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October 2013

OUTDOOR CONNECTION Pheasant opener approaching Indoor ideas for fall beauty

Enjoying the fall colors






or what seems like forever, for years Iowans have looked forward to the last weekend in October for the annual pheasant opener. It’s one of the openers that brings people back to the Hawkeye state to renew acquaintances and to chase the wily ringneck! So it is in 2013 with the opener set for Saturday, October 26. Unfortunately, the pheasant numbers have plummeted over the past five years, and 2013 continues that trend. Each year, the Iowa DNR holds its August roadside survey by conducting approximately 215, 30-mile early morning routes on cool mornings when the sun is shining, when there is heavy dew and little wind. This year’s statewide count shows 6.5 birds per route (30 mile), which represents a -19 percent decrease from the 2012 numbers. If there is a good news scenario, the northwest part of Iowa still holds the best numbers of any area in the state. This year’s survey shows an average of 12.3 birds per route, which is a -23.8 percent decrease from last year’s 16.2 numbers. In visiting with Rich Jordet, northwest Iowa Law Enforcement Supervisor with the DNR, he notes that while numbers are down, it’s not all gloom and doom. “Where we have good upland habitat, I expect there will be good huntable numbers of pheasants. We are lucky to have more state hunting areas up here, and that makes a big difference when compared to the rest

of the state. There are still some pockets of CRP acres, which will also hold more birds.”


Looking back Historically speaking, Iowa has been a pheasant hunting mecca. At one time it rivaled South Dakota as THE pheasant state. The two common denominators for this success were good weather conditions and upland habitat. Of course, the first era of big numbers coincided with the soil bank days of the early 1960s. The statewide average in 1963 was an overall average of 79.4 birds! Over the course of the next 18 years, the lowest statewide average was 32.3 birds in 1982. During those years, some of the strongest numbers came from the southwest section with counts reaching as high as a 144-bird average in 1966. With the advent of the CRP program, bird numbers began to shift to the northwest part of Iowa. For instance, the 1998 average was 74.2 birds and 81.2 birds in 2003. Even 2008 saw an average of 49.4 birds. Of course, with each of these averages, you need to take into consideration that the bird counts were always greater where good upland habitat occurs.

Photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever

Why the drop I guess you could say it’s the result of the perfect storm. It’s been a combination of a lot of factors: ❏ Excessively damp weather (spring) ❏ Harsh winters (excessive snow) ❏ Drought conditions ❏ Loss of wildlife habitat ❏ Predation Three of these factors are really out of our control. When it comes to weather, Mother Nature is in charge. The area we can control is the habitat. However, this a double-edged sword, too. High commodity prices and soaring land prices are making a difference in how

landowners utilize their land. The high prices for crops have meant that the rates paid by the USDA for conservation programs have been unable to keep up.

Looking west to South Dakota It’s not just in Iowa. Although South Dakota is the pheasant hunting destination in the country, it also is facing pheasant number declines. Again, the problems revolve around the extreme drought of 2012, a cold, wet spring and a reduction in habitat. South Dakota does their count a little different, doing a per-mile number versus Iowa’s 30mile route. However, you

can still glean the same data. South Dakota’s state average for 2013 is 1.52 birds per mile, which equals to 45.6 birds per 30-mile route. That is down from 4.19 birds per mile, equaling 125.7 per 30-mile route. That means a 64 percent decline in pheasant numbers. Some areas such as Chamberlain, Pierre and Winner all showed declines over 70 percent from 2012 and the 10-year average. Harvest numbers have dropped in both states, too. Iowa for many years was over a million birds per year. That has now dropped to under 300,000 birds per year. South Dakota has consistently been over 1 million

birds with last year being the lowest since 1998-a total of 1,428,873 harvested. Here is a staggering number for estimated pheasant population and the number bagged in South Dakota. The year was 1945 and the estimated population was 16,000,000 birds with 7,507,000 birds harvested. Fast forward to 2007, when the population was estimated to be 11,900,000 birds with a harvest of 2,122,700 birds. Wow! Can things be turned around? Sure, but Mother Nature has to do her part, and we need to work at the habitat as best we can – acre by acre!



