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Here's how it begins: I leave home with a notebook in my pocket and camera gear in my backpack. I drive for two or three hours and hop in a boat or climb into a deer stand. Or I strap on skis or snowshoes. Or I hop in a bush plane bound for the wilderness. And off I go, sometimes with folks I might barely know, to some pretty amazing places. I fill my notebook with scratchings that only I can read. I shoot plenty of photos, hoping for five good ones. Then I come back and start writing. Or file a story from someplace far from the office.
Well, we're not headed up to the canoe country to go lake trout fishing this spring. Or so it appears. The ice has us. Four of us make the trip each spring, close on the heels of ice-out, when the fish are hungry. We paddle across the border, into the Canadian wilderness, where the lake trout season is already open. Typically, we make the trip in early May, sometimes even starting in late April.
FRENCH RIVER, Minn. — The St. Louis River has a healthy population of adult lake sturgeon, but those fish are not producing the numbers of young fish that biologists had hoped to see. Few adult females are returning to spawn, and biologists have found little evidence of young sturgeon being produced, said Dan Wilfond, fisheries specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at French River.
I visited my friend Jeff Rennicke's writing studio in Bayfield years ago. It was a simple room, bare of most distractions, but on the wall above his computer was a piece of paper with four words on it. "Tell me a story." It was there as a reminder of his deal with his readers each time he sat down to write — simply to tell a story.
DULUTH—Here they came, down the snow-packed trail toward us on Wednesday night in Duluth. Two of them. Young boys, it appeared from a distance. Each wearing a pair of chest waders. Each carrying a fly rod. Nothing could have looked more out of context. Every lake in Duluth and beyond is still ice-covered, and a foot of snow had fallen just two days earlier. We were in a Duluth city park where there happens to be a good-sized pond. My first thought was, maybe they were just practicing their fly-casting over the ice. Nope.
Last fall, a Bemidji-area deer hunter's video was widely circulated on Facebook among Minnesota hunters. In the video, it appeared that about a dozen gray wolves emerged from the right side of the screen, one or two at a time, and made their way across the scene. The video was shot from the hunter's elevated stand. A couple of wolf pups romped at one point. The adults moved through single-file at intervals, over a period of a minute or more. The video seemed to support the impression that many Minnesota deer hunters have about wolves, namely that too many of them roam the woods.
DULUTH — Duluth's Gary Siverson is a bit worried. He loves his steelhead fishing, and in a typical year he would be on the rivers by now. But North Shore streams, including the popular Knife River, remain sealed beneath the ice with little prospect for opening soon. "I don't know if God's gonna let us do it this year," Siverson said this past week.
The manila file folder was stuck in alongside some of my old trip journals on a bookshelf. "What's this?" I thought. I pulled it out and opened it up the other day. Inside were, among other things, a couple of sheets of notebook paper with my handwriting on them. "Exercise No. 9," the page was entitled. "Before I die, I want to..."
DULUTH — Well, this is getting a little old, isn't it? This November in April, I mean. A buddy called the other day. "It was four below in International Falls this morning!" he complained. Yeah. I was out shoveling a fresh skiff of snow the same morning. I hadn't bothered to check the thermometer. I was out there scooping away, thinking, "Pretty nice morning. Crisp. Clear. Must be about 20." Back inside, I checked: Six degrees. You know you've become too acclimated to northern Minnesota winters when six degrees feels like a balmy day.
GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Jon Libbey has always hunted grouse and ducks and deer. But last year the Grand Rapids resident he added another hunting season — in the spring. He'd been seeing wild turkeys not far from Grand Rapids on his game cameras for a few years. "I thought I'd give it a whirl," said Libbey, 29. "I bought an over-the-counter tag." Hunting near Grand Rapids, he shot a 21-pound tom that had a 10-inch beard.