GRAND FORKS — Fall is in full swing, but the season is fleeting, and weather can make or break fall activities. So far, though, conditions in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are a “180” from last year, when heavy rains in late September turned the region into a wet, muddy mess.

Wind has been a detriment, at times, and conditions this fall are dry enough that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources both issued bulletins this week highlighting increased fire danger risks.

That’s just a sampling of what’s happening on the outdoors front as October approaches the halfway point. Here’s a closer look.

Still reeling 'em in

If a book is ever written about Lake of the Woods fishing legends, there certainly will have to be a chapter dedicated to Dale Telle of Warroad, Minn.

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A Grand Forks native, Telle has been a Warroad fixture since 1967, when he moved his family to the northwest Minnesota community to take a sixth-grade teaching job.

While he had a long tenure both as an educator and an assistant coach of the Warroad High School hockey team, Telle perhaps is best known outside the community as a charter boat captain on Lake of the Woods.

As Telle told the story, he started driving a charter boat for Cal Marvin — widely known as the “godfather of Warroad hockey” and one of the founders of the UND hockey program in the 1940s — as a summer job in 1968. Marvin in those days owned Cal’s Motel, a fixture on the west side of Lake of the Woods.

A fabled spot in Manitoba’s Buffalo Bay — Telle’s Flats — even carries Telle’s name.

Telle started his own launch service in 1977, a venture he continued until selling the business in 2002.

Now 88, Telle and his wife, Theresa, still live along the Warroad River, and he still has the knack for putting fish in the boat.

Telle’s son, Scott, of East Grand Forks, shared a photo the other day showing a trophy northern pike the elder Telle caught Saturday, Oct. 3, on Lake of the Woods. He caught the big pike on — what else? — a hand-tied Telle’s Spinner tipped with a frozen shiner.

Since July, Scott Telle says he’s made a dozen trips onto the big lake with his dad; Scott’s son, Isaac, has rounded out the three-generation crew.

“On every trip this year, Dad boated his own limit of walleyes or saugers,” Scott said, “topping off a perfect season” with the trophy pike he caught last weekend.

“And yes, at 88 years old, he outfished me every time.”

Nonresident waterfowl hunters up

As expected because of the ongoing closure of the Canadian border to nonessential travel, more nonresident waterfowl hunters are coming to North Dakota this fall, but the full extent of the increase remains to be seen.

Sales of nonresident waterfowl licenses as of midweek were at 11,159, up 1,422 from 9,737 licenses at the same point in the season last year, said Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.

Jeb Williams, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife chief. (Photo/ Ashley Salwey, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
Jeb Williams, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife chief. (Photo/ Ashley Salwey, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

North Dakota’s waterfowl season opened Saturday, Sept. 26, for residents, and nonresident hunters could go afield beginning Saturday, Oct. 3.

“It really isn’t what I would call a significant increase at this point,” Williams said. “But the next six weeks will be more telling as we move into the prime portion of the waterfowl season.”

North Dakota sold 20,733 nonresident waterfowl licenses last year, he said.

In other Game and Fish news, the format for the department’s fall round of advisory board meetings is a work in progress, Williams said, but it’s likely the meetings will be online as they were last spring because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Game and Fish Department is mandated to hold the meetings twice a year in each of the state’s eight advisory board districts. The spring meetings, held in April during the early stages of the pandemic, were conducted in two virtual sessions, with similar agendas each night and an opportunity for attendees to ask questions online.

Game and Fish traditionally hosts the fall meetings in late November after the deer gun season ends.

Finley Youth Pheasant Hunt set

The Finley (N.D.) Wildlife Club will host its annual Youth Pheasant Hunt on Sunday, Oct. 25, on private lands surrounding the Steele County community. Registration will begin at 6 a.m. in the Finley American Legion, 600 Lincoln Ave. S.

As in previous years, the hunt is free for hunters 18 and younger and adults who bring a young hunter afield with them, said Brian Tuite, a longtime member of the Finley Wildlife Club and an organizer of the youth hunt.

The Finley Wildlife Club's Youth Pheasant Hunt has become a popular offering since the inaugural event in 2012. This year's hunt is set for Sunday, Oct. 25. (File photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
The Finley Wildlife Club's Youth Pheasant Hunt has become a popular offering since the inaugural event in 2012. This year's hunt is set for Sunday, Oct. 25. (File photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

About 65 miles southwest of Grand Forks, Finley isn’t prime pheasant country, but the wildlife club again this year will purchase some 400 to 500 pheasants, of which about 100 are hens, and release them in areas with favorable habitat in cooperation with participating landowners.

