Mille Lacs Fall Fish Survey Shows Promise

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Mille Lacs Lake fall fish survey shows promise

For the first time since 2008, Mille Lacs Lake walleye surviving into their second year remain abundant and the following year’s hatch appears to be doing well, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re far from out of the woods on Mille Lacs Lake,” said Rick Bruesewitz, Aitkin area fisheries supervisor for the DNR. “But younger walleye are showing more positive signs of survival than they have in past years.”

That’s good news for the lake’s walleye population, which has been declining because the vast majority of walleye that hatch in Mille Lacs have not grown into yearlings by surviving to their second autumn. When not enough smaller fish grow into larger ones, the population eventually drops.

As expected, the walleye catch in all types of nets during this fall’s population assessment was down slightly from last year but there were strong numbers of walleye hatched the previous year in all surveys. Catch rates of these walleye were among the highest observed since 1991 for electrofishing and 2006 for fine-mesh gill nets.

“This year class survived its first year much better than any of the year classes from the previous four years,” Bruesewitz said. “They look pretty strong going into 2015.”

Electrofishing for walleye hatched this year produced average numbers when compared with catches from previous years, indicating that reproduction in 2014 was again successful. Walleye hatched this year were a little below average in size. This may be related to a lack of food caused by low numbers of newly hatched perch, which serve as the primary food source for newly hatched walleye.

High numbers of newly hatched and yearling tullibee, which range from 3-8 inches long, were too large for newly hatched walleye to eat but their availability will provide more food for larger walleye.

“Both of these tullibee age classes were caught at the highest levels we’ve seen in the forage nets,” Bruesewitz said. “With that much food for larger predators, smaller walleye may have had a better chance of survival from predation. This food resource also appears to have improved the overall condition of larger walleye, which was better than we’ve seen for several years.”

More perch ranging from 6- to 7.9-inches were caught in near-shore and offshore nets but the number of perch longer than 9 inches remained at about the same relatively low level.

Results of assessment netting also showed high numbers of northern pike, many of which range from 22- to 28-inches although fish as long as 39.7 inches were observed in the survey. Smallmouth bass numbers decreased slightly close to shore but increased in off-shore nets. Tullibee numbers increased throughout the lake.

DNR staff continue to compile catch information from fall assessment surveys, including age analysis. Once complete, the data will be added into the stock assessment modeling carried out by both state and tribal biologists.

Annual Mille Lacs Lake safe harvest levels are based on fish population assessments in combination with other sources of information, including past harvest statistics. The DNR and eight Indian bands will evaluate technical data and modeling results related to Mille Lacs Lake and use that information to reach agreement on final safe harvest levels in January. The DNR uses these levels as the basis for walleye management.

Mille Lacs Lake covers 132,000 acres. State anglers are expected to harvest close to 30,000 pounds of walleye this fishing season from an allocation of 42,900 pounds. Indian bands with rights under the 1837 Treaty harvested about 13,000 pounds of walleye last spring. Their total allocation was 17,100 pounds.

For more information on Mille Lacs Lake, visit www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

MNSJ RADIO: Pheasants, Clean Water, Big Walleyes and Alligators!

We recap the Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener by talking to a number of people involved.  We’ll hear from Governor Dayton, Congressman Tim Walz, Chad Cummings from RadioWorks, Scott Pain from Worthington Public Utilities, Scott Rall the Nobles County Pheasants Forever Chapter President and more. We hear about the need for more land conservation around Worthington for more than just wildlife, as the need for clean water is more important.  Mandy Uhrich, the DNR’s State Wildlife Depredation Biologist talks about the new land that was dedicated and tied together a piece of public property that someone could walk 12 miles on.  She also tells us about hunting alligators in South Carolina!  And Chad Maloy from FM Walleyes took second with his partner Don Denning at the recent MWC Championship on Devils Lake with an impressive haul of fish including a 1 day bag of over 35 pounds of walleye! (5 fish!!)  How’d they do it?  Find out this week.

Read more about the Governor’s Pheasant Opener here.  

Watch Mandy’s alligator hunt video here.

