Ma and the cubs come to visit the Johnsons

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Bill and Mary Johnson had a surprise last Wednesday night at their home about two miles west of Two Harbors. Mary looked out and saw what at first she thought to be three bears. But then she and Bill spotted a fourth. It appeared to be a sow in the distance and three yearling cubs closer to the house.

“The three cubs were under bird feeder,” Mary said. “The mother was off in the distance. I could hear her making noise back there.”

She said the couple hasn’t seen bears in their yard for several years.

When Mary first went out to take a photo, the cubs scampered up pine trees. But she was able to get a photo a bit later. The cubs stayed around for about an hour, Mary said.

Slow — but pleasant — day at the French River

Ben Anderson (foreground) of Cloquet fishes for Kamloops rainbow trout near the mouth of the French River on Friday afternoon as other anglers fish near the mouth of the river. It was a pleasant day for fishing, and anglers could see the rainbows in the water, but nobody was getting bites. (Sam Cook photo)

Ben Anderson (foreground) of Cloquet fishes for Kamloops rainbow trout near the mouth of the French River on Friday afternoon as other anglers fish near the mouth of the river. It was a pleasant day for fishing, and anglers could see the rainbows in the water, but nobody was getting bites. (Sam Cook photo)

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Anglers afoot and afloat fished for Kamloops rainbows at the mouth of the French River last Friday afternoon. (Sam Cook photo)

 

McKenzie Holt, a University of Minnesota Duluth student, keeps an eye on her fishing line while applying sparkling teal fingernail polish last Friday afternoon at the mouth of the French River. She and friend Blake Anderson were fishing for Kamloops rainbow trout. (Sam Cook photo)

McKenzie Holt, a University of Minnesota Duluth student, keeps an eye on her fishing line while applying sparkling teal fingernail polish last Friday afternoon at the mouth of the French River. She and friend Blake Anderson were fishing for Kamloops rainbow trout. (Sam Cook photo)

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Blake Anderson re-rigs with lighter line while his friend McKenzie Holt touches up her nail polish on Friday afternoon at the mouth of the French River. Both are distance runners for the University of Minnesota Duluth who had an afternoon off from practice. (Sam Cook photo)

 

Project aims to determine number of St. Louis River walleyes

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Another good-size walleye comes to the net during a population assessment on the St. Louis River being conducted by both the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources. At right are electrodes dangling in the water that momentarily stun the walleyes so they can be netted. They’re released unharmed. (Steve Kuchera photo)

I was on the St. Louis River last week with biologists from the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources who are doing a population assessment on the river’s walleyes. Through electro-fishing, the agencies hope to capture and tag up to 7,000 walleyes. Later, when some of those fish are recaptured by anglers, the DNRs will be able to estimate the river’s walleye population. Currently, the agencies think the walleye population is stable and has a good age distribution of fish. Results of the assessment won’t be known until probably the fall of 2016. For a complete story and more photos of the population assessment, visit duluthnewstribune.com and search “walleye.”

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Kirk Olson of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources uses a tagging gun to insert a small tag near the dorsal fin of a walleye. (Steve Kuchera photo)

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A crew with fisheries biologists from the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources use an electro-fishing boat to capture walleyes from the St. Louis River. (Steve Kuchera photo)

 

Smelt run still in early stages

The smelt run in the Duluth area hasn’t really begun with any consistency, according to reports. Dick Martin of the Lake Superior Fish Co. in Superior said his crew picked up a few smelt on Monday but he’s unsure of the status of the run.

“I’d like to see a couple or three days before I say anything,” Martin said.

At the Bait Box in Superior, Steve Dinda said he has heard sporadic results of success by smelters at the Brule River and at Park Point.

“It’s not hot and heavy,” Dinda said.

Cooler temperatures this week may slow things down after warmer weather last week. Smelt generally enter streams in mid- to late April when the water in the tributaries warms into the upper 40-degree range, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Smelt are light sensitive and run in shallow water at night, so most smelting takes place at night, when the fish are moving into the streams.