North Dakota upland game regulations and license requirements apply, and the wildlife club will serve a noontime pheasant dinner with wild rice in the American Legion hall. Tables will be spread out to comply with social distancing recommendations in place because of the ongoing pandemic, Tuite said.

Since the inaugural hunt in 2012, the Youth Pheasant Hunt has become one of the biggest events of the year on the wildlife club’s calendar.

“We ran out of food last year,” Tuite said. “I believe we’ve had a first-time hunter and/or a first shot pheasant every year we’ve done this so far.

Maps showing the location of pheasant release sites, along with additional information, will be available at the registration.

Prairie sign gets makeover

A sign marking the entrance to the Pankratz Memorial Prairie nature area east of Crookston in Polk County got a makeover recently.

Dan Svedarsky, an emeritus research biologist in the Natural Resources Department at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, said he and his students originally installed the sign in the mid-1970s, buying 2-inch cedar boards and salvaging creosote electric poles from the UMC storage yard. A prairie chicken silhouette adorning the sign was obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and a naturalist at Itasca State Park, Ben Thoma, did the routing for the sign’s lettering, Svedarsky said.

The sign had fallen into disrepair in recent years, so Svedarsky and his wife, Vicki, spent the better part of three days fixing it, he said.

The sign marking the entrance to the Pankratz Memorial Prairie east of Crookston in Polk County was in need of renovation after 45 years of weathering Mother Nature. (Photo courtesy of Dan Svedarsky)
The sign marking the entrance to the Pankratz Memorial Prairie east of Crookston in Polk County was in need of renovation after 45 years of weathering Mother Nature. (Photo courtesy of Dan Svedarsky)

After the renovation, the sign had been patched, repaired and repainted. And the prairie chicken had two legs like it should have, instead of three like the chicken on the sign before it was refurbished. (Photo courtesy of Dan Svedarsky)
After the renovation, the sign had been patched, repaired and repainted. And the prairie chicken had two legs like it should have, instead of three like the chicken on the sign before it was refurbished. (Photo courtesy of Dan Svedarsky)

During the recent refurbishment, a “football-shaped hole” that apparently resulted from a prescribed burn was filled with Rockite, a cement-like product that sets in 15 minutes and is paintable. Cracks in the top of the posts also were sealed.

The sign, lettering and the posts then were prepped and repainted, restoring them to the original yellow and brown colors. The lettering was the “putsy” part, Svedarsky said.

He also made a minor change to the sign to make the prairie chicken more anatomically correct.

“I hadn’t noticed before that the (prairie) chicken had three legs so I only painted the usual two in the renovation,” he said.

Established in 1975, Pankratz Memorial Prairie is named after Norman Pankratz, a UMC conservation student from St. Paul who was killed in a 1970 train accident while home on military leave. The Nature Conservancy owns the Pankratz preserve, which consists of a 468-acre north unit and a 452-acre south unit and is 5 miles from Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge.

Fewer hunters shoot more ruffs

Fewer hunters pursued ruffed grouse last year in Minnesota, but those who did had better success, the Department of Natural Resources said this week in reporting results from its annual small game hunter mail survey.

According to the DNR, hunters last fall shot 225,200 ruffed grouse, up 15% from 195,515 birds in 2018. Despite the increase, the estimated number of grouse hunters continued a 20-year decline, falling to 61,608, down from 67,765 hunters in 2018 and the lowest on record dating back more than 40 years.

Hunters shot an average of 3.7 ruffed grouse each, up from 2.9 in 2018 and close to the 10-year average of 3.8 grouse per hunter. The overall success rate of 71% was above the 2018 success rate of 67% but the same as the 10-year average.

The best ruffed grouse harvest in recent years occurred during the 2010-11 hunting season, when 282,227 hunters in Minnesota shot an estimated 465,580 birds.

Other highlights from the survey, which covers estimated harvest and hunter numbers for two dozen species:

  • Duck hunter numbers last year were up 38% from 2018, and Canada goose hunters were up 72%, leading to higher harvest estimates compared with 2018.

  • Hunters shot an estimated 949,928 ducks, up from 614,780 in 2018; hunters shot an estimated 457,192 Canada geese, up from 187,578 in 2018.

  • Sales of pheasant stamps were up 3.8% from 2018, but the actual estimate of pheasant hunters decreased from 55,861 in 2018 to 52,854 last year, the DNR said.

  • Minnesota pheasant hunters shot an estimated 226,639 roosters last year, up 10% from 205,395 roosters in 2018 and closer to the 10-year average of 234,467 roosters, the DNR said.

The complete small game hunter survey report is on the DNR website.