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DULUTH — The news across the pheasant range is pretty good for 2018 — numbers up in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa and stable in North Dakota — with seasons underway in coming weeks. Numbers are still down from peak levels a decade ago, but high enough to offer encouragement to hunters who will go afield starting at 9 a.m. Saturday in Minnesota. But, the news for the state's pheasant hunting tradition isn't as good.
DULUTH—The number of ducks across North America dropped 13 percent this year from last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported this week, but waterfowl numbers are still higher than long-term averages. The estimated number of waterfowl sunk to 41.2 million ducks this summer, down from 47.3 million last year. The number of mallards dropped to 11.4 million from 12.9 million in 2017.
SOLON SPRINGS, Wis. — Bear didn't quite live up to his name, with a sunny disposition and fast-moving tail that seemed to wag the 45-pound dog. And when it was his turn in the field, the 14-month-old nailed it. He quartered in ever-increasing semi-circles until he found good scent, then flushed a planted chukar partridge, retrieving it to his owner's hand after it was shot before heading off to find and flush another without missing a beat. And all while obeying all of his handler's commands.
NEAR SAWYER, Minn. — Just minutes into this particular fishing excursion, Bret Baker started the verbal barbs with a backhanded comment about his son Joseph's first largemouth bass of the day. "Cute one, Joseph,'' Bret said. It didn't take long in the Bakers' 20-foot Lund Alaskan to realize that "cute" meant "small." "Bigger than yours," Joseph, 15, fired back instantly, referring to the fact that his dad still hadn't landed a fish.
ON LAC LA CROIX, Ont. — For Jim Glowacki of Britt, Minn., this was his second trip to the big border lake here in two years, after last year's trek when he bumped his outboard on an infamous rock in the Loon River. For Mike Appelwick of Biwabik, Minn., it was his first time back to Lac La Croix in more than 20 years. But it was Appelwick who remembered precisely where the "56 Rock" on the Loon River was and how to avoid it in the fast-flowing current.
DULUTH --When REI Co-Op, the national outdoor recreation chain, commissioned a poll about women in the outdoors last year, they got some mixed results. The poll found more than 85 percent of women surveyed believe the outdoors positively affects their mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being. Some 70 percent agreed being outdoors is liberating.
Pick your fishing partners carefully, and coddle them when you find a good one, because good fishing partners are hard to find. That's about the extent of my fishing advice. Good fishing partners listen well, are ready to go on time and are willing to net your fish. Fishing skill is a plus but not mandatory.
LAKE WINNIBIGOSHISH — Forgive Gerry Albert if he gets a little excited when he catches walleyes here. "Here's another one!'' Albert shouted as he set the hook on a walleye, working to keep a tight line and run his outboard in whitecaps. "Ohhh, and I think it's a keeper!" Big Winnie is Albert's lake, so to speak. He's the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' large lakes fisheries specialist for the huge reservoir — 67,000 acres, 88 square miles — northwest of Deer River.
COTTON, Minn. — Bob Reed has a little breathing problem that requires oxygen, had a heart stent put in last winter and can't walk very far because of arthritis. But get him on his Polaris four-wheeler ATV and Reed looks like a 15-year-old kid ready to cut loose. You can find Reed every Tuesday morning from late April through October riding ATV trails across the region with a dozen or more of his closest Cotton friends. They don't have a name for their group, but others have come up with something that seems appropriate.
JAY COOKE STATE PARK — As his stubby, plastic kayak dipped under the wave of a rapids, between two boulders and then out of sight, Jon Schmidt let out a primal scream audible even over the roar of the river. There was nothing wrong, mind you, just a sign from Schmidt that he was shredding it. Schmidt, of Proctor, Minn., is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. In winter, he gets his kicks snowboarding. But when the snow melts and fills Northland rivers with water, Schmidt grabs his kayak and hits the rapids.