Indoor ideas for fall beauty Autumn, that special time of year where taking a deep breath is the most invigorating feeling. Leaving the windows opens at night means waking up to a too cool house in the morning. Campfires are appreciated for their warmth. Fields are being harvested, and pumpkins are filling up front yards. Those feelings inspired by the natural beauty of the season found outside can be brought in doors as well. If you’re not in the fall mood just yet, here are a few craft ideas to get you there. One of my favorite parts about autumn is that the décor can be used for all the fall holidays (well, almost). Maybe hide the bats and ghosts before Thanksgiving? Fall décor can be simple, inexpensive and affordable. Corn stalks, straw bales, pumpkins, and gourds are a great start. For some that may sound easier said than done, so here are a few helpful hints to make nature work for you. Color Blocking. We love the changing colors of the leaves, not just because everything else is brown, but because we like color

vitality. Bring this indoor with a few different shades (orange, yellow, and red) of leaves. Cut a few small branches and put them in a vase ENNA with water. That’s OLLOCK sure to add a splash EMMET COUNTY of outdoors light to brighten any room. NATURALIST Expanded color palette. We’re used to our typical fall colors, but don’t be afraid to bring some of the purples and lush greens growing in the garden indoors as well. Fall doesn’t necessarily mean muted tones. Sparkle and shine. There’s something about orange pumpkins and homemade jack-o-lanterns that make even the crotchetiest folks reveal a slight smirk. Sometimes the oversized orange pumpkins, especially when carved, aren’t the best option for indoor decorating. Uncarved, light colored pumpkins and gourds can offer an upscale feel that satisfies the seasonal mood. Start with a light-colored pumpkin to bring the festive seasonal light inside. Then spray it with iridescent paint for a nice shine. For added sparkle, sprinkle gold or silver glitter while the paint is still wet.



Kids can have fun decorating pumpkins without all the scraping and gutting. Use iridescent spray paint and allow the kids to use their favorite color of glitter or combinations of colors to make a wacky pumpkin. Painted pumpkins and using a pumpkin as a Mr. Potato Head can also be fun ways for the kids to enjoy the season. Gourd Vase. At the end of the season, save a few gourds for next year. Allow the gourd to dry naturally for durability. Turning a gourd into a vase or a birdhouse is a great recycled craft. Another recycled craft that takes a step away from natural materials and a step towards the spookier side of Halloween is a milk jug ghost. Kids can have a lot of fun with this craft but adult supervision is important for cutting the plastic. Start saving up your milk jugs now! There are a variety of patterns available online for this craft. Wild center pieces. Prairie grasses make unique and beautiful center pieces without a lot of work arranging. The ability to adjust the height of the arrangement makes it an excellent option for any table in the house. Once the grasses are dried in the prairie, no need to worry about watering this center piece!



Wildlife habitat across northern Iowa will be getting a boost over the next two years thanks to a recent $1 million U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant to Ducks Unlimited and its partners. This grant, funded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), will protect and enhance over 1200 acres of wetlands, prairies, and streams in Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth, O’Brien and Clay Counties. NAWCA is an incentive based, land-owner friendly program that fosters the development of public-private partnerships to protect North America’s migratory bird habitat. The grant will enable public agencies to acquire six new tracts of land to add to existing public wildlife areas within the Little Sioux River Watershed. The partners will also enhance nearly 450 acres of wetlands in the Marble-Hottes Lakes wetland complex adjacent to Spirit Lake and restore natural potholes on a Waterfowl Production Area in Kossuth County. In addition to improved wildlife habitat, Iowa residents will also benefit from abundant recreation and tourism opportunities, increased flood storage in restored wetlands and improved water quality in local lakes and streams. While DU is the recipient and administrator of the grant, competing for these NAWCA funds at a national level requires a strong group of partners and at least $2 million in non-federal matching funds. This project is made possible by a cooperative effort among a multitude of partners and interested parties in Iowa. Besides DU, project partners include Iowa DNR, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, O’Brien County Sportsman’s Club, Dickinson County Water Quality Board, the Andrea Waitt Carlton Family Foundation, Little Sioux Valley Conservation Association, Millborn Seeds, and Conservation Boards in O’Brien, Clay, and Dickinson counties. This is the third phase of this partnership, which will have restored or protected a total of 3,100 acres between 2010 and 2015.

