Regional Reports: MIDWEST

Minnesota early season trout; Oklahoma snow goose hunting; Grouse in Ohio; Iowa walleyes and sauger; and a mixed bag in Michigan

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Minnesota - Looper Madness
Beginning in February, go after big Kamloops-strain rainbows congregating near the mouths of the French and Lester rivers as they prepare for their spring spawning run. Stocked annually by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), "loopers" grow quickly in the big lake, averaging four to eight pounds.

The best way to catch them is with bait. Kamloops specialist Pete Lenski of Silver Bay recommends still-fishing with floating spawn sacks or night crawlers injected with air. He uses four-pound-test monofilament, a sharp, size-8 egg hook and a sliding sinker rig to fool the fish in the crystal-clear water. Lenski also recommends a spinning rod from 9 to 11 feet long for distance casting.

When the lake is frozen, Lenski fishes from a portable shelter in shoreline shallows, where he can frequently watch big trout swim beneath his ice hole. The situation calls for finesse, so use two-pound-test monofilament spooled on an ultralight spinning reel. Tie to the line a locally-available marabou jig called a looper bug, tipped with a wax worm. "Sometimes small crappie minnows work, too," says Lenski.

Kamloops closely resemble Superior's wild steelhead, and anglers planning on a fish dinner must know the difference. All Kamloops rainbows are marked with a clipped adipose fin. The bag limit is three "clipped" rainbow trout with a minimum length of 16 inches. All "unclipped" rainbow trout-presumably wild steelhead-must be released.

Contact: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, French River office (218-723-4785). -Shawn Perich

Oklahoma - White Storm at Red Slough
For snow geese, you can't do better than Red Slough Wildlife Management Area-Oklahoma's most dependable public hunting area. "Most places, geese leave early and go to private land to feed, so the only shooting you do is when they leave and when they come back. But they seem to stay on Red Slough throughout the day," says Brian Barger of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Pattern the birds for a successful hunt. Snows often prefer to visit certain areas in the morning and different areas in the afternoons. Set up in a place they have keyed on, and most of your work is already done. Improve your chances by distributing a large spread of decoys. Some hunters use up to a few hundred. White plastic shopping bags or white rags tied to stakes work well and they're a lot cheaper than dekes. You'll also need to conceal yourself in a portable ground blind, or under a layer of potato sacks. To bring geese down, use a strong 12-gauge load like a 3 1/2-inch shell filled with either 1 9/16 ounces of BB shot, or 80 pellets of T shot, squeezed through a modified choke.

Though part of the Ouachita National Forest, Red Slough WMA in McCurtain County is managed as a wetland, with intensive management on about 2,000 acres, as well as four reservoirs totaling about 400 acres of open water.
-Bryan Hendricks

**Ohio - Buckeye Bargain Grouse **
Take advantage of one of the longest upland seasons in the nation and get great off-season rental rates for state park cabins located close to some of the state's best public grouse hunting opportunities for partridge. With spring drumming counts and other recent grouse indexes up, according to Mike Reynolds, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's ruffed grouse expert, 2002 could offer the best grouse hunting season in recent years. Some of Ohio's top public hunting areas for ruffed grouse are located on or near state parks that offer cabins for rent at deeply discounted winter rates. You can rent cabins at Mohican State Park in Ashland County, adjacent to the 5,500-acre Mohican Memorial State Forest; Burr Oak State Park in Morgan County, near the 3,700-acre Wolf Creek Wildlife Area; Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County in the 12,000-acre Salt Fork Wildlife Area; and Shaee State Park in Scioto County, adjacent to the 61,000-acre Shawnee State Forest.
Look for birds on south-facing slopes warmed by the sun, especially early and late in the day, and concentrate on the thickest greenbrier tangles in sight. If there's a sumac stand along the way, check it out. If there's snow on the ground, follow any grouse tracks you come across, keeping an eye ahead and shotgun at the ready.
Contact: Ohio State Parks Reservation Center (800-282-7275).
-Dan Armitage

Iowa - Dam Lock Fishing
Target open-water walleyes and sauger in Iowa below the dams and locks on the mighty Mississippi.

