Field reports: Project improves Knife River steelhead habitat

A construction crew using a large excavator lowered two stones, each weighing about 24,000 pounds, into the Knife River on Thursday afternoon to improve the stream for migrating rainbow trout. The stones were placed just below the Second Falls on...

Knife River rock placement
Jason Radzak of RJS Construction of Superior guides a large chunk of rock weighing about 24,000 pounds into the Knife River on Wednesday aftenroon. Two rocks were placed in the river, forming a deeper pool, allowing migrating steelhead to ascend the river more easily. (Sam Cook /

A construction crew using a large excavator lowered two stones, each weighing about 24,000 pounds, into the Knife River on Thursday afternoon to improve the stream for migrating rainbow trout. The stones were placed just below the Second Falls on the river to form a deeper "jumping pool" to help trout leap the falls.

"During low flows, the fish are not able to get over the Second Falls because the jumping pool isn't deep enough," said Scott Kuiti, vice-president of the Lake Superior Steelhead Association.

Placing the rocks in the river forms a deeper pool during low flows, Kuiti said. The fish probably will be able to simply swim up the falls rather than having to leap, he said.

"I do believe this project will make it easier for fish to pass when flows are lower than ideal for migration," said Josh Blankenheim, migratory fish biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It will extend the window that fish are able to migrate past the falls."

Under low-flow conditions, the falls are about a 4-foot drop, Blankenheim said.


The rocks replace a concrete barrier that had served the same purpose until it was washed out several years ago. DNR officials originally had opposed this project, saying that enough steelhead were clearing the falls to spawn. But the agency changed its mind and let the project go forward.

"We're just happy to see everybody moving on, so the focus can be squarely on improving the habitat upriver," said John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited.

The steelhead association is paying for the project with part of a $380,000 Legacy grant it received, although the stream improvement portion probably will cost less than $50,000, Kuiti said. The work was done by RJS Construction of Superior. The DNR designed the project and provided a permit for the work. The rock was donated by Cliffs Natural Resources, Kuiti said.

Motor use restricted on Big Rice Lake

Outboard motors no longer will be permitted for part of the year on Big Rice Lake, a popular wild rice and duck hunting lake about 10 miles north of Virginia, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The regulation became official on Wednesday, when the change was signed by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. From June 15 to Nov. 25 each year, the regulation will prohibit the use of gas motors on the lake. Nonmotorized watercraft and the use of electric motors such as trolling motors will be permitted during that time.

Public meetings were held in late 2012 to discuss that change to the lake's management plan. The original impetus for the change came from duck hunters, who said the motor activity caused ducks to leave the lake sooner than they might have otherwise, said Tom Rusch, DNR area wildlife manager at Tower.

S. Dakota pheasant population plummets


South Dakota's pheasant counts dropped 64 percent from last year to this year, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. The pheasant counts dropped from an index of 4.19 pheasants per mile in August 2012 to 1.52 per mile this year.

Minnesota's roadside pheasant counts will be released Sept. 9.

The drop was blamed on drought in 2012, a wet spring this year and loss of nesting habitat.

Pheasants Forever says upland habitat loss is the primary culprit in the downturn of South Dakota's pheasant population, a trend the group says is likely to continue unless federal policymakers swiftly enact strengthened conservation policies.

South Dakota's 2013 pheasant season opens Oct. 19 and runs through Jan. 5, 2014. The resident only season is Oct. 12-14.

Coleraine anglers win bass tournament

Andrew Wick and Tony Troumbly, both of Coleraine, took top honors and won a Ranger RT 188 aluminum bass boat at the Classic Bass Invitational tournament held Aug. 29-30 on Pokegama Lake at Grand Rapids. Wick and Troumbly brought a pair of six-bass limits to the scale for a total two-day weight of 44.75 pounds.

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