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Well, we're not headed up to the canoe country to go lake trout fishing this spring. Or so it appears. The ice has us. Four of us make the trip each spring, close on the heels of ice-out, when the fish are hungry. We paddle across the border, into the Canadian wilderness, where the lake trout season is already open. Typically, we make the trip in early May, sometimes even starting in late April.
FRENCH RIVER, Minn. — The St. Louis River has a healthy population of adult lake sturgeon, but those fish are not producing the numbers of young fish that biologists had hoped to see. Few adult females are returning to spawn, and biologists have found little evidence of young sturgeon being produced, said Dan Wilfond, fisheries specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at French River.
I visited my friend Jeff Rennicke's writing studio in Bayfield years ago. It was a simple room, bare of most distractions, but on the wall above his computer was a piece of paper with four words on it. "Tell me a story." It was there as a reminder of his deal with his readers each time he sat down to write — simply to tell a story.
Last fall, a Bemidji-area deer hunter's video was widely circulated on Facebook among Minnesota hunters. In the video, it appeared that about a dozen gray wolves emerged from the right side of the screen, one or two at a time, and made their way across the scene. The video was shot from the hunter's elevated stand. A couple of wolf pups romped at one point. The adults moved through single-file at intervals, over a period of a minute or more. The video seemed to support the impression that many Minnesota deer hunters have about wolves, namely that too many of them roam the woods.
The manila file folder was stuck in alongside some of my old trip journals on a bookshelf. "What's this?" I thought. I pulled it out and opened it up the other day. Inside were, among other things, a couple of sheets of notebook paper with my handwriting on them. "Exercise No. 9," the page was entitled. "Before I die, I want to..."
DULUTH — Well, this is getting a little old, isn't it? This November in April, I mean. A buddy called the other day. "It was four below in International Falls this morning!" he complained. Yeah. I was out shoveling a fresh skiff of snow the same morning. I hadn't bothered to check the thermometer. I was out there scooping away, thinking, "Pretty nice morning. Crisp. Clear. Must be about 20." Back inside, I checked: Six degrees. You know you've become too acclimated to northern Minnesota winters when six degrees feels like a balmy day.
DULUTH — A new Minnesota deer management plan, long-awaited by many deer hunters, is due out early this week from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The plan, if ultimately adopted, will guide deer management strategies and communication between the agency and its deer-hunting public. The draft plan is a culmination of 12 public input sessions held around the state and a dozen meetings between DNR wildlife officials and a 20-member citizens' Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee over the past year.
The previous day's moderate thaw is history. I stride along a refrozen trail at dawn. My ice cleats, stretched over a pair of running shoes, make a satisfying crunch with each footfall. It sounds like I'm stomping potato chips. The trail is alternately old snow and new ice, the ice irregular and rutted by those who passed on foot or fat bikes when the trail was mush.
ON WISCONSIN'S BRULE RIVER — Bruce Koepke slipped his hand under the young brown trout and quickly removed his pink yarn fly from its lip. It was nearly midday on Saturday, March 31, opening day of the early trout season on Wisconsin's Brule River. Koepke returned the fish to the water. The Brule opener is a hallowed tradition for many steelhead anglers, and Koepke, of Duluth, usually rises early and heads for the river. But the snowstorm that had swept through parts of the Northland overnight made him reconsider.
GUNFLINT TRAIL, NORTH OF GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — On a bright March afternoon, a procession of winter travelers moved across the crusted snow atop Bearskin Lake like some human-powered freight train. Three dads, four daughters — and Gimli, the aging Labrador, out front. The girls, 16 to 18 years old, chatted and laughed as they marched along, leaning into the traces of sleds they pulled that were loaded with winter camping gear. Their dads — Bob Feyen, Jesse Schomberg and Kevin Skwira-Brown — were part of the procession, each towing his share of the gear.