From Dam No. 9 near Harper's Ferry down to No.19 near Keokuk, you have 11 navigational dams and locks and all serve to concentrate walleyes and sauger during the cold months. "The winter fishing for walleyes and sauger here is not high-tech," says John Pitlo, research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources at Bellevue. "You need a boat, basic tackle and warm clothes. I would recommend a 16-foot aluminum with say a ten-horse motor-a rig light enough that you can slide it across a little skim ice if the boat ramps are iced up a bit. I rig up with ten-pound-test braided monofilament on a spinning outfit and work the flat water and edges of the current with a jig-minnow combination or a three-way swivel rigged with a minnow and enough lead to get it to the bottom.

"In February the sauger are more abundant than the walleyes," Pitlo says. "The fishing is a slow-motion affair compared to spring or summer. Drift or troll very slowly. Use a rod that has a lot of sensitivity. A stinger hook will help snag those light biters."

The daily combination bag limit is 10 with no more than six walleyes allowed. Walleyes must be 15 inches-there's no size limit on sauger.

Contact: Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Bellevue office (319-872-4976); DNR, Guttenberg Fisheries Station (319-252-1156).
-Gene Hornbeck

Michigan - St. Claire Mixed Bag
Lake St. Clair is one of the most intensively-utilized fisheries in the United States. Sitting on the eastern edge of the Detroit metropolitan area-home to 4.5 million people-you couldn't expect anything else. And yet this 419-square-mile body of water that forms part of the U.S.-Canadian border remains one of the most productive fisheries in the country, and perhaps even more so in the winter than in the summer.

"It's just so easy to get to. Whereas in summer you're limited to a few launching ramps, in winter people can walk onto the lake from all sorts of places," says Greg Rasmussen of Grosse Pointe Woods, whose house is less than a mile from Lake St. Clair.

Anchor Bay produces mixed bags of bluegills, crappies, perch and northern pike. Target deeper water for walleyes. Perch and northerns intermingle on the flats, and you can catch them between three and eight feet with jigging spoons, Countdown Rapalas or live minnows. Use tip-ups for pike. Spikes, wigglers and wax worms will catch crappies and bluegills in the cuts and canals. The best access site to Lake St. Clair is from Metrobeach Metro Park.

Contact: Selfridge Sport & Tackle (810-949-2998). -Bryan Hendricks and Eric Sharp

Missouri - Ozark Bass
Docks with chairs bolted to the platform or with rod holders attached to railings indicates the dock is used for fishing at Lake of the Ozarks. That also means there are probably brush piles underneath, and brush piles are essentially the only vegetative cover in the lake, thereby holding the greatest concentrations of bass.

In February, you'll also catch bass off secondary points in the Gravois, Niangua and Little Niangua arms, as well as in the Horseshoe Bend area. Because of its size, Horseshoe Bend is a good place to target, especially the secondary points in Camp Branch Cove, Davey Hollow Cove and Workman Hollow Cove. Locate shad on your electronic graph. The bigger blips beneath the shad are probably largemouths, and you'll catch them with spoons. Strikes usually occur as the bait falls, long before it reaches the bottom.

Lake Ozark also has some of Missouri's biggest hybrid stripers. It produced the state record (20 pounds, 8 ounces) in 1986. Hybrids roam the lake in schools following shad, and you can catch them off main and secondary points. Unlike largemouths, hybrids like current, so you can often catch them in the winter off windy points, whereas largemouths prefer the wind shelter offered by secondary points.

Contact: Missouri Department of Conservation (573-751-4115).
-Bryan Hendricks

North Dakota
All Aboard the Perch Express
Cabin fever running a little high? Hop aboard the Perch Express and ride the rails to some of the Midwest's hottest icefishing action. Amtrak's Empire Builder carts hundreds of Midwestern icefishermen every winter to North Dakota's Devils Lake for a veritable icefishing fantasy camp at Woodland Resort. When you arrive in Devils Lake, you'll be met by your host and taken to your cabin to get settled in. Since you'll arrive at 6:30 a.m., you'll have the entire day to hit the ice and go fishing.