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Walleyes on the rim BY JASON MITCHELL

Each early ice season is almost a space race in regard to reaching spots further out on fishable ice while still being safe. Simply put, there are just spots that we know will be good and usually, the first people on those spots are going to catch some really nice fish. This phenomena happens on Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, Devils Lake and several other major walleye fisheries. The spot we can hardly get to always seems to pull at anglers’ curiosity the hardest. What surprises many anglers however is on just about every fishery, there is a percentage of fish that remain fairly close to shore and typically shallow at first ice. You don’t always have to be the first angler to fish the Boot on Mille Lacs or Knight Island on Lake of the Woods to experience great walleye fishing early in the season. Granted, like any locations the bite diminishes drastically as pressure builds so half of walleye angling is just thinking of locations that might have fish and haven’t had all the activity yet. GPS Chips sure have made that a lot more difficult. You see the trouble with the Chips is that everybody else has them to! Back in the day, not everybody knew how to reach or find all of these offshore locations that load up with fish. Everybody relied on shoreline structure because they could reach the spot and eyeball enough landmarks to find it again. Back in the day, the people that knew about the offshore stuff and were able to find it had gold mines all to themselves. Now flash forward a few years. There are just not that many secrets, most of the spots are mapped and can be bought by anybody. The result has been a huge shift towards offshore structure. Guess what has happened now? There are some really good shallow patterns that are sometimes more dependable than the classic and renown offshore patterns because of the pressure aspect.

The author Jason Mitchell believes that inshore opportunities are some of the best kept secrets for big walleyes on many large natural lakes right now. Photo submitted

If there is a trend that we are seeing on the really big lakes, it has been that some of the steadiest opportunities for big walleyes have been coming along the shallow rim of the shoreline. For the most part, the shallow water connected to the shoreline is a morning and evening bite on many lakes but not always. What these locations are however as everybody races offshore is overlooked. Finding locations that are overlooked is often the key. I have often stressed that the best fishing happens to the person who finds the fish. What can make walleye fishing “inshore” intimidating can be just the amount of shoreline to cover. Large shallow flats or gently tapering shorelines just don’t have the obvious spot that screams

at you to drill a hole. Much different ball game than zooming in on a classic mud hump or reef and picking it apart with less than a dozen well aimed holes. Here is the other beauty of shallow water, the variations are subtle yet important and often don’t yet show up on chips. There are still some really great secrets in shallow water. Any outside point or inside turn with any kind of rock is a classic walleye magnet on just about any lake. These locations get a lot of attention especially at first ice. Many anglers will work these classic gravel or rock locations between ten and twenty feet of water. An adjustment that is difficult for some anglers to do and is worth a try is to slide even shallower and closer to shore especial-

ly if fishing pressure cools the spot off. People often automatically assume that the fish pull out deeper and progress offshore but you will be surprised how often fish do the exact opposite. The downfall can be that the fish move or are active for very short windows but we have stuck a lot of big fish way up inside on this pattern on several large, predominate fisheries. Other classic shallow water goldmines for big lakes are any sand bars or sand flats that have a nice sharp lip or break on them that plunges down into deep water. Large flats especially if there is some weed growth can hold a staggering about of fish but little dips, depressions or troughs within the flats are often the sweet spots. This article isn’t necessary to

convince you to fish shallow or inshore but rather contemplate options that aren’t getting pressure. There are times when I have wasted a lot of time trying to find different fish or patterns and finally admitted that I would have been better off fishing right in the pack. There are other times where you can pounce on a location first or figure out some little detail that will keep you successful as more anglers gather around. We have some really great offshore memories but what we are seeing is that as more anglers use and understand GPS with map chips, the inshore locations get touched less and less and over time, the tide starts to go the other way. We are starting to have massive locations to ourselves, we are often finding large schools and aggressive fish that have seen no pressure and we are finding big fish. What is ironic is that this will happen for a while and then more people will be on to these patterns and over time, these locations won’t be as productive because there will be more people doing it. What we will be looking for than is some other under the radar pattern where we can find fish that have been avoiding pressure. Fifteen years ago, the go to move was finding structure off shore for untouched fish and big fish. Now if I were to put my money down, I would lay it on the shoreline in water shallower than what most anglers’ feel comfortable fishing. More and more in the future, the current trends and attitudes of fellow anglers will often have as much influence on strategy as the fish themselves. In other words, you won’t just be able to think like a walleye, you also have to factor in pressure. The trump card is a lack of pressure. Fish that haven’t been worked over make you look good. The fish compete against each other and larger schools get competitive and aggressive by default. When the fish get beat up a little bit, that competitive nature drops dramatically.




