Minnesota walleye stocking on par with recent years

Walleye anglers across Minnesota will benefit from another year of walleye stocking by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Aaron Murphy of Cohasset displays a 23-inch walleye he caught on Cut Foot Sioux Lake north of Deer River during the 2014 Minnesota fishing opener Saturday morning. (News Tribune file)

Aaron Murphy of Cohasset displays a 23-inch walleye he caught on Cut Foot Sioux Lake north of Deer River during the 2014 Minnesota fishing opener Saturday morning.
(News Tribune file)

This year, fisheries officials took more than 582 million eggs, close to the 10-year average, according to the DNR. Those eggs were raised to so-called fry stage, tiny fish just beyond the egg stage. About 115 million of those fry are now being reared in 286 rearing ponds and will be stocked as fingerlings. About 296 million fry will be stocked in 272 lakes.

Here are some walleye stocking facts:

Length of a walleye fry — about 1/3-inch.
Length of a walleye fingerling — 4 to 6 inches.
Lakes stocked with walleye (each lake usually every other year) — about 1,050, all over the state.
Lakes where, without any stocking, anglers can still catch walleye: 260, mostly in the northern half of the state.
Estimated percentage of walleye harvested that result from natural reproduction — 85 percent, with about half from popular walleye lakes like Lake of the Woods, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish.
For stocking information about individual lakes, enter the lake name on LakeFinder at the DNR Fish Minnesota page, www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.


Minnesota mallard numbers down, other species up

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down from last year, but other species saw increases, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today.

Each year, the department conducts spring waterfowl surveys across the state. This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 206,000, which is 20 percent below last year’s estimate of 257,000 breeding mallards, 17 percent below the recent 10-year average and 10 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is up 66 percent at 169,000, compared to the 2014 estimate of 102,000, but the population remains 21 percent below the long-term average of 212,000.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 149,000, which is 29 percent higher than last year and 16 percent below the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) was 524,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 474,000 ducks.

The continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and will provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.

This year’s Canada goose population in Minnesota was estimated at 250,000, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 244,000 geese.

Solitude, good fishing part of this wilderness canoe trip


Scott Neustel of Duluth plays a 40-inch northern pike on a mid-June canoe trip to Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. He landed and released the fish. (Sam Cook photo)

Six of us spent eight days in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park in mid-June, fishing for walleyes, lake trout and northern pike. Surprisingly, mosquitoes and blackflies were almost absent. Fishing was excellent at times, challenging at other times. Walleyes were shallow, hungry for the soft plastic worms and minnows we offered them. We caught walleyes up to 28 inches long and plenty of eaters, too. We trolled from 50 to 70 feet for lake trout and caught quite a few, the longest 32 inches and several from 28 to 30 inches.

The 1.2-million-acre wilderness park is lightly traveled. We saw few other people in our eight days there. Portages were challenging, as always, but the effort was rewarded with solitude and good fishing. Look for a complete story on our trip in Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune.


Wayne Bogen of Duluth called this “Thanksgiving dinner” on the trail in Quetico Park last week. Fresh walleye fried by Larry Riley, wild rice, mashed potatoes, chicken in gravy. (Sam Cook photo)


Larry Riley and Terry Christensen leave camp for a couple of hours of lake trout fishing on a morning in Quetico Provincial Park. (Sam Cook photo)


Larry Riley of Sarasota, Fla., lifts a 29-inch lake trout from the water on a lake in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. (Sam Cook photo)


Campers relax during dinner on a sand beach in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park last week. (Sam Cook photo)


Larry Riley, formerly of Duluth and now of Sarasota, Fla, holds a nice stringer of walleyes after an afternoon of fishing on a lake in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. (Sam Cook photo)


Larry Riley of Sarasota, Fla., puts the finishing touches on a batch of walleye fillets on a June evening in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. (Sam Cook photo)


Scott Neustel of Duluth carries his canoe through a muddy portage in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park in mid-June. (Sam Cook photo)


Suppertime, and the walleye fillets are ready for campers in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. (Sam Cook photo)


Ankle deep in water, Duluth’s Clint Moen holds a 39-inch northern pike he caught on a lake in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. Moen had been fishing from a canoe, but climbed out near shore to land the pike. (Sam Cook photo)


Hartley Nature Center seeking Kickstarter funds for ‘nature playscape’

Hartley Nature Center in Duluth has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for a “nature playscape” at Hartley Park. People can contribute to the campaign through July 3, and it’s an all-or-nothing proposition — the nature center receives either $10,000 or nothing. Already, contributions have topped $3,000.