People seeking smelt on the North Shore typically use a long-handled dip net and stand in streams with waders to intercept smelt heading upstream. Others uses seine nets in the shallows of Lake Superior along the Park Point beach.

Time of offer feedback on Wisconsin deer recommendations

Douglas County’s Deer Advisory Council has released its preliminary antlerless quota and permit level recommendations for public comment. The council is recommending antlerless quotas and permit levels that would increase the deer population, a goal that was established during the 2014 meetings. To offer feedback, through Wednesday, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/cdac.html. Final recommendations will be sent to the Natural Resources Board for approval in May 2015.

Rainy River walleye action ready to bust loose

 

Wyatt Maas of Duluth holds a 19 3/4-inch walleye caught by his grandfather, Rob Maas of Duluth, Thursday on the Rainy River east of Baudette. The fish was one of 20, up to 26 inches, caught by the Maas party. (Sam Cook photo)

Wyatt Maas of Duluth holds a 19 3/4-inch walleye caught by his grandfather, Rob Maas of Duluth, Thursday on the Rainy River east of Baudette. The fish was one of 20, up to 26 inches, caught by the Maas party. (Sam Cook photo)

I spent a good day on the Rainy River near Baudette on Thursday with three generations of Duluth’s Maas family — grandpa Rob Maas, son Todd Maas and grandson Wyatt Maas. We caught 20 walleyes, many from 20 to 26 inches long, during the day. That isn’t fast action by Rainy River standards, but it’s a bit better than that of recent days, said Rob Maas, who has fished the river for nearly all of the past 18 days.

We were fishing near the Vidas landing east of Clementson, using quarter-ounce jigs (mostly chartreuse) and minnows. We watched a man in a nearby boat catch and release a 30 1/2-inch walleye.

Water temperatures started at 38 degrees and rose to over 40 degrees. More walleyes enter the river, and more walleyes bite, when the water temperatures stay in the low 40s, Rob Maas said. That bodes well for anglers headed for the river today and this weekend.

The walleye season on the Rainy River continues through Tuesday (April 14). The walleye possession limit is two, and they must be less than 19 1/2 inches long.

Look for a complete story on our outing in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, April 19.

Here are a few more photos from our day on the river.

Todd Maas of Duluth prepares to retrieve a walleye from a net held by his son, Wyatt Maas, on the Rainy River. (Sam Cook photo)

Todd Maas of Duluth prepares to retrieve a walleye from a net held by his son, Wyatt Maas, on the Rainy River. (Sam Cook photo)

David Paul (right) of Mahnomen, Minn., prepares to release a 30 1/2-inch walleye on the Rainy River on Thursday. Assisting him is Clarence Berndt of Park Rapids, MInn., (maroon sweatshirt) as Larry Revier of Dilworth, Minn., looks on. (Sam Cook photo)

David Paul (right) of Mahnomen, Minn., prepares to release a 30 1/2-inch walleye on the Rainy River on Thursday. Assisting him is Clarence Berndt of Park Rapids, MInn., (maroon sweatshirt) as Larry Revier of Dilworth, Minn., looks on. (Sam Cook photo)

Wyatt Maas of Duluth releases another nice walleye Thursday afternoon on the Rainy River. (Sam Cook photo)

Wyatt Maas of Duluth releases another nice walleye Thursday afternoon on the Rainy River. (Sam Cook photo)

DNR announces tighter walleye regulations on Mille Lacs Lake

As predicted, anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will see tightened walleye regulations this summer in an effort to keep the walleye catch within prescribed safe-harvest levels.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that Mille Lacs Lake anglers will be able to keep one walleye from 19 to 21 inches long or one over 28 inches long when fishing opens on May 9. In addition, an extended night-fishing closure will again be in effect beginning the Monday after the opener, DNR officials said.