Here’s video from the MWC Tourney and the team of Maloy and Denning:

Here’s when and where you can listen to the show: 

  1. Fargo: AM 970 WDAY  Saturdays at 6am *NEW TIME (LISTEN LIVE)
  2. Park Rapids: AM 870 KPRM Sundays at 7am
  3. Walker: AM 1570 KAKK  96.3 FM Saturdays 8:00a
  4. Wadena: AM 1070 KVKK Saturdays 7:00a
  5. Wahpeton: AM 1450 KBMW Saturdays at 8:00a (LISTEN LIVE)
  6. Grand Forks: AM1310 KNOX Saturdays at 10a (LISTEN LIVE)
  7. Fergus Falls:  AM 1020 THE GAME Saturdays at 10a 
  8. MontevideoAM 1460 KDMA Saturdays at 9am (LISTEN LIVE)
  9. BemidjiAM 820 WBKK Sundays at 7am
  10. St CloudAM 1450 KNSI/103.3 FM Saturdays at 1pm   (LISTEN LIVE)
  11. Ely94.5 FM WELY, Saturdays at 6AM  (LISTEN LIVE)
  12. Hibbing: AM 650 WNMT, Sundays at 8AM

Beer Company Donates to Wildlife Conservation

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by Bret Amundson

If I told you that you could create more wildlife habitat just by drinking beer, you’d ask me how many I’d already had.

But it’s true.

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

That’s the mission behind Beer For Wildlife.  A portion of the Hendricks, MN based brewing company’s profits go back into land conservation and the Build A Wildlife Area program with Pheasants Forever.

“I started Beer For Wildlife in 2009 as a way to generate revenue to give back to conservation,” said owner Jason Markkula. “We teamed up right away with Build A Wildlife Area from Pheasants Forever and we started donating money from the sale of Rooster Lager and then Walleye Chop after that and Longbeard after that.  Those monies get multiplied through the (program), because they get matching grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota DNR…they go out and buy land and turn it into WMA’s (State Wildlife Management Areas).”

Markkula is the man behind the malts and invited us to see the renovated buildings that house his brewery (and old creamery) and tap room (and old bank building complete with a vault that houses the bathroom).   Both buildings are over 100 years old.

 

Jason Markkula sits at the bar in his tap room, which once housed a bank and a cafe which is memorialized on the wall.

Jason Markkula sits at the bar in his tap room, which once housed a bank and a cafe which is memorialized on the wall.

 

“We have a brand new beautiful production facility in the second building we restored, which was an old creamery building complete with a 30 foot smokestack.  Both of the buildings had been vacant for 25 years before I got them,” Markkula said. “Maybe 30 years. The roof was caved in and you could have shot bottle rockets off from the basement all the way out through the third floor.”

I’ve had Rooster Lager, Walleye Chop and Longbeard before, but during this trip we’d be trying a number of new varieties including Smoke Bomb and Hop Bandit.  Smoke Bomb will give you a feeling of standing grill-side in the backyard.

 

Getting Smoke Bomb as fresh as you can get it.

Getting Smoke Bomb as fresh as you can get it.

“It costs about 3 times as much to make because we use specialty malts that have been literally smoked over wood and gives the beer such a unique taste, you almost get a smoked meat flavor-I know for some people that might not sound awesome, but to the people that are (reading this) when they hear ‘Smoked meat and beer combined? That sounds awesome!’ Everybody has heard about the jelly donut beer and this is kinda more of what we think of on a daily basis.”

Walking around the facility you’ll notice outdoor themes every where you look.  Artwork that features pheasants and waterfowl, t-shirts with deer/bear hybrids (aptly named “BEER) and handles on the doors unlike any I’ve ever seen before.

Double barreled shotguns open double doors in the brewery

Double barreled shotguns open double doors in the brewery

“We asked around if anybody had any wallhanger double-barreled shotguns because we had big sliding doors and we wanted big handles,” Markkula continued.  “We were lucky enough (that) somebody showed up with a collection of rusty old shotguns and we got to pick some that were around the same age or even older than the building.”

Why Hendricks, MN?

