The outdoors from A to Z
A column idea popped into my head the other day that inspired me to see if I could come up with an alphabetical list of outdoorsy items, issues and events from A to Z that stand to be relevant this year.
It took some doing, but here's my list.
A: Is for April, a month that marks the unofficial beginning of spring and can't get here soon enough for many of us. A also is for asparagus, as in wild asparagus, as good of a vegetable as there is.
B: Is for blueberries. Fingers crossed the pine forests of northwest Minnesota are as loaded with blueberries as they were last summer. I don't even like picking blueberries, and I went picking at least four times.
C: Is for catfish. Fishing for cats on the Red River was borderline spectacular from May well into October 2016. Here's hoping this year offers more of the same. C also could be for crossbows, which could be a legal archery weapon for North Dakota hunters 65 and older if a bill in this year's legislative session passes. Or chronic wasting disease, recently found in three wild deer in southeast Minnesota, and in a farmed deer herd in central Minnesota.
D: Is for deer. Populations have been on the rebound in much of Minnesota and North Dakota, but one of the toughest winters we've seen in a few years could slow the trend.
E: Is for eelpout. Fishing for these much-maligned freshwater codfish is at its best on a number of Bemidji-area lakes beginning in late February as the fish prepare to spawn under the ice. E also is for Ely, Minn., where I joined four former co-workers last spring for two enjoyable days. The fishing on Burntside Lake wasn't very good, but the catching up on old times was very good indeed. A repeat rendezvous this year would be very good, as well.
F: Is for fishing, of course, duh! Between North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada to the north, the fishing opportunities within a three- to four-hour drive of Grand Forks are considerable. F also is for flooding, which could be a problem in parts of the region this spring if snow depths continue to build.
G: Is for grouse. Whether sharptails or ruffed grouse—my personal favorite upland game bird—I'm hoping the winter is conducive to their survival (fortunately, they roost in snow) and we finally can get a spring without heavy rains so the birds can pull off strong hatches.
H: Is for Humminbird, as in Humminbird Helix. This popular model of fishing electronics packs a huge potential into a small package at a reasonable price tag.
I: Is for ice. Lots of people don't like winter, I know, but for ice fishing enthusiasts, seeing the ice hang around longer than last year would be a good thing.
J: Is for jigging, by far my favorite technique for putting fish in the boat.
K: Is for kayaks. The boats have become increasingly popular in recent years and even are available for rent on the Red River.
L: Is for Lockport, Man., the small Red River town widely known as the Mecca of channel catfish and one of my favorite fishing destinations.
M: Is for muskie, a big, toothy fish I haven't caught in nearly three years. And morel mushroom, a delectable wild fungi widely sought every spring.
N: Is for Northwest Angle, that oddball part of Minnesota that marks the northernmost point of the Lower 48. A friend has access to a cabin on American Point on the Minnesota-Ontario border, and early plans are in the works to spend a few days up there fishing both sides of Lake of the Woods.
O: Is for otters. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing to offer a limited trapping and snaring season on the furbearers in November. O also is for October, which of course is the best month of the year.
P: Is for Pine Falls, the Manitoba town near the mouth of the Winnipeg River where it flows into Lake Winnipeg. Pine Falls is a hotbed for big "greenback" walleyes every fall, and it's long been on my list of destinations I'd like to fish. P also is for pheasant, and pointer, a favorite hunting dog of many for pursuing those birds.
Q: Is for Quetico Provincial Park, just across the border from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A great place, I'm told, although I've never had the chance to experience it firsthand.
R: Is for rotator cuff. What does that have to do with the outdoors, you ask? Well, in my case, a lot. I went under the knife this week, and with my right arm in a sling for the next six to eight weeks, the opportunities for winter recreation will be limited to nonexistent until mid-March at the earliest.
S: Is for shooting sports. The popularity of high school trapshooting absolutely has exploded in recent years with the Minnesota and North Dakota state high school clay target leagues. More students are getting involved every year. S also is for sturgeon, those big prehistoric fish I'd sure like to have tugging at the end of my line a few times this spring.
T: Is for Trout Lake, the shortened name for Otukamamoan Lake in northwestern Ontario about a 20-minute floatplane ride north of International Falls, Minn. Retired Minnesota state Sen. Bob Lessard owns a camp on the lake, and the fishing is excellent for walleyes and lake trout. Widely know as the "Ol' Trapper," Lessard also is a longtime fishing guide and member of the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota. Being in a boat with him is never dull. I stayed at the camp in 2014 and 2015 and had a blast both times.
U: Is for Upper Red Lake, one of the best walleye lakes Minnesota has to offer and site of one of the most enjoyable "fall and rise" stories I've ever covered—the Red Lake walleye recovery.
V: Is for vintage snowmobiles. The fifth annual Anna Kozel Vintage Sled Show is set for Feb. 4 outside the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks.
W: Is for wildlife. And winter. The two w's are intertwined this winter, as wildlife on both sides of the Red River face one of the coldest, snowiest seasons they've had to endure in several years. W also is for walleyes, a fish I never tire of catching.
X: Is for ... well, I can't think of anything that begins with X other than X-ray, and I'm going to do my best to avoid needing any of those this year. Oh yeah, there's also the X-Rap, a fishing lure from Rapala.
Y: Is for Yamaha. I've had my eyes on a 40-horse Yamaha four-stroke outboard motor for several years and almost pulled the trigger on buying one last year to replace a problem-plagued Mercury two-stroke that has given me fits. Maybe 2017 will be the year.
Z: Is for zebra mussels, a nasty invasive species that continues to make inroads into area lakes and rivers, including the Red River.