“The new regulations reflect our commitment to improve the walleye fishery as quickly as possible and stay within the state’s 1837 Treaty safe harvest allocation yet continue to provide walleye angling opportunities,” Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief, said in a statement.

The 2015 regulations for Mille Lacs Lake are:

Walleye – Limit of one and the fish must be between 19 and 21 inches long or longer than 28 inches. A night-fishing closure, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., will be in effect from May 11 to Dec. 1.
Northern pike – Limit of 10. One fish may be longer than 30 inches only if two fish shorter than 30 inches are caught on the same trip and in possession.
Bass – Limit of six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination. Only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
Mille Lacs’ walleye safe harvest level was reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds in 2015 so more fish potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population. State anglers can harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye. The eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights can harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye.

Last year, Mille Lacs anglers could keep two walleyes 18  to 20 inches long or one longer than 28 inches.

“This set of regulations is designed to minimize the likelihood that a catch-and-release-only walleye fishing regulation would be needed later in the season to stay within the state’s safe harvest allocation,” Pereira said.

Like last year, anglers may keep up to 10 northern pike. A change — suggested and supported by the Mille Lacs Lake Fishery Input Group — this year allows one of those fish to be longer than 30 inches only if an angler has first caught at least two northerns shorter than 30 inches on the same trip and has them in immediate possession. Angling season for northern pike runs from May 9 through March 27, 2016.

“There was too much pressure on large northern pike last year when anglers and spearers could harvest one fish longer than 30 inches without restriction,” Pereira said. “So this year we’re experimenting with an earn-a-trophy concept that requires anglers to harvest more abundant smaller fish before they can take home a big fish.”

Mille Lacs’ relaxed smallmouth bass regulations remain in effect. The smallmouth bass season begins May 9 and allows anglers to harvest smallmouth bass through the last Sunday in February 2016. Anglers may keep six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination, but only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
Muskie, bowfishing exceptions

There will be two exceptions to the night-fishing ban this year for muskellunge and bow fishing. Beginning June 8, muskellunge anglers may fish at night with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bow fishing for rough fish only will be allowed at night beginning June 8 provided no angling equipment is in a boat.

“Night muskie fishing and bow fishing for rough fish are popular on Mille Lacs,” Pereira said. “Last year, all boats had to be off the water at night. This year, we’ve listened to stakeholders and adjusted the regulations to accommodate night fishing methods that are expected to have no impact on the walleye we’re trying to protect.”

Walleye numbers on Mille Lacs are at a 40-year low. Northern pike numbers are at record highs. The smallmouth bass population has been increasing since the 1990s. Tullibee and perch populations, both important forage species, are relatively low.

Fish populations likely are being influenced by many factors including a management approach that focused too much walleye harvest on too narrow a size range of fish, DNR officials say. An adequate number of spawners remain in the lake, and sufficient walleye continue to hatch each year, fisheries officials say. The problem is that since 2008, not enough young walleye are surviving to maturity and replenishing the population.

“We’re encouraged by walleye hatched in 2013,” Pereira said. “That year class shows strong signs that more of those fish are surviving and will mature.”

Other factors contributing to the changing fishery on Mille Lacs and possibly influencing the survival of young walleye include clearer water that may limit suitable habitat and increase vulnerability to predation, longer growing seasons related to climate change that may favor other species, and the indirect impacts of a variety of invasive species in the lake, including zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian watermilfoil.

 

Wisconsin man headed for stem-cell transplant in Panama

Don Christensen will board a plane Thursday morning for a flight that he hopes will change his life. Christensen, of Webster, Wis., suffers from multiple sclerosis. He and two personal attendants will fly to Panama, where he is scheduled to receive a stem-cell transplant. The transplants have proven effective in reducing the symptoms associated with MS, according to the testimony of others who have received the treatments. The transplants are not available in the United States.

“I think it’d be cool if I could reach up and scratch an itch,” said Christensen, a quadriplegic. “We’ll give it a shot. Hopefully, it works. Whatever happens, it’s been a really neat ride.”

