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Ice fishing -- the thing to do over the Minnesota winter

Ice fishing is the thing to do in a Minnesota winter. It is at its peak right now, in January, and it will continue for many weeks. The thickness of the ice was a concern for a short time, but night time temps at ten below zero soon made more than enough, at first for walking, then snowmobiles appeared, and then the convenience of driving the pick up truck right up to the door of the fish house. The numbers soon passed a hundred shanties, and we'll probably see 250 or so out there.

Fishing through the ice has been good on Little Detroit, Rush Lake at Ottertail, on the Cormorant chain and on Cotton Lake. Walleye and northern pike fishing has got off to a good start, but many report that crappies and sunfish angling has been slow. Spearing and angling for northern pike was slow this year. The time for spearing is the month of December, before the ice has gotten about six or eight inches. When the ice hasn't got thick, it is a lot easier to retrieve the spear. You want to do your scaring in weedy parts of the lake. Round Lake at the east end of Tamarac Preserve, Little Detroit, Little Pine at Perham, Dead and Marion Lake southwest of Perham, have always been among the best spearing lakes. Still a controversial sport, some look down upon spearing, but I've always enjoyed it. Watching that big sucker minnow we harnessed as a free-swimming bait go crazy when a big northern hovered nearby.

Anglers have been baiting up with sucker minnows. Water depth at the start was ten feet or less but now it can be 20 and occasionally more.

If you know the lake or can fish with someone who does, great fishing for walleyes, nice sized keepers, are always there at Ottertail Lake. This is primarily a weedless gravel bottom lake, and the walleyes come out of the weedy shorelines to feed on minnows. Grapple fishing can also get good here.

Lake of the Woods

The ultimate in winter fishing is going up to Lake of the Woods. Keep on the Minnesota side and book yourself into one of the sleeper cabins, which will house up to 20 anglers. Most fishermen who go up to the big lake prefer to be angling with only their own party, which is often only four to six guys.

Most of the walleyes taken here aren't real big, but they do have a consistency to be more than a pound. Great when they've been scaled, boned and filleted, ready for the frying pan with fried potatoes. No fisherman's dinner meal could be any better than that!

The water depth is about 26 feet. You can get the details as to where to try it from many of the fishermen, guides or resort operators. Information and suggestions are sometimes good, sometimes someone didn't know what he was talking. Same as fishermen's talk anywhere, I suppose.

Owls in Minnesota's winter

Those of us who are out and about in Minnesota's winter months are apt to see snowy owls in search of mice and voles. Snowy, the all white ball of fur, comes down in Minnesota when weather is colder on the Canadian wastelands.

They can be seen at about the 20-foot level in a large tree, sitting quietly in search of dinner. They usually will not fly if you don't do something noisy that disturbs them.

Barn owls are pretty common too. They often will take up residence in the wood duck houses that aren't going to be occupied this time of the year. They are slate grey to black in color and have been known to visit the scatterings of our small birds' feeding stations.

If you do some ice fishing at the more remote lakes, you have a good chance to encounter a bald eagle. Usually, they'll avoid you, taking flight from a lakeside tree perch, before you get too close. A number of fishermen have reported seeing bald eagles eating the remains of fish after anglers have gutted part of their catch out on the ice.

Great horned owls, well, you're fortunate to get close enough to see one of these up close. They're ferocious when they've caught a ground nesting bird, or a cottontail. I've never seen one of these in the wild, although I've seen a large number of baldies, once a dozen or fifteen in one group.

Keep an eye out for owls -- especially the nomadic snowy. I don't know if owls will ordinarily or regularly go after the ever-expanding flocks of wild turkeys that we're beginning to see in our area. A big tom would probably put up a pretty good fight.

Get a burger, or a brat, or a beer...

An angler can get hungry or thirsty, or both. Now you'll not need to go to shore when you're angling at Zippel Bay Resort on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods. The management of the resort has managed to get all of the necessary permits and now has the Zippel Igloo, which serves up food and drinks, right out on the ice. The Igloo is 20 by 55 feet, features 35 fishing holes and can be rented. Food and drinks and satellite television, too, along with fishing for walleyes.

The "deer whistles." Do they really work?

Enthusiastically, yes, says Ms. Arlene Ballard of Lake Park. Frazee's Daggett Truck Lines was also a respondent in favor of them. I've not seen them advertised lately, but a decade ago they were in common use. Ms. Ballard states that she's personally seen deer stop at a roadside when a vehicle equipped with the sound emitting devices passed by. She told me of several other instances where deer actually waited until cars on the highway passed before crossing. Daggett Lines experimented with the deer whistles, particularly in Montana where they had a number of deer-truck crashes. Not all of their trucks had them, but those so equipped had no collisions, while others had. In the past, not recently, I've had positive reports that drivers experienced instances where deer were turned back at the roadside, when cars with the devices approached them. Some experiments were held near St. John's University west of St. Cloud were provable instances where deer hesitated and delayed their crossing when a vehicle with the whistles drove past. The jury is still out on this one.