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I have been walking pretty much every morning lately trying to get back in the groove after a long winter. Each morning, as it has for many years, my walk eventually takes me past the boat landing at Frank Hall Park. While walking along the channel in early morning everything seems pretty normal for this time of year; the ducks and geese are abundant and this past week the pelicans returned which, to me, is a sure sign that we have turned the corner into the next season. The birds have returned to my feeder and robins are busily searching for building materials for their nests. The only downside to this is the eventual return of the blackbirds, which seem capable of emptying a feeder with about one day’s worth of piranha-like eating.

This year while walking along the channel, I get that empty feeling that one gets when things aren’t just quite right. This may have something to do with the sight and smell of the hundreds of dead fish that have piled up at the landing, along with debris left by those that don’t seem to care. It is disturbing to see the litter that accumulates on our shores after a winter that has left behind not only dead fish but discarded drink containers, styrofoam bait containers and other refuse. The feeling I experienced when seeing this for the first time reminded me of that old TV commercial where the elderly Indian chief had a tear trickling down his cheek as he sat atop his horse while looking down upon a valley full of litter and toxic waste. Some things like a winter fish kill are acts of nature, but there are many things man can do to help create a healthy environment. I don’t feel a true sportsman would discard his trash into our waters or parks and roadside ditches.

We really need to be responsible for cleaning up after ourselves and help preserve our natural resources and, if everyone just did their part, there probably wouldn’t be a need to put up any of those Adopt a Highway signs.

I also have to wonder if the dead fish in the channel are going to be cleaned up or will it be a “natural” cleanup over time. The sad part about all of this is we have gone through it before in past years and it is always hard to watch. Another sad part of the picture is the winter kill that took place in Pickerel Lake after that lake was just starting to flourish. I know the DNR has plans to re-stock Albert Lea Lake, but I haven’t heard anything about Pickerel as of yet. It is always tough to see our lakes take a step backwards after just coming into their own as good fishing lakes.

Luckily for us, Fountain Lake was not affected by a winter kill so there should be some good fishing when it comes to perch, crappie and sunfish. The northern pike population has been revitalized and there are also walleye, bass and catfish to be had.

If you are itching to wet a line, trout fishing opened this past Saturday so you may want to take a little drive to the east and try your luck in one of the many streams in that part of the state.

The streams of Southeastern Minnesota are very different from North Shore streams. Most rise from springs and thus are cool in summer. The limestone and alluvial soils in drainages make the streams hard, nonacidic, alkaline and very productive. Whereas the North Shore streams have relatively few aquatic insects, the Southeast streams produce frequent hatches of mayflies, caddis flies and midges — all providing food for trout.

Nonetheless, Southeast trout streams do have problems, most related to agriculture. Fence-to-fence grain farming on the uplands and pasturing of the river bottoms contribute to land erosion and sedimentation of the streambeds. This fine sediment covers the gravel runs and riffles that trout need to spawn and invertebrates need to survive. The clearing of shoreline trees takes away the underwater root wads and fallen trees in which trout find cover from current and predators.

Brown trout are the trout best suited to the Southeast streams. In the best of these rivers, such as Trout Run (in Winona and Fillmore counties), browns are self-sustaining. In other streams, such as the South Branch of the Whitewater, natural reproduction is augmented with stocking. In a few streams, spawning habitat is extremely limited, and the trout fishery is maintained entirely by stocking. Most people fishing these streams would regard a 14-inch brown as large, though some trout occasionally exceed eight pounds.

Some small Southeast tributaries support wild brook trout; other streams are stocked with brookies. Some strains of rainbow trout have been tried in these creeks. Unfortunately, rainbows tend to migrate to larger, less suitable water so success with this species has been limited.

Until next time, enjoy the more spring-like weather and make some plans for spending some time in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

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