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Christensen, 50, is an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes from his wheelchair. He uses a breath-activated device to trigger his shotgun, rifle or crossbow. He has hunted deer, turkeys and bears. In February, friends and supporters gathered at a fundraiser in Spooner for Christensen, raising $27,800 for his transplant and associated travel. Donations have now topped $28,000, he said.

The transplant, to be done at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City, Panama, will cost $21,200, Christensen said in a telephone interview Monday. Travel, lodging other other costs will total about $4,000.

“I’ve spent last couple weeks talking to people who have done stem cell transplants in Panama,” he said. “It’s amazing. There’s been some miracles happening. It definitely keeps hope alive.”

Christensen has been on his MS medicine for seven years. While it has kept his MS symptoms in check, the medicine has a serious potential side effect. The longer a person takes the medicine, the more likely it is that he or she will develop progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML.

After a recent screening, he learned that his risk of PML had increased dramatically. PML is caused by a virus infection that affects the white matter in the brain and targets cells that make myelin — the material that insulates nerve cells.

PML has a 30 to 50 percent mortality rate within the first few months of diagnosis, but that depends on the severity of the underlying disease and treatment received, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. People who survive PML can be left with severe neurological disabilities.

Christensen researched the option of the stem-cell transplant and decided it was worth trying. He and two attendants, Jennifer Tripp of Spooner and Dawn Elliott of Trego, plan to be in Panama City for 10 days.

In some cases, Christensen said, those who receive the transplants must return for a second transplant. But nearly all those he knows of who have received the transplants have experienced some reduction in symptoms, Christensen said.

The transplants are not available in the United States because the procedure has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Town bird

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

I was finishing up at another assignment on Friday when I pulled up to the intersection of 11th Avenue South and Minnesota Avenue on Duluth’s Park Point. As I approached the intersection, I looked ahead and saw a brownish bird standing in the street. At first, I assumed it was a hen mallard because mallards hang around Park Point much of the winter. But the body shape didn’t seem to match up with a duck.

I looked again and figured it had to be a ruffed grouse. I mean, it looked like a grouse. But I certainly didn’t expect to see a ruffed grouse on Park Point. There isn’t a lot of grouse-y habitat there, especially near that intersection. But that’s what it was. A grouse.

It was cooperative enough to let me switch to a telephoto lens and make several photos. The grouse didn’t flush when I got out of the car to take pictures, nor when I walked completely to the other side of it so I could shoot with the sun at my back. It just stood there in the street.

Finally, after I was through shooting, it must have decided enough was enough. It rocketed into flight, flew across Minnesota Avenue and over a hedge between two closely spaced homes.

Another motorist came up. He, too, had seen the bird.

“Was that a grouse?” he asked.

I told him it was a grouse.

“I didn’t know they had ‘em down here,” he said.

I didn’t, either.

 

Tightened walleye regulations to continue on Upper Red Lake

Beginning on Minnesota’s fishing opener, May 9, walleye regulations on Upper Red Lake will be more restrictive than past open water seasons, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The daily bag and possession limit will be two walleyes, and anglers must immediately release all walleyes 17 to 26 inches long. Only one walleye in possession may be longer than 26 inches.

These regulations are in response to a record winter harvest, during which state anglers harvested 140,000 pounds of walleyes. Walleye regulations were tightened during the winter season and will remain restrictive for the open water season.

“High walleye catch rates and ideal ice travel conditions attracted a record number of walleye anglers to Upper Red Lake this winter,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji area DNR fisheries supervisor. “Winter fishing pressure was 1.75 million angler-hours, 75 percent higher than the previous record high observed in 2014.”

The DNR has not made a decision regarding an early season fishing closure on the Tamarac River. This decision will be made in late April when biologists are able to assess the status of the walleye spawning run.

Upper Red Lake harvest restrictions are necessary to comply with a joint walleye harvest plan agreement with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.