October highlights: A look at hunting, fishing in best month of year

October is a month of dilemmas for the outdoors enthusiast. From pheasants to fall walleyes, there's so much to try and cram into only 31 days. No wonder, then, that October is widely regarded as the best month of the year on the outdoors calenda...

North Dakota pheasants
Herald file photo

October is a month of dilemmas for the outdoors enthusiast. From pheasants to fall walleyes, there's so much to try and cram into only 31 days.

No wonder, then, that October is widely regarded as the best month of the year on the outdoors calendar.

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, October already is more than halfway over. (How can that be? It seems as if it took forever for the month to get here.) That's the bad news.

The good news: There's still time to get out and enjoy.

In an effort to ease the dilemma October presents, here's a look at some of the hunting and fishing action that's been occurring across the region so far this month.


It's all about priorities.

The clock is ticking, but there's still time, so pick your passion and enjoy. After all, October only comes around once a year.

North Dakota: Pheasant opener

"Kind of mixed reactions," is how Stan Kohn describes last weekend's North Dakota pheasant opener.

Upland game bird management supervisor for the Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, Kohn said the best reports came from the southern part of the state. Kohn said he did hear of one negative report from northern Sioux County in the southwest, where hail earlier this summer appears to have killed a lot of birds.

Elsewhere, Kohn said some hunters near Turtle Lake in the central part of the state reported seeing a few birds, but not a lot. Reports from the southeast were fair, he said, with areas near the South Dakota border being more productive than spots closer to Interstate 94.

Kohn said pheasant hunters also did well in the Bismarck area and along the Missouri River.

Kohn spent the pheasant opener in the Turtle Mountains hunting ruffed grouse in October heat that pushed 80 degrees. He said he saw more birds than last year, but the grouse still got the upper hand.


"It was rather stifling, and the mosquitoes were out," Kohn said. "It was gorgeous weather for walking around -- almost too nice."

Sharptail season is a few weeks old, and the prairie grouse tend to take a backseat once pheasant hunting begins. But sharptail reports have been pretty good, Kohn said, especially in the southern Badlands, areas near Bismarck, Sheridan and Wells counties and northwestern Kidder County.

Devils Lake area: Waterfowl

Longtime waterfowl guide Jason Mitchell had an upbeat assessment of the season to date, despite recent summerlike weather. This past Wednesday, for example, Mitchell said his hunting group shot 38 geese on a bluebird day.

"We had a good run of ducks early on" in the season, Mitchell, of Devils Lake, said. "I think there are some fair numbers of birds in pockets. They're moving so late -- right at dark -- so scouting is really touch and go. You have to be in the right spot at the right time. You don't get that many chances to move around and cover a big area.

"It seems like duck numbers have been pretty steady. You'll go quite a distance where you don't see much, then come over a hill and there they are."

Still, lots of birds remain in Canada.

"We've had a really good run of waterfowl hunting, but if it stays like this, our run is going to run out," Mitchell said. "We're going to have some tough sledding ahead of us."


Mitchell said the area he generally hunts from Devils Lake to Rugby, N.D., also seems to be holding plenty of sharptails and Hungarian partridge.

"The sharptail numbers are incredible," he said. "Those guys had to have had a good year."

Manitoba: Red River 'greenbacks'

Fall fishing for the "greenback" walleyes that filter into the Manitoba side of the Red River from massive Lake Winnipeg this time of year suffered a setback when heavy September rains boosted river levels and muddied up the water.

According to Stu McKay of Cats on the Red Resort in Lockport, Man., most of the greenback action up until the past few days has focused on the Pine Falls, Man., area to the north and east where the Winnipeg River flows into the lake.

"It's been fishing quite well," McKay said of the Pine Falls area. "It never does compare with the Red for trophy numbers, but it's a wonderful fishery, something like Lake Winnipeg -- a lot of numbers with a trophy here and there."

But now, he said, things appear to falling into place on the Red River. McKay said the river near Lockport has dropped 2½ to 3 feet in recent days, and water clarity, never particularly high to begin with, is improving.

"The Red was dead -- 'was' being the operative word -- up until about a week ago," McKay said. "It's changing and quite dramatically as we speak."


