Good times with the walleyes on Upper Red Lake

A 16-inch walleye from Upper Red Lake. (Sam Cook photo)


I spent a couple of days on Upper Red Lake fishing walleyes with Steve and Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides. Lots of fun in their comfy fish houses. Story coming Sunday in the Duluth News Tribune outdoors pages.

Steve Brasel extracts a Northland Buckshot jig from a Red Lake walleye. (Sam Cook photo)

One of Bear Paw’s sleeper fishing shacks greets an overcast morning on Upper Red Lake. (Sam Cook photo)

Wisconsin DNR gets more flexibility in managing walleyes in ceded territory

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources board on Wednesday approved a “scope statement” that will allow Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials to consider alternatives to reductions in walleye bag limits in the Wisconsin ceded territory.

The new policy allows the department the option of using management tools such as length limits or season limits in addition to reduced bag limits for managing angler harvest of walleyes in the ceded territory, where six Wisconsin Chippewa bands exercise their rights to fish, hunt and gather on public lands, as provided by treaties negotiated with the United States in 1837 and 1842.

In past years, the DNR could use only bag limits to manage walleye harvest on lakes in the ceded territory.

“We appreciate the support of the Natural Resources Board in approving this additional flexibility and we look forward to continued collaboration with the Chippewa tribes and our partners and stakeholders throughout northern Wisconsin to craft rules based on sound science and fisheries management experience,” said Steve Hewett, DNR fisheries management section chief.



DNR’s rainbow trout report is out

Fisheries officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at French River have published their 2014 Rainbow Trout Management Summary online here. It’s a look at catch rates for steelhead and Kamloops rainbow trout on the North Shore, as well as a report of how many fish entered DNR traps at French River and Knife River. Check it out.

Minnesota DNR announces two high-level appointments

Former Two Harbors resident Luke Skinner has been named director of the Ecological and Water Resources Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the agency announced Tuesday. Previously, Skinner had been deputy director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division.

Also on Tuesday, Sarah Strommen, acting deputy director at the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), was appointed DNR assistant commissioner. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced two appointments.

Skinner replaces Steve Hirsch, who retired. Skinner has 24 years of DNR experience in roles ranging from natural resources specialist to supervisor. Most of his DNR career has been spent in the Ecological and Water Resources Division working in the invasive species program, including six years as unit supervisor.

As DNR assistant commissioner, Strommen will oversee two divisions for the commissioner’s office, Parks and Trails and Fish and Wildlife, and the agency’s strategic direction with land management and the Legacy amendment. She fills the position vacated by Assistant Commissioner Mike Carroll, who retires Jan. 13.



Duluth bow hunters register 446 deer in city hunt

Bow hunters in Duluth’s city deer hunt registered a preliminary total of 446 deer during the 2014 season, according to the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, which conducts the hunt for the city. In 2013, hunters killed 399 deer in the city bow hunt.

Of the 2014 total harvest, 371 were antlerless deer and 75 were antlered deer. Hunters are required to take at least one antlerless deer before shooting a buck in the hunt. The hunt opened Sept. 13 and ended Dec. 31. A total of 353 hunters took part in the hunt, according to the ABA.

The 2014 total harvest of 446 deer, though up from 2013, was well below the average of 534 deer registered from 2008 to 2013.

“We continue to see that hunters are moving deer out of the city and trying to bring the population down,” said Phillip Lockett, chair of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance. “The feeling from the public is that we’re starting to reach those population goals and seeing fewer and fewer deer.”

Fewer people are calling the ABA to request hunters come into areas called hotspots, where deer congregate in small areas, Lockett said.


Duluth’s owls, fat-biking featured in Minnesota Conservation Volunteer

A snowy owl flies over a field near Duluth. (Michael Furtman photo)

The writing and photography of a couple of Duluth-area residents are featured in the January-February 2015 issue of the DNR’s Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. Wildlife photographer Michael Furtman’s photos of snowy owls made up a photo essay. He photographed most of the owls last winter, when several of the birds were wintering in the Duluth area. Snowy owls are native to the Arctic, but in some winters many of them move south to find more prey.

In addition, Hansi Johnson of nearby Thomson wrote a feature on the popularity of fat-biking. The photos of Layne Kennedy accompany the story, and all of the photos were taken in the Duluth area.

