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COL Ice fishing begins in earnest on backwaters

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

Ice on Mississippi River backwaters in the Wabasha-Kellogg area is 4 to 6 inches thick and solid, though with this week's warmth, the ice shouldn't be getting any thicker.

Shorty Larson of Prairie Bait in Kellogg said places that were good for panfish years ago, such as Pritchard's on Weaver Bottoms, aren't producing, so most anglers are going out to other hotspots, such as along the dike road between Wabasha and Nelson, Wis., as well as Wilcox and the Finger Lakes area near Kellogg.

Most anglers are catching smaller sunfish, usually with waxworms, he said.

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Dave Copeman of Dave's Bait and Tackle in Wabasha agreed that the ice is solid and the dike road, Wilcox and Finger Lakes are the place to be for early-ice anglers. But reports he's been getting are anglers are catching larger sunfish, some as long as 9 inches.

Those places should be hot this weekend, he said.

Lake Pepin still doesn't have enough ice for walking on, he said.

A note of caution: Mississippi backwater ice is notoriously fickle and can be 6 inches in one place but half that nearby. The Department of Natural Resources recommends anglers use caution and carry ice picks with them to jab into the ice to pull themselves out should they break through.

FIREARMS FOR CHILDREN: Parents who buy their children an air rifle, .22-caliber rifle or shotgun for Christmas can also give them a second gift -- lessons in firearms safety.

The Department of Natural Resources said that if parents decide their children are old enough to carry a firearm, they should also help them learn the responsibility that comes with it.

First, Capt. Jeff Thielen, DNR Enforcement Education Program coordinator, suggested parents keep the firearm under their control. Keep ammunition and firearms separate, and both should be locked. Trigger locks are a good idea -- they send a message that the firearm is not a toy.

Youths don't need a hunter safety course before they plink cans or break some clay targets. Eventually, however, if they are to hunt, they will need a hunter education certificate, Thielen said. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must have a certificate, or an equivalent from another state, to get a license to hunt in Minnesota.

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Times and locations of the hunter education classes are on the DNR Web site at dnr.state.mn.us.

WALLEYE STOCKING: The Department of Natural Resources stocked fewer walleye in state lakes this fall because it only had 91,000 pounds of fingerlings, well below the number the department wanted.

The reason was the mild winter, the DNR said. The department counts on thick ice to kill off any fish that remain in the shallow ponds so when they put in walleye fry in spring, there won't be big fish to eat the little fish. But with last winter's mild weather, larger fish survived.

The low number stocked, however, was partially offset by the 161,000 pounds stocked in fall, 2001; in the winter of 2000-2001, cold was unusually thick and ponds tended to winterkill.

SPORTSMEN'S SURVEY: The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation's online survey of hunters experiences hunting on federal land will remain open until the end of December. The Web address is www.hunteraccess.com.

The survey, launched in late June, has received nearly 3,600 comments so far and will help the foundation to focus additional research on trends affecting access to federal public lands

For additional information on CSF's Public Lands Access project, visit the CSF website at www.sportsmenslink.org/articles/PLAPhase1.html.

The foundation was founded in 1989 to be a link between hunters, anglers and trappers and Congress.

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