“Hendricks picked me.  I guess I’m the adopted son because I don’t reside in Hendricks, but I choose to work there which happens to be 3 hours from my home.”

That’s quite a commute.

“It is quite a commute, but it’s no different than any other person who has a sales job and has to be on the road 2 or 3 days a week. I was going there for another job and fell in love with it.  ‘Young guy buys farm-buys bank building to convert into hunting lodge-turns into bar slash brewery-and it explodes from there’ and we expand with a new production facility.  You know, happens all the time,” Markkula says while laughing.

Looking out over Main Street from the roof of the brewery

Looking out over Main Street from the roof of the brewery

“We’re located on Main Street in Hendricks USA.  That’s in Lincoln County, Minnesota and if you want to chase some birds, this is the place.  There’s a lot of people that are going to be mad for announcing this, but we want people to come by and buy the new Build A Wildlife Package…and then go hunt…and then try some beer…and then spend some money when you’re in Hendricks at some of the other places-the cafe, the bakery, some of the other places-we’ve got a movie theater coming to Hendricks for crying out loud!”

If you find yourself in western Minnesota, make a trip to Hendricks and try out their latest concoctions.  Or ask for the Beer For Wildlife brands at your favorite watering hole.  I’m a little partial to Rooster Lager and Longbeard myself, but they’re all good.  They’re Minnesota beers and they give back to create more wildlife.  What more do you need?

You can start today by getting yourself a “Build A Wildlife Area Package“.  For $20 you will get a subscription to MNSJ Magazine (Valued at $18!) a Rooster Lager Pint Glass, a coupon for a free beer in the Tap Room and $5 will go towards the Build A Wildlife Area program with Pheasants Forever (which then triples your donation to $15).  It’s a $40 value for only $20 and it is something that will last for generations.  It would make a perfect gift idea for the holiday season.

Buy your package here.   And learn more about Beer For Wildlife and Bank Brewing here.

Enjoy more pictures from the Brewery Tour.

Jason Markkula in the Bank Brewing Brewery

Jason Markkula in the Bank Brewing Brewery

Markkula stands in the middle of where the magic happens

Markkula stands in the middle of where the magic happens

The Tap Room in the renovated bank building comes complete with a vault that houses the valuables.  Just kidding, it's the bathroom.

The Tap Room in the renovated bank building comes complete with a vault that houses the valuables. Just kidding, it’s the bathroom.

Part of the renovated creamery.

Part of the renovated creamery.

The office sits above the brewery.  I wish my office looked like this.

The office sits above the brewery. I wish my office looked like this.

Doubled-barreled door handles.

Doubled-barreled door handles.

Markkula stands on the old lift

Markkula stands on the old lift

DOUG LEIER: Private land doesn’t mean “No Hunting”

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DAKOTA REPORT:  By Doug Leier, ND Game and Fish

 

The popularity of North Dakota’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen program has created somewhat of an expectation for hunters.

 

This year, the state has roughly 735,000 acres in the program and many hunters use these areas for at least some of their hunting experiences.

 

And that’s basically the primary intention of PLOTS – sort of a supplemental option in addition to other types of public land and private land as well. The program was never intended to meet all the expectations of a hundred thousand hunters in North Dakota each fall.

 

Hunters who really want to improve their opportunities still need to work private land into the mix.

 

It’s safe to say that a good majority of the private land in North Dakota gets hunted every year. And it’s also safe to say that a good majority of private land in the state is “posted,” with signs indicating no hunting or no trespassing.

 

But those “No Hunting” signs don’t necessarily mean the landowner doesn’t allow hunting.

 

Landowners have any number of good reasons why a particular piece of land is not available. Perhaps friends or relatives are coming. Maybe the rancher is moving cattle in the area, or still harvesting. Maybe the landowner wants to hunt that day or the next. And maybe the land is available on a different day.

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Those are the kinds of things hunters find out if they take the time and the effort to ask courteously.

