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The previous day's moderate thaw is history. I stride along a refrozen trail at dawn. My ice cleats, stretched over a pair of running shoes, make a satisfying crunch with each footfall. It sounds like I'm stomping potato chips. The trail is alternately old snow and new ice, the ice irregular and rutted by those who passed on foot or fat bikes when the trail was mush.
Mid-April to mid-May is prime time for watching the dramatic mating displays of sharp-tailed grouse on their dancing grounds, called leks. Here are some numbers you can call to reserve a blind at a lek. • Cloquet wildlife office, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — (218) 878-5662 • Aitkin DNR Wildlife Area — (218) 429-3012 • Baudette DNR Wildlife Area — (218) 634-1705, ext. 222 Sign up now for firearms safety classes
GUNFLINT TRAIL, NORTH OF GRAND MARAIS — On a bright March afternoon, a procession of winter travelers moved across the crusted snow atop Bearskin Lake like some human-powered freight train. Three dads, four daughters — and Gimli, the aging Labrador, out front. The girls, 16 to 18 years old, chatted and laughed as they marched along, leaning into the traces of sleds they pulled that were loaded with winter camping gear. Their dads — Bob Feyen, Jesse Schomberg and Kevin Skwira-Brown — were part of the procession, each towing his share of the gear.
ON WISCONSIN'S BRULE RIVER — Butch Koepke slipped his hand under the young brown trout and quickly removed his pink yarn fly from its lip. It was nearly midday on Saturday, opening day of the early trout season on Wisconsin's Brule River. Koepke returned the fish to the water. The Brule opener is a hallowed tradition for many steelhead anglers, and Koepke, of Duluth, usually rises early and heads for the river. But the snowstorm that had swept through parts of the Northland overnight made him reconsider.
They came filing in, led by their teachers, class by class. Fourth-graders. Three classes. About 90 students in all. They filed into the library at Lester Park Elementary School at midday on Monday. The teachers had them sit on the carpeted floor, smaller students in front, bigger ones in back. They've been working on writing, one of their teachers had told me, especially writing about their personal experiences. "Talk to them about writing what you know," the teacher had said.
Ice-out is moving downstream at a steady pace on Wisconsin's Brule River, which is good news for anglers anticipating Saturday's steelhead opener on the river. As of Wednesday, the ice was out as far downstream as Wisconsin Highway 13, according to Diane Gobin with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at Brule. Ice remained above McNeil's Landing, she said.
So. It's over. The popular Kamloops rainbow trout stocking program on Minnesota's North Shore has been discontinued, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials announced about 10 days ago. The fishery provided dependable angling for a few thousand devoted anglers, most of whom stood on shore and made casts into Lake Superior. You'd see them at the mouth of the French and Lester rivers, at a spot called Bluebird Landing, sometimes at Stony Point or the Two Harbors breakwall.
Ely's Will Steger began his 1,000-mile trek across Canada's barrenlands from northeastern Saskatchewan to Baker Lake near Hudson Bay on Tuesday, making 10 miles his first day. He had a close call the second night on the trail when his campstove caught fire inside his tent, he said in an update at his website, stegerwildernesscenter.org.
• Now through May 4 — Wisconsin early inland catch-and-release trout season. • March 31 — Brule River steelhead opener. • April 14 — Minnesota stream trout in streams opener. • May 5 — Wisconsin general fishing opener; Wisconsin largemouth bass season opener, north zone; Wisconsin inland trout opener. • May 5 to June 15 — Wisconsin smallmouth bass catch-and-release season opener (northern zone).
ON THE GUNFLINT TRAIL — Something is wrong here. We are lake trout fishing on a wilderness lake 60 miles north and west of Grand Marais. It's mid-March. And we're hot.