Stewardship tip:


Photo submitted

Fall construction season underway BY JOHN H. WILLS

Editor’s note: The Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance works with Dickinson County Residents and partners to create cleaner water for the Iowa Great Lakes area. The CWA coordinator works to create harmony among participating partners. Each month John will provide a column about important aspects of the Clean Water Alliance. Each year, conservation practices such as grassed waterways are built in farm fields and rain gardens around lawns and houses. Construction of these conservation measures help to protect, preserve, and improve the lakes in Dickinson County. The installation of these practices is highly dependent upon weather though. Last fall, for instance, it was too dry for the construction of these practices because the soil would not compact. This spring it was too wet because it would not stop raining. This

fall, is shaping up to be a good time to build these structures. There are two main types of prevention practices that can be applied by any landowner. Those practice types are “in field” and “structural” practices. In field practices are practices such as reduced tillage (or cover) fertilizer management, and land retirement. These practices are simply used to keep soil and other pollutants where they are, rather than in our lakes. Reduced tillage or cover just means that a landowner will reduce the tillage on farmland or an urban landowner will keep their yard grassed or covered. This reduces erosion that runs into the lake. Fertilizer management is simply applying the amount of fertilizer that is needed for the field or your lawn. Urban lawns seldom need phosphorous so many stores and lawn services provide a phosphorus free fertilizer. Land retirement is allowing a section of your property or field that is

most erosive to become more natural and used in a different way. Structural practices consist of buffers, waterways, wetlands, rain gardens, and pavers. Basically a structural practice is used to slow runoff, direct runoff, and clean the runoff before it gets to our lakes. For the most part, these practices are used in a channel or an area with heavy runoff. All-in-all, these types of practices are easily done by anyone, either a farmer or a city person. Both types of conservation practices are needed to protect our lakes and each lawn or field is different. In many instances there is cost share available to help you pay for these practices and in almost all instances there is technical assistance to help plan and implement these practices. If you are interested in looking into protecting our lakes, call 712-3363782 ext 3 for more information.

Vehicle maintenance is an area often overlooked, but it is something we can do that will help us be stewards of the environment. You can increase your gas mileage by maintaining a well-tuned engine, keeping your tires properly inflated, and using the proper weight of motor oil. A well-tuned engine can, according to, increase your fuel mileage “by an average of 4 percent.” I can testify to this. I recently had my spark plugs replaced, the engine tuned, and replaced the oxygen sensors. I went from averaging about 300 miles per tank of gas to over 350. Keeping tires properly inflated can save you up to 3 percent in fuel mileage. recommends inflating the tires to the pressure recommended for your vehicle (this can usually be found on a plate mounted inside the driver’s door, you can also find the recommendations in your owner’s manual). However, I use, and Wayne Gerdes from recommends, the maximum pressure as specified on the sidewall of the tire. The max pressure on my tires is slightly higher than the recommended pressure for my vehicle, the ride is not quite a smooth, but I find that I get better mileage with the higher pressure. Moreover, Mr. Gerdes notes that most max sidewall pressures are “well within the safety limits of your car.” Whichever value you use, keeping your tires inflated to your favorite pressure and checking them regularly will help to increase Turn to TIP, Page C7

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Fall warbler migration underway BY WENDELL HANSEN BIRD HAVEN

The warblers’ migration is well underway. North American warblers are small songbirds; generally quite colorful and with fine pointed bills. Most eat only insects, but a few supplement their diets with berries and seeds. During the spring and fall migration warblers only travel at night. This is how they avoid hawks. Fall Warbler watching is different and more challenging than in springtime. To find them you have to watch for movement in bushes, trees and shrubs and listen carefully for the different little chirp sounds each Warbler species makes. In addition, some warbler species change from their bright breeding plumage into more subtle colors. The warbler migration starts as early as August and can extend into October and beyond. They are a challenge to identify because they move very quickly and are often obscured by trees or shrubs and other foliage. A good place to find migrating warblers here in northwest Iowa is along the edge of lakes, rivers, small streams, parks and any public lands that have a lot of trees, shrubs and low bushes. The best time to look for warblers is the first few hours of the morning from first light till about 10 a.m. They have been flying all night, are hungry and looking for food. One of the key things I look for is a small bird that is darting in and out and hanging at every odd angle you can think of. Most Warblers are smaller than a Black-capped Chickadee and about the size or a little bit smaller than a House Wren. Once the warbler is found, the next thing is to determine which kind is it? This is where keeping a field notebook comes in handy. One of the keys to identifying fall warblers is to know what to look for. Try WFTU. This acronym is a good way to remember: What. Feathers. Tell. Us. Now, to break it down a little bit more, WFTU: Wings, Face, Throat and Undertail is the best