The best reports are coming from downstream areas near Netley Creek north of Selkirk, Man., where anglers are beginning to find the greenbacks in 5 to 8 feet of water. The key, McKay said, is to drop anchor in shallow water and fish a slow presentation such as a jig and salted shiner minnow. Jig slowly, he said, or just leave it sit on the bottom.

So far, McKay said, the biggest walleye he's heard of this fall measured 32 inches and weighed 14 pounds -- proof, once again, that few places within easy driving distance offer a better shot at big walleyes than the Manitoba side of the Red.

Be patient, McKay said,and avoid the temptation to run and gun.

"Wait them out," he said. "It's what I call a grinding affair, but it can pay off big time. These are migratory fish.

"If you run around, you get clobbered every time. It pays to get into an area, relax and enjoy the day."

Minnesota: LOW walleyes

Fishing in October typically means the Rainy River, but for now, at least, Lake of the Woods remains the place for action.

As it has been most of the open-water season, the best walleye fishing is out in "the mud" of Big Traverse Bay in 30 to 32½ feet of water anywhere from four to eight miles offshore. Drop the anchor, tip a jig with a minnow and enjoy the ride.


"The lake itself is pretty much a gong show," said Gary Moeller of Ballard's Resort near Baudette, Minn. "I mean, we've had fishing the last few days where you go out, you drop the jig down and you catch fish. The numbers are pretty staggering."

Still, Moeller said, more typical fall fishing patterns are starting to emerge. Anglers are catching a few walleyes in shallower water near Pine Island, he said, and the first wave of decent-sized emerald shiners showed up early this week in the river.

Typically, when the shiners head upriver, the walleyes aren't far behind.

Moeller said anglers who put in their time already are catching a few walleyes in the river. Near the lake, at least, that wasn't the case a couple of weeks ago.

"If we're going to make a calendar comparison, I'd say we're probably two weeks behind schedule of what we'd consider normal fall patterns," Moeller said. "But the bite on the lake, it doesn't matter if you're fishing Lighthouse Gap, Morris, farther west at Zippel or Long Point, the mud has offered tremendous fishing. It's just been so consistent."

Minnesota: Waterfowl

Duck hunting so far this year has been "fair," according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, with the best reports coming from the northern half of the state.

In northwestern Minnesota, Thief Lake remains about a foot higher than normal, and hunters are averaging 2.0 to 2.9 ducks daily, based on bag checks, with ringnecks comprising 70 percent of the duck harvest. Meanwhile, hunters at Roseau River Wildlife Management Area averaged 2.47 ducks each outside the controlled hunting zone. The area still holds fair numbers of mallards and green-winged teal, while Canada geese are scattered and most abundant on private farm fields.


Minnesota: Ruffed grouse

If there's been a pleasant surprise on the Minnesota hunting front this fall, it would have to be ruffed grouse, which have exceeded preseason forecasts just about everywhere in the birds' range.

Statewide drumming counts were down slightly this spring, which on the surface might suggest poorer hunting. Not necessarily, said Ted Dick, ruffed grouse coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources in Aitkin, Minn. Given the right conditions, previous falls with similar spring drumming counts have resulted in harvests of 300,000 to 900,000 birds.

Last year, the supposed "peak year" in the ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle, Minnesota hunters shot 358,000 ruffs.

"It's kind of crazy," Dick said. "We've had other newspapers say, 'So, you're willing to admit last year wasn't' the peak, and this year is.' And that isn't it at all."

The drumming count is just one index, Dick said. Spring production and fall hunting conditions also play a role in bird abundance and grouse sightings.

"We're thinking we had a phenomenal recruitment year with an early spring and no real adverse weather in nesting and early brood-rearing time," Dick said. "A lot of success depends on those young-of-the-year birds, but we're getting a lot of positive reports. We've heard of limits being shot in all parts of the state.

"Last October was horrible hunting and horrible conditions," Dick said. "It's been good this year. It's been fun."

That doesn't necessarily mean hunting will be easy. Dick said he recently ran across a group of guys with ATVs who were putting up deer stands in northern Minnesota. He asked if they'd been grouse hunting, and the men said they weren't going to bother because they'd been four-wheeling the past four days and hadn't seen a bird.

Dick asked if he and his dog could hunt the area, and they told him to go ahead.

"Where they'd been four-wheeling, we busted brush and had 18 flushes in two hours and 10 minutes," Dick said.

The moral of that story should be obvious.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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