them firsthand, said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “Our forests clean our air and water and provide essential habitat for wildlife. I am pleased with the success of this project and look forward to more successes to protect the critical forest resources of our Northwoods.”

“The Sugar Hills Forest Legacy project exemplifies the coexistence of good forestry practices and recreational activities,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Chisholm. “A healthy forest can provide both sustenance for the timber industry and opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors. As a result of this project, Sugar Hills will continue to be managed and treasured for years to come. I congratulate the project partners and the Rajala family for this outstanding success and their understanding that a healthy forest is a vibrant resource for many entities.”

State Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said the Sugar Hills deal is a model for protecting Minnesota’s Northwoods. “Conservation easements are essential for forest management and consolidation. We need them to make sure the land stays accessible for future generations.”

Jim Hoolihan, president of the Blandin Foundation, said that changes in forest products industry are causing much of Minnesota’s industrial forestland to be broken up and sold off. As a result, timber-related jobs, wildlife habitat and public access are threatened.

“There are a million acres of industrial forest in danger of being developed and if we don’t protect them now we have no assurance they will continue to benefit us in the future,” Hoolihan said.

The subdivision and development of large blocks of industrial forestland is the principal threat to Minnesota’ s timber-related jobs, abundant and diverse populations of wildlife and longtime tradition of public access for hunting, fishing and hiking and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Itasca County has the highest concentration of privately held industrial forestland in the state.

The Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership’s goal is to raise $26 million of private and public funding to purchase conservation easements on up to 75,000 acres of strategically selected parcels of private forestland in or near Itasca County from willing sellers.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit land-conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.

Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for public enjoyment and use.

In Minnesota, TPL has protected more than 27,500 acres valued at more than $50 million including the recent protection of Long Island near Ely, an addition to the future Neenah Creek Regional Park in St. Cloud and the creation of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in downtown St. Paul.

TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working to protect the most ecologically important lands and waters around the world for nature and people.

To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.

Blandin Foundation, Minnesota’s largest rural-based private foundation is located in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Its mission is to strengthen rural Minnesota communities, especially the Grand Rapids area, through grants, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives.

Danger lurks at dams both large and small
From the DNR

In the wake of a tragic boating accident in which four occupants are presumed drowned, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is warning boaters to stay well away from both the top and base of dams.

“While the water around dams can look quite peaceful, at some times of the year, they can become extremely dangerous,” said DNR boating safety specialist Tim Smalley.

According to Smalley, there is a recirculating backwash current at the base of most dams that can pull even large boats with powerful motors back towards the dam face, capsizing it and throwing the victims into the water.

Dams on the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis downstream, have a restricted area 600 feet above and 150 feet below the structures to help protect boaters and anglers.

The DNR said boaters also need to obey any other signs or buoys around dams as well, although even if there are no signs, that doesn’t mean the area is safe.

Dams don’t have to be large to cause injury or death. So-called low-head dams on smaller rivers and streams, have more been deadly to water recreation enthusiasts than bigger dams.

DNR records show there have been 57 deaths at dams in Minnesota since 1974, and most of them have been at dams much smaller than the navigational locks and dams on the Mississippi.

Most low-head dams are less than 12 feet high but tremendous backwash or recirculating current at their base can be just as fatal as larger ones.

Even a life jacket is no guarantee of survival from a dam mishap. The strong current combined with extra air in the water, reduces a life vest’s flotation so it’s more difficult to stay afloat.

Even a good-sized boat motor can be overcome, since the current is so strong and the propeller doesn’t bite as well in the bubble-filled water.

The best way to avoid the danger from a dam is simply to stay well away from them.

All boats also should have an anchor with plenty of line ready to throw in case of a motor failure and everyone onboard should wear life vests.

Boaters can learn more about dams, dam safety and boating safety on the Mississippi River by obtaining a free copy of the Mississippi River Guide by calling the DNR at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367) or going to www.dnr.state.mn.us/boating.

Shallow lake projects aim to improve water quality, fish and wildlife habitat
From the DNR

Long taken for granted and disregarded, the value of Southern Minnesota’s shallow lakes has gained a new respect in recent years, according to Stein Innvaer, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) assistant wildlife manager at Nicollet.

“The momentum to protect and restore these highly important basins has been incresinging for quite a while now,” Innvaer said. “But not until recent years has there been the necessary political will and public backing to provide the funding to start making a real difference.”

As evidence of that growing impetus, Innvaer points to eight separate shallow lake improvement projects that are either underway or planned in Blue Earth, Rice, Nicollet, Waseca and Freeborn counties.

Each is a cooperative venture between the DNR and Ducks Unlmited.

“And that doesn’t include the restoration work being done by organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Pheasants, Inc., and others,” Innvaer noted.

Jon Schneider, DU Manager for Minnesota Conservation Programs, believes a new era of conservation is dawning. “For much too long the fate of our wetlands and shallow lakes was framed as a ‘ducks versus farmers’ issue that got us nowhere,” Schneider stated. “Now there is a greater focus on water quality, which is something everyone can agree on.”

Innvaer concurred. “If we continue to allow these shallow basins to deteriorate or even disappear, all of us, in town or country, will pay the price for degraded water quality. Clean water benefits not only ducks, fish and other critters but society as a whole.”

Among the projects either underway or planned by the DNR and DU is work on 508-acre Rice Lake in Blue Earth County.

This project rose to the top of the priority list when an existing water control structure, built in the mid-1980s, began to fail in 2005.

At that point the DNR removed all the stop logs and began to dewater the lake. DU then inspected the structure and recommended a design that would incorporate a high velocity fish barrier as well as an easily manipulated stop log structure. Construction began last fall.

An area was also developed near the dam that will allow for the DNR to maneuver a cookie-cutter, a piece of equipment used to open channels for boat access. Total cost of the project is estimated about $128,000.

Water control structures and fish barriers on a number of other lakes will also either be replaced or redesigned to allow better water level management.

These include: Rice Lake in Faribault County (near Winnebago); Buffalo and Goose lakes in Waseca County; Spring Lake on the Hobza Wildlife Management Area and Eagle, Perch, and Cottonwood lakes, all in Blue Earth County.

The projects will help prevent damaging fish species such as carp from entering the lakes as well as allow for occasional water level drawdowns to promote aquatic vegetation growth and are a major part of DNR’s Duck Plan.

Innvaer said the DNR and DU have been working “hand in hand on projects of this type for years with DU typically providing the design and construction management oversight. It’s worked out really well.”

Outdoor notes

• In next week’s column I’m going to start a summer-long series on Lake Ann.

Lane Ann, nestled between the cities of Howard Lake and Winsted, has been a hotbed of controversy of late and actually for the last few years.

Read Lynda Jensen’s article on Lake Ann in this week’s Herald Journal and you’ll begin to understand.

I’ll cover things like the lake itself, my fishing and hunting history on Ann, it’s sister lake Emma, and just in general why the lake is generating the questions and controversy it is.

• For the best action on walleye fish the windy side of the lake at night.

• We are just a few weeks away from the sunfish spawn.

• Make plans for the Howard Lake Good Neighbor Days annual fishing contest, set for Sat., June 23 on Howard Lake.

Official entry blanks will be available at Joe’s Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake very soon.

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

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