 

Access to land, whether it’s public or private, has received considerable attention in recent years, but it’s not a new issue. Consider this from the November 1931 issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS, the first year that the State Game and Fish Department’s magazine was published. “Hunters should be courteous in their contacts with the owners of land in areas where hunting will be permitted. One heedless and uncivil act on the part of a hunter may prejudice a farmer land-owner against all sportsmen as a class. The posting of property against hunting has been largely brought about by thoughtless and selfish hunters who have violated every moral right while hunting on farmers’ property.”

 

The underlying theme back then, and that is still the case 83 years later, is that many landowners who post their land still allow hunting, they just want to determine the terms of access, as is the right of every property owner, rural or urban.

 

Hunters, even those who are known by landowners, should always make a contact ahead of time to make sure the land is available the day they want to hunt.

 

Hunters should also be able to accept “no” for an answer without resentment. Hunters who think that farmers and ranchers owe them an opportunity to hunt will be less successful in finding places to go.

 

While Game and Fish has developed PLOTS into a significant program that has greatly increased public access to private land, hunters must continue to try to establish their own contacts.

 

Here are five rules or suggestions that might for improving access opportunities this fall:

 

  1. Plan ahead and set reasonable expectations.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask. Driving up to a farm “cold” is not always an easy thing to do. However, it is necessary if hunters want to expand opportunities beyond public land.
  3. Accept “No” graciously; find out if another day might be better.
  4. Strive to meet landowners even if the land you want to hunt isn’t posted; arrange an in-person meeting rather than relying on a phone call
  5. Honesty and courtesy are vital.

 

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:dleier@nd.gov

It’s Worth It In Worthington; More habitat benefits people as much as wildlife

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by Bret Amundson

“Getting more grass in the ground.”

That’s what you have been hearing over and over in recent years in regards to land conservation and habitat restoration.  The new Farm Bill offered some more competitive rates on conservation programs, but it is still a struggle.  While we were in Worthington for the Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener we had the chance to visit a land dedication that tied a big piece of public property together.  It was a collaborative effort that tied public hunting ground together that included the very first piece of land that Pheasant Forever purchased back in 1986.  The purchase was made possible with help from the Nobles County Pheasant Forever Chapter, which consistently ranks near the top each year for money spent on land acquisition.   Read more about the land here. 

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What you are also hearing in Nobles County more and more about is the need for clean water.   Prairie grasses naturally filter water to keep our drinking water supply free of contaminants.  So keeping an important piece of the watershed puzzle in the hands of land conservationists is a key component to clean drinking water for the area.

“What we have for a major water source pretty much lies within a mile of where I’m standing right now,” Scott Hain from Worthington said. “It virtually supplies all of the water to the city of Worthington.  We struggled through years of drought…and despite of years and years of additional exploration for water resources we haven’t been able to find any.  So what we have is it.”

The new piece of public land allows hunters/hikers to walk for 12 miles while staying on public land.

“If you go just two miles down the road here you’ll find another monument,” explained Chad Cummings, our emcee and owner of RadioWorks, a group of radio stations in Worthington. “The first ever piece of ground put in the Pheasants Forever name.”

Pheasant Run 1 began a large tract of connected public land back in 1986 and has come full circle 28 years later.   This stretch of public land not only protects the watershed and offers more habitat for wildlife, but gives hunters more land to walk and pass on the traditions of fall.

“That’s what hunting does in Minnesota,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “It brings people together.  It brings generations together.  3 sometimes 4 generations of people that share that family experience and grew up hunting and are now bringing their grandchildren hunting.”

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This would be my first trip down to Nobles County and the city of Worthington.  The drive south began with a stop at the Bank Brewing Company in Hendricks, MN.  They’re brewers of Rooster Lager, Walleye Chop and more outdoor-related themes.  A portion of their profits actually goes back into land conservation (learn more at www.beerforwildlife.com).

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

Jason Markkula uses old shotguns as door handles

After taste-testing a few new varieties including “Smoke Bomb” (which tastes like you’re at a barbecue eating smoked meat), we got a good nights rest and dreamt of cackling roosters flushing off the dog’s nose just within shotgun range.

I’d read about the windy conditions of southwestern Minnesota and wondered how they’d compare to my days living in Fargo.   Because of the high average wind speeds, the Buffalo Ridge area that we drove along from Hendricks to Worthington is toothpicked with over 200 wind turbines.  Easily the most turbines I’ve witnessed in one area.