What’s a “nature playscape?” Here’s how the nature center describes it: “In contrast to traditional playgrounds made of plastic or metal equipment, Nature Playscapes use pathways, trees, open areas, sand, water, shrubs and seasonal changes to allow children to learn with their whole bodies what the world is made of. Kids dig, explore, experiment with water and build with sticks. They get dirty and — most importantly — get comfortable in the outdoors.”
To contribute, go to kickstarter.com and search “Hartley Nature Center.”

Spirit Mountain biking trail a national finalist — voting underway now

The competition has begun.

Duluth is one of three finalists in a national online competition for a $100,000 mountain bike trail grant, courtesy of Bell Helmets.

Duluth, representing our nation’s central region, will vie against West Coast finalist Mariposa, Calif., and East Coast finalist Knoxville, Tenn.

The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores — called COGGS for short — proposes to use the grant funds to help build out the Spirit Mountain Bike Park, and Duluth Mayor Don Ness has pledged $50,000 in additional city funding if the group wins the Bell grant.

In the semifinal round, Duluth beat out two projects proposed in New Mexico — one in Gallup and another in Ruidoso.

The online voting in the final round began today and will run through June 4. Only the top vote-getter will receive the $100,000 grant.

Vote here.


COGGS now a finalist for $100,000 trails grant

Jim van Druten of Duluth competes in  the 2014 Duluth Enduro Series on the new portion of the Duluth Traverse trail in Lester Park recently. Duluth competes in one leg of the Duluth Enduro Series on the new portion of the Duluth Traverse trail in Lester Park recently. The Duluth Enduro Series is  a series of enduro style mountain bike races hosted by COGGS that showcase some of the best trails in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Jim van Druten of Duluth competes in the 2014 Duluth Enduro Series on the new portion of the Duluth Traverse trail in Lester Park. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The cycling group COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) has won a semi-final round for a chance at $100,000 for mountain-biking trail construction in Duluth. Now, the group is one of three finalists nationwide for the $100,000 grant offered by Bell Helmets. Voting for in the finals round will take place from May 25 to June 5. To vote, go to voteduluth.com.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness has pledged another $50,000 from the city if COGGS wins the overall grant competition. The money would be used to build more mountain-biking trails at Spirit Mountain, according to the club.

Good times at the governor’s fishing opener

I had a great time fishing with Dennis Highby and Jim Regas at the Governor’s Fishing Opener on Lake Vermilion on Saturday. Those gentlemen know how to find fish and catch fish.

It was a good day on Vermilion, and everyone seemed to be catching fish — including Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

For a video by News Tribune photographer Clint Austin and several of his photos and our story, look here.

I don’t cover many governor’s openers, but this one was in our back yard, and I know a bunch of the fishing guides and others on the lake. It just seemed like the place to be. I didn’t know Highby and had met Regas only briefly last summer, but they were a joy to be in the boat with. Lots of laughs and good stories, and Highby knew where we were likely to find walleyes. We trolled Lindy rigs with minnows, and that presentation caught some fish. But our most productive presentation was trolling a spinner rig with two minnows behind a bottom-bouncer. We fished mostly in water from 21 to 31 feet deep along shorelines. We caught nine walleyes and a few perch in about three hours, the largest walleye about 16 inches. Most anglers seemed to be catching walleyes of similar size on Saturday. A few decent northerns and some plump perch were boated, too.

The governor’s boat was full of smiling faces back at the midday landing at Fortune Bay Resort. With Lake Vermilion guide Tim “Buck” Lescarbeau, the governor, along with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt had caught a bunch of walleyes.

