Nature has its own brand of entertainment

Published 8:45 am Friday, January 21, 2011

Column: Dick Herfindahl, Woods & Water

This past Sunday as I was driving home from an out-of-town hockey game I looked over the countryside and that feeling of serenity came over me. There is just something about driving in the country on a sunny winter afternoon that just gives me a good feeling. I don’t really know exactly what it is for sure. I do know that it’s not the pristine beauty of a wind farm that triggers it, but more than likely the snow-covered countryside that surrounds many of the family farms that dot our part of the state. Some of these places are almost picture perfect and would fit well on any greeting card.

Dick Herfindahl

I guess I would have to say that I usually look for the good parts of winter and try not to dwell on the bad. There are a lot of things that I like about winter and some not so well, but we can’t control it either way. I see that according to the Albert Lea Tribune we are ahead of the national and state average in high end gas prices. The sad part about it is that it seems to be an accepted fact to most folks around here, but it’s something that we just seem to deal with. A few years ago I had stopped at a local convenience store and the customer ahead of me was giving the poor kid behind the counter a real chewing out because of the high gas prices. Did he really think the kid had anything to do with the high prices or was he just lashing out at someone who had to listen?

In looking back a few years I know that there were a lot of fox and predator hunters around. You almost couldn’t go for a drive on a Sunday afternoon without seeing a pickup or two parked by a field or a group of hunters dressed in white coveralls. Quite a few of the hunters that I knew had coon dogs and hunted them religiously. The PETA movement put quite a damper on the demand for furs and was one of the reasons the prices have been on a downward spin. The posting of land has also made it harder and harder for the average fox hunter to get access to good hunting land.

We here in Freeborn County are lucky because we have access to quite a bit of WMA land. I can remember doing a little rabbit hunting as a kid, and we pretty much hunted wherever we wanted without being run off and that was due in part to the fact that almost everyone knew everyone back then. If you got out of line or did something wrong the word would usually get back to your folks before you got home.

There used to be a pretty good number of jack rabbits around, and now I can’t remember the last time I’ve even seen one. I’m sure the growing number of coyotes in the area is a big contributor along with a lack of habitat. I do believe that the number of coyotes has had an effect on the pheasant population as well. My son, Brian, and his family live south of town near Twin Lakes and it is not uncommon to hear the coyotes howling at night. For years the fox was the main predator in our area and was hunted by quite a few outdoors folks, but their number also seems to have dwindled with the growing population of coyotes.

Varmint hunting is a year-round season and when a person takes a coyote out of circulation it only benefits the other wildlife like pheasant, duck, wild turkey and rabbit. I have to wonder how much it actually affects the wild turkeys because there seems to be a healthy population of gobblers in our area and around the state for that matter. I’ve seen a few turkeys (feathered ones) in northern Minnesota in recent years, but I don’t really know if they were released there in recent years or were native to the area.

The thing about nature and wildlife is that it is always fascinating, and you never know what you will encounter if you spend just a little time in the outdoors. Years ago we had very few, if any, coyotes in the area, and today they are the area’s dominant predator. A few years back I was on a late fall drive in the country and I saw a red fox digging in a field and presumed it was after field mice. The fox paused for a moment and watched as I slowly passed by and then after realizing I was no threat it turned and continued digging. This is just one of the many examples of what nature has to offer us in the way of entertainment.

Moving on to a little different outdoors experience, the fishing reports that I have been hearing have been pretty good. This past weekend there were a good number of walleyes being caught in the channel by Frank Hall Park. This coupled with a pretty good perch bite made for some good fishing for a lot of folks. My grandson, Trevor, spent some time on the ice this weekend and caught a couple of walleye along with a lot of small perch. The best perch bite that he has had was a couple of weeks ago when he, his friend, Josh, and his brother, Taylor, caught about 50 perch and out of the bunch they had about 25 keepers.

There are a lot of houses on the channel, and there seem to be a lot more portables this year. I know that Trevor has decided to not put his “permanent” house on the lake this year and just use his portable. I have to say that both have their advantages, but I guess if I were to get into ice fishing in a big way, a portable would be my choice. It’s sort of like the hard water version of trolling and that’s my favorite way to fish.

I did spend a little time this past week with my friend, Mark, in his brother’s fish house on the east end of Albert Lea Lake. It was fun and a good time but not much activity while we were there. After we left his brother arrived and started fishing and, of course, the perch were so thick you couldn’t see the bottom. It kind of reminds me of some of my fishing trips years ago when the resort owner would say “you should have been here last week; they were almost jumping in the boat.”

There is just something special about just being out on that lake in the winter that makes catching fish almost seem unimportant.

Just a reminder to tread lightly on the ice this year, especially in the channel because it doesn’t matter where you are on that ice it can always be dangerous. Is the risk of driving to a fishing spot worth it when you can walk a few yards to get to the same place?

Until next time, watch out for thin ice, play safe and above all get outside and enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s outdoors column appears in Friday’s Tribune.