A team of five guides will fan out across the massive natural lake in search of trophy yellow perch. They'll provide the transportation, bait, fish houses, heaters and they'll drill the holes. You'll learn how to use electronics to locate perch, and how to make them bite. If that doesn't work, you'll go in search of big northern pike or fat walleyes. You may fish in as many as 10 different locations each day and will experience three to four days of intense icefishing, interrupted by nights spent in a warm cabin and having your meals prepared for you.

"The novelty of this package is the train," explains Kyle Blanchfield of Woodland Resort. "Our guests come from places like Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and everywhere in between. They arrive rested and ready for fishing action. They don't even need to bring their own fishing gear, just warm clothes and a desire to catch some fish."

First time Devils Lake anglers really benefit from going with a guide because the fishing action is volatile and you have to be mobile and agile to locate active fish.

Contact: Woodland Resort (701-662-5996; www.woodlandresort.com).
-Curt Wells

** MINNESOTA**
Lake of the Woods
Use one-eighth-ounce jigs on tip-ups for all three species in Four-Mile Bay for walleyes, northern pike and sauger. Fish two inches off the bottom morning and evening in depths of 9 to 16 feet. Tip jigs with live minnows for walleyes and sauger. Northerns will hit plain jigs. Later in the season, use tip-ups with dead smelt, herry Hollow Cove and Workman Hollow Cove. Locate shad on your electronic graph. The bigger blips beneath the shad are probably largemouths, and you'll catch them with spoons. Strikes usually occur as the bait falls, long before it reaches the bottom.

Lake Ozark also has some of Missouri's biggest hybrid stripers. It produced the state record (20 pounds, 8 ounces) in 1986. Hybrids roam the lake in schools following shad, and you can catch them off main and secondary points. Unlike largemouths, hybrids like current, so you can often catch them in the winter off windy points, whereas largemouths prefer the wind shelter offered by secondary points.

Contact: Missouri Department of Conservation (573-751-4115).
-Bryan Hendricks

North Dakota
All Aboard the Perch Express
Cabin fever running a little high? Hop aboard the Perch Express and ride the rails to some of the Midwest's hottest icefishing action. Amtrak's Empire Builder carts hundreds of Midwestern icefishermen every winter to North Dakota's Devils Lake for a veritable icefishing fantasy camp at Woodland Resort. When you arrive in Devils Lake, you'll be met by your host and taken to your cabin to get settled in. Since you'll arrive at 6:30 a.m., you'll have the entire day to hit the ice and go fishing.

A team of five guides will fan out across the massive natural lake in search of trophy yellow perch. They'll provide the transportation, bait, fish houses, heaters and they'll drill the holes. You'll learn how to use electronics to locate perch, and how to make them bite. If that doesn't work, you'll go in search of big northern pike or fat walleyes. You may fish in as many as 10 different locations each day and will experience three to four days of intense icefishing, interrupted by nights spent in a warm cabin and having your meals prepared for you.

"The novelty of this package is the train," explains Kyle Blanchfield of Woodland Resort. "Our guests come from places like Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and everywhere in between. They arrive rested and ready for fishing action. They don't even need to bring their own fishing gear, just warm clothes and a desire to catch some fish."

First time Devils Lake anglers really benefit from going with a guide because the fishing action is volatile and you have to be mobile and agile to locate active fish.

Contact: Woodland Resort (701-662-5996; www.woodlandresort.com).
-Curt Wells

** MINNESOTA**
Lake of the Woods
Use one-eighth-ounce jigs on tip-ups for all three species in Four-Mile Bay for walleyes, northern pike and sauger. Fish two inches off the bottom morning and evening in depths of 9 to 16 feet. Tip jigs with live minnows for walleyes and sauger. Northerns will hit plain jigs. Later in the season, use tip-ups with dead smelt, herr