The soil and climate around Buffalo Ridge makes for good prairie grasses and that creates good habitat for pheasants-one of the reasons this area has become a destination for orange-clad upland bird hunters.

Chris Kruse watches his dog "Gator" work some tall grass near Worthington, MN

Chris Kruse watches his dog “Gator” work some tall grass near Worthington, MN

We were welcomed to town at the new Comfort Suites and Conference Center-a bustling new complex that includes big rooms for banquets and company meetings featuring swanky rooms with plenty of elbow room.  We’d stretch the limits of the banquet hall at the welcome dinner that seated over 400 people comfortably.   Our tables were bussed by members of the Worthington High School Marching Band, who’d be playing in the Outback Bowl Parade in Tampa, Florida on December 31st.

We also had the chance to tune up with some sporting clays at the Worthington Gun Club earlier in the day.    Shooters Sporting Clays out of Marshall brought their sporting clay equipment and set up a course on the trap range for us.

Mandy Uhrich breaks clays at the Worthington Gun Club

Mandy Uhrich breaks clays at the Worthington Gun Club

The next morning we’d be hunting with other members of the media, along with Congressman Tim Walz, who represents the 1st District, which spans the southern portion of Minnesota from South Dakota to Wisconsin.   Also along was our hunting host Chris Kruse and landowner Les Johnson.

The new habitat is good for wildlife and water but what about the economy?  Some towns survive on outdoorsmen and women.

“In Minnesota the outdoors industry of hunting and fishing and other outdoor industries are a 4 billion dollar-a-year business,” said Congressman Tim Walz. “Not much different than the Mayo Clinic.”

Johnson and some friends have intensively managed the land we’d be hunting on for wildlife.  They are big supporters of Pheasants Forever and he sits on the board of the Nobles County Chapter.   In 2010, $1.4 million dollars were spent on conservation by the Nobles County PF Chapter and President Scott Rall was recently named as Heroes of Conservation Finalist by Field and Stream.

A group of hunters poses with their birds at lunch.

A group of hunters poses with their birds at lunch.

We’d see a big flock of mallards and wood ducks, over a dozen deer (including a few bucks) and around two dozen pheasants.  We split the group and divided the land.  Our group would flush 16 birds, 5 of which were roosters and three of them came home in the cooler.  Not a limit, but not a bad opener when you consider where our bird numbers were at last year.   That can be attributed to a different location that might have more habitat and the milder winter in this part of the state.

Mandy Uhrich and Les Johnson pose next to Johnson's license plate.

Mandy Uhrich and Les Johnson pose next to Johnson’s license plate.

 

We’d break for lunch at the land dedication and head back out in the afternoon with Kruse.  A Wildlife Management Area would be chosen and we happily jumped out of the truck to stretch our legs once more.  The worn-out pups shook off their midday nap and eagerly hit the grass with their noses to the ground.  We’d see hunters on properties all around us, mallards and teal buzzing over our heads and a few pheasants would make an appearance.

Overall, it was a good opener.  We saw a lot of hens and a lot of hard working people dedicated to putting more habitat on the landscape.  Hopefully that will translate to a better opener next year.

We’d like to thank the city of Worthington, Explore Minnesota Tourism and the DNR for hosting us and putting on a good show.  And of course thanks to our landowners and hunting hosts for putting us on the birds!

Here are some more photos from the weekend:

Mandy Uhrich and Bret Amundson after a fun morning walk.

Mandy Uhrich and Bret Amundson after a fun morning walk.

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Cumara, Mandy Uhrich's 3-year-old yellow lab searches for roosters

Cumara, Mandy Uhrich’s 3-year-old yellow lab searches for roosters

Mandy Uhrich walks the tall grass of a State Wildlife Management Area near Worthington, MN

Mandy Uhrich walks the tall grass of a State Wildlife Management Area near Worthington, MN

101114 - gov hunt morning hunt-13

The Wild Dakota TV Show and their hunting group.

101014 - clays breaking

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101114 - gov hunt morning hunt