A couple other things of note happened during the weekend’s festivities. Ground was broken for a new campground at Lake Vermilion State Park, which is still under construction. Dayton invited former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tim Holsten to be part of that ceremony. The park had its germination during Pawlenty’s term as governor, when Holsten was DNR commissioner. I thought it was classy of Dayton to extend that invitation to them, and nice that they both came. Of course, current DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr was present for all the Governor’s Fishing Opener festivities.

One other nice moment occurred just after midnight on opening day. The governor had been scheduled to fish from a dock at the home of Brian Anderson, public relations manager at Fortune Bay, on Pike Bay. The governor couldn’t make it, but Lt. Gov. Tina Smith showed up. It was a very cool evening, with a northeast wind blowing right at the dock and the temperature in the 40s. Young Drew Anderson, 10, fished with the lieutenant governor. She kept a lively conversation going with him, and I’m sure he felt like he was a pretty important young guy. Brian and his wife, Terri — I hope I have that spelled correctly — kept a campfire burning to keep other guests warm. No fish were caught, and the fishing was over in about 40 minutes, but Smith was a gracious participant.


COGGS in heated semi-final voting for trail funds

Todd McFadden of Duluth rides Spirit Mountain's flow trail. (Clint Austin photl)

Todd McFadden of Duluth rides Spirit Mountain’s flow trail. (Clint Austin photo)

The cycling group COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) has a chance to get another $100,000 for mountain-biking trail construction in Duluth, but it needs some help. COGGS is a semi-finalist for a Bell Built Grant, and voting in the semi-final round closes Sunday. The club is hoping that lots of bikers will go to voteduluth.com and vote for Duluth, which is running neck-and-neck with a biking club in New Mexico. If Duluth wins this round, it will be a finalist for the grant. Duluth Mayor Don Ness has pledged another $50,000 from the city if COGGS wins the overall grant competition. The money would be used to build more mountain-biking trail at Spirit Mountain, according to the club.

Minnesota anglers buying licenses at fast pace

Sales of Minnesota fishing licenses are outstripping last year by a long shot and are running ahead of the past several years, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota’s inland fishing opener is Saturday. Sales through the weekend before opener were at 315,252, up from about 237,000 last year and about 152,000 in 2013.

Aaron Ramsey at Fisherman’s Corner in Duluth thinks he knows why: “Basically, because we’re going to have an opener,” Ramsey said.

He’s referring to the fact that the past two winters have lingered far too long into spring, and anglers were unsure whether ice would leave many northern lakes before opening day. This year, the snowmelt and ice out were ahead of schedule, and warm weather has gotten anglers to thinking about fishing — and buying their licenses.

You’d have to go back to 2005, 2006 and 2007 to find years when license sales were ahead of this year’s.

Tim Goeman, DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids, says several factors play into fishing license sales before opener.

“Certainly, it’s linked to the nice weather and the early spring,” Goeman said. “People are just planning to go fishing. A lot of anglers are pretty fair-weather anglers. They’ll go when it’s nice, but if it’s not nice or they’d have to contend with ice on the water or nasty weather, they don’t go fishing.”

But factors such as relatively low gasoline prices (at about $2.35 instead of near $4 per gallon) also can make a difference, Goeman said.

“It’s also been a while since we’ve had a license fee increase,” he said. “Initially, that keeps some people away.”

While early license sales are encouraging to the DNR, the whole story won’t be told until season’s end.

“Were there more people fishing, or is the total not much different?” Goeman said. “But typically, early sales are an indicator of total sales.”

Ramsey, at Fisherman’s Corner, said it’s ironic that license sales are up and anglers are eager to fish, when low water levels may make launching boats more difficult on some lakes, especially reservoir lakes in the Duluth area.

“Everything is so low,” Ramsey said Tuesday. “On Island and Boulder (lakes), I don’t think you can get a boat in right now, unless it rains a good 2 or 3 inches in the next couple of days.”