Spring turkey hunt application is Friday

If you’re a Minnesota turkey hunter, don’t forget that the deadline to apply for early season spring wild turkey hunting permits is Friday, Jan. 9, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The spring season, which runs from April 15 to May 28, is divided into eight time periods. Only people age 18 and older who want to hunt during the first three time periods (A-C) need to apply for a spring turkey permit. Permits for the remaining time periods (D-H) can be purchased over-the-counter.

Permits for the last five time periods and youth licenses for any time period are sold over-the-counter starting March 1. Surplus adult licenses from the first three time periods, if available, are sold starting around mid-March.

Engwall named to head Minnesota Deer Hunters Association

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association today named Craig Engwall as its new executive director. Engwall has more than 20 years’ experience in law, natural resources and conservation and  served as northeast regional director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids from 2006 to 2013..

Engwall, an attorney, is currently forest legacy projects coordinator with the DNR at Hibbing. He will assume his duties with MDHA on Jan. 2.

“I’m ecstatic. This is awesome,” Engwall said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve worked in natural resources pretty much my whole career. This lets me mesh my personal life with my professional life.”

Engwall, 51, lives on Dora Lake near Northome, about 50 miles northwest of Grand Rapids.

He said his experience in partnering with other agencies and businesses will help him in his role at MDHA.

“One of the things I look on with pride is that partnerships are key,” he said. “I think MDHA can partner with the state, and I’ll be looking to counties, too, looking at some habitat projects that the counties would be willing to support in northern Minnesota.”

Engwall grew up in the Twin Cities. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1986 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1991, He has worked on natural resources and agriculture issues at both the state and federal levels, including the linkage between the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program and the Federal Conservation Reserve (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Programs (WRP). Engwall was a key player in Minnesota acquiring the largest conservation easement in state history, the nearly 200,000-acre Blandin Paper Company project that protects forest lands.


Minnesota ‘Pheasant Summit’ offers ideas to increase bird numbers

I didn’t make it to Gov. Dayton’s “Pheasant Summit” in Marshall, Minn., on Saturday, but from various news reports, it appears the 300 people who attended offered up several ideas for making Minnesota more pheasant friendly. Here’s an account of the meeting from outdoors editor David Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Pheasant hunters walk across a grassland on a December hunt. (Sam Cook photo)

Among the suggestions, according to Orrick’s account and others, is for the state to more vigorously enforce laws that require grassland buffer zones along streams and laws that restrict mowing of ditches and the planting of crops along roadsides.

Another idea that proved popular was using state bonding money to buy land for more Wildlife Management Areas. Those areas provide wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities.

The DNR plans to develop an accelerated action plan to enhance pheasant habitat and present the plan at its annual roundtable meeting with stakeholders on Jan. 16.

While the state wants to do everything it can to improve the pheasant population, most hunters believe federal farm policy drives pheasant numbers by offering programs that pay farmers to set aside lands in grass cover. In recent years, farmers have been opting out of those programs to put land back into crops while commodity prices are higher than they’ve been in recent years. Payments to farmers through federal farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program can’t currently compete with the rental rates farmers can charge for land in production.







DNR announces more trails open for fat-bike riders

A fat-bike rider cruises down a segment of the Duluth Traverse in Lester Park. (News Tribune file photo)

Winter fat-bikers will now have more trails to ride. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that it has expanded the number of trails available to fat-bikers at state parks and trail systems, including more than five miles at Jay Cook State Park near Carlton and nearly nine miles at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Two Harbors.

These new riding opportunities are in addition to 20 miles of existing trails at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Brainerd, Minn. Winter fat bike riding opportunities in Minnesota state parks and trails now total 78 miles.

Fat bikes are bicycles with large, low-pressure tires designed for travel over snow or sandy soil. The bike tires are often wider than 3½ inches with tire pressure less than 10 psi.

Outdoors enthusiasts can now ride fat bikes at the following locations in northern Minnesota:

Jay Cooke State Park: 5.4 miles of trails to be groomed for fat biking

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: 8.7 miles of trails to be groomed for fat biking and skate-skiing.

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (Ironton): 20 miles of groomed trails for fat biking.

The DNR advises anyone riding a fat bike to avoid snowmobile and cross-country ski trails because almost all of these trails are not open to other uses during the winter.