There is light at the end of the tunnel — at last — and it’s time to start thinking about getting outside for some springtime fun.
Options are numerous; maybe it’s as simple as a hike in the park. Or something more adventurous, such as a trip to a popular — and often crowded — border river in pursuit of walleyes or sturgeon.
The wildlife-watching possibilities are nearly endless. Snow geese, dancing grouse, birds of all kinds frantically get about the business of replicating the species. For humans, spring is a time to make up for all of those days cooped up indoors during a winter that was too cold, too snowy and much too long. And even for those who aren’t yet sick of ice fishing, there’ll be opportunities to punch a hole and wet a line for a few more weeks in places such as Devils Lake and Lake of the Woods. But the temperature will be closer to 40 above than 40 below, and that’s never a bad thing.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas for getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors this spring.
The prairie chicken booming grounds at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent lands in Polk County are a perennially popular springtime attraction for photographers and wildlife watchers. Male prairie chickens gather en masse on their leks, or booming grounds, in hopes of attracting a mate. They produce the booming sound by inflating air sacs in their necks as the centerpiece of their mating ritual.
Prairie chickens starting their booming display at first light so visitors should be set up in the blinds before daylight. It’s worth getting up early to witness the spectacle.
The Crookston Chamber and Visitors Bureau handles reservations for the blinds at Glacial Ridge and provides maps for reaching the sites. For more information, contact the Crookston CVB at (218) 281-4320.
The Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society also lists several destinations for watching chickens boom in the spring. More info: www.prairiechickens.org.
Every spring, male ruffed grouse stake their claims to fallen logs deep in the forest and make their presence known as they seek to attract a mate.
This they do by rapidly beating their wings, producing a thumping sound that resonates through the woods.
“Drumming,” it’s called, and it’s a sound female ruffed grouse apparently find appealing.
In recent years, the staff at Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area south of Roosevelt, Minn., has set up a blind or two that can be reserved for viewing and photographing the male grouse on their drumming logs.
It’s a solitary pursuit, and the birds don’t always show up right on schedule, but when the show begins, it’s definitely worth the wait. Drumming can occur throughout the day, but mornings and evenings are prime times.
A trip to Norris Camp also offers the opportunity to watch woodcock do their sky dance and “peenting” displays, said Gretchen Mehmel, manager of Red Lake WMA. That show begins at dusk.
Viewing opportunities likely remain a few weeks off, but it’s not too early to plan ahead and put a date on the calendar to reserve a seat for the show.
For more information, contact Red Lake WMA at (218) 783-6861 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barely an hour’s drive east from Norris Camp, the Department of Natural Resources’ area wildlife office in Baudette has two blinds available for viewing sharp-tailed grouse as the males vie for mates on their dancing grounds.
According to Scott Laudenslager, area wildlife manager for the DNR in Baudette, one of the blinds is about a 5-minute drive from Baudette while the other is about 15 miles southwest of town. The closest blind requires visitors to walk about 200 yards, while the site southwest of town is only about 50 yards from the road. Blinds hold two to three people and have 5-gallon pails for seating and watching the show right in the heart of the action.
Peak dancing season typically gets underway the last two weeks in April, continuing through early May, Laudenslager said. The show starts early, so it’s crucial to be in the blinds before daybreak.
“Birds will dance for the first couple of hours, so there’s plenty of opportunity to observe them,” Laudenslager said. “Even if people walk out and flush the birds, the birds will come back within 10 or 15 minutes. Your opportunities are not spoiled during the day if that happens.”
Visitors also can expect to see other wildlife, including sandhill cranes, coyotes and rough-legged hawks, he says.
Given their proximity to the ruffed grouse blinds, the sharptail blinds offer a great opportunity to witness two very different shows up close and personal in the same road trip.
To reserve a blind, call the DNR wildlife office in Baudette at (218) 634-1705 ext. 222.
Fish the Rainy
One of northern Minnesota’s first open-water fishing opportunities every spring draws anglers by the boatload to the Rainy River, which follows the Minnesota-Ontario border between Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods.
The attraction: Prespawn walleyes heading upstream from Lake of the Woods.
Access points near Birchdale and farther downstream at Frontier and Clementson are packed to overflowing once the river opens and the ramps are ice-free. Expect plenty of company, even though new catch-and-release regulations that took effect March 1 require anglers to release all of the walleyes they catch during the spring season, which closes April 14.
Sturgeon are the big attraction after the spring walleye season closes. Hit it right, and there’s an opportunity to hook a behemoth fish weighing 75 to 100 pounds or more. Just be sure to follow the regulations as outlined in the 2019 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet.
Pike on ice
Like it or not, ice on some of the biggest lakes in the region will linger a few more weeks, and that can be a good thing for anglers who enjoy fishing northern pike.
While pike are off-limits across most of Minnesota until the May 11 fishing opener, season for the toothy predators is continuous on Lake of the Woods. The big lake has kicked out numbers of pike in the 40-plus-inch range the past few weeks.
Dunking a cisco or a smelt — don’t use the grocery-store variety of smelt in Minnesota; they must be packaged and certified as disease-free by a registered dealer — below a tip-up is a proven technique for icing big pike. After ice-out, many anglers also target the fish in shallow bays such as Zippel Bay, Bostick Bay and areas near the mouth of the Warroad River.
Devils Lake is another proven destination for pike-fishing fans, and shallow areas below any of the coulees that run into the lake are good bets. With four lines allowed for ice fishing in North Dakota, anglers can put out quite a spread. Don’t forget about walleyes and perch, either, since fishing season is continuous in North Dakota. Just be sure to have a new fishing license April 1.
Cast the coulees
Abundant snowfall likely will translate into abundant runoff in the Lake Region, which in turn could mean another strong run of walleyes and northern pike up the ditches and coulees that flow into Devils Lake this spring.
There wasn’t much runoff last spring, and the fishing along the coulees was slow, by most accounts. But in 2017, the action was absolutely gangbusters, at times, and anglers in places stood elbow-to-elbow.
Best of all, it’s simple fishing. Small boats help avoid the worst of the crowds, but anglers do very well from shore. A jig and a soft plastic twister tail-type bait is all that’s needed.
After a long winter, setting the hook on a walleye in open water sounds pretty good.
Snow (geese) spectacle
Any day now, snow geese by the millions will follow the snow line north as they head to their Arctic breeding grounds. Skeins of the light geese will fill the sky, providing a spectacle that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
The spring migration also provides an opportunity for hardcore waterfowl hunters to hunt the geese under a conservation order that’s been in effect for the past 20 years in an effort to reduce the population and lessen the species’ impact on the fragile Arctic breeding grounds where they nest.
It’s messy, muddy business, this spring snow goose hunting, but the rewards can be substantial for those who enjoy the pursuit. There’s no limit, and liberalized regulations that include electronic calls and unplugged shotguns that hold more than three shells are in effect. North Dakota’s spring light goose season continues through May 12. More info: gf.nd.gov.