A Nashville Warbler Photo submitted

way to use it to identify Warblers. Write it down in your notebook. Wing, wing bars, yes or no. What colors were they? The same goes for the face, throat and undertail. Then start looking in bird books to see what warbler it was. Another good way is to capture a photo of the bird with a camera. You don't need a spendy one, almost any good camera will work. The trick is to get the warbler to sit still long enough to get a photo. One of the things I have found out is that most of the migrating

warblers nest in Canada. They nest in the middle of thickets of spruce, conifers, hardwood forests and regrowth. This is in the middle of nowhere and there are not a lot of people. As long as you move slow or sit still the warbler will not spook and you'll have a good chance of getting a good photo. Then there are times you look like a chicken that lost it head running around the yard trying to get a good shot of a Yellow-rumped warbler. Only took 9 days and most of one to ID it. By utilizing WFTU, it was the undertail in the

end that told me what the bird was. If there is a good supply of insects in an area the warblers will hang around that spot for days. We must have a lot of insects at the South end of Center Lake, the fall warblers have been pouring in and hanging around for weeks now. One of the big draws for many birds at Birdhaven is the shallow stream that runs between our two ponds here, and I have found out that warblers love it also. That is one spot that I get a lot of good photos of them. If you walk some of our public

lands you can find a few shallow small streams with slow running water with trees, bush and shrubs around them. Just find a good spot to sit, kick back and relax. It may take 45 min or so for the birds to show back up. Ya never know, you just might see the Warbler of a life time! It could be the Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Baybreasted or like the one I got just today (09-27-13): a Black-throated Green Warbler. Have fun, get outside and enjoy life!




TIP, Continued from Page C5 your gas mileage. Using the proper weight of motor oil, as specified in your owner’s manual, will help to improve fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent. Your owner’s manual will specify a range of oils that you can use. It may be useful to experiment with different weights within the recommended range. It may also be useful to review the products that the oil companies offer and consider their suggestions. For example, the manufacturer of the oil that I use suggests a synthetic 0W-20 as a substitute for 5W-20 for increased fuel efficiency. In addition to increased mileage, I have found that synthetic oil I use lasts much longer. I usually exceed 15,000 miles between oil changes. As we’ve noted before, the

Have you taken the Stewardship Pledge? Learn more about what you can do and join the thousands that have committed to stewardship…both on and off the water. Visit for more information. 3,000-mile limit is a myth. Your owner’s manual will provide guidance on when to change your oil. The manufacturer’s recommendations, more often than not, exceed 3,000 miles. Newer vehicles like the one I drive for work manufactured in 2013 recommends that the oil change cycle take place at 6,000 miles. Iowa is home to a great many fisheries. If you’re like me you may drive two or three hours or more to spend time on the water or even out enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer. Keeping a well-maintained automobile helps you to get

better gas mileage. A wellmaintained automobile will use your fuel more efficiently and will save you money. When fuel is burned efficiently, you reduce the carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide that your car emits. Carbon dioxide contributes ocean acidification and global warming. Nitrogen oxide contributes to acid deposition. Ocean acidification, global warming, and acid deposition adversely affect fish. Stewardship is more than just doing what’s right on the water; it’s what we do off the water that makes as big an impact as well.

Photo by Steve Weisman

Enjoying the fall colors This time of year it seems that a kaleidoscope of colors greets us wherever we go. From our own backyard, to that of our neighbors…along the highways as we travel by, along our lakes and streams and our county and state parks…fall colors are exploding all around. This fall appears to be a great one for us to enjoy the colors. Jeff Goerndt, the State Forest Section supervisor at the Iowa DNR says, ““I think we’re going to have a good fall color year because of the weather we’re having. You get the best and brightest colors when you’ve

got the kind of fall weather things that can shorten the we have now where you get leaf-watching season can be strong wind, which we have had this past week. As a result, many of the early turning trees lost a lot of TEVE leaves. EISMAN If you are looking to take a OUTDOOR EDITOR trip across Iowa, probably the best place to see the best fall colors will be in northeast Iowa. It can be an awesome stretch along the sunny days and crisp, cool Mississippi River. The DNR nights.” has a fall colors hotline, Color changes began here which can be found, along in northwest Iowa the last with other information, at: week of September, while central and southern Iowa ment/Forestry/ForestryLinks will follow next. One of the Publications/FallColor.aspx.


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I was on a two day fishing trip on Leech Lake in north central Minnesota in late September. Leech Lake is one of the Midwest’s most diverse fisheries. It hosts great populations of walleyes, perch, largemouth bass, and muskies. On this trip I was sharing a boat with two friends that I always look forward to fishing with. Dana Pitt owns a resort on Leech; Al Maas is a legendary guide on Leech. Al has seen Leech at its highs and lows, and he says that right now, Leech is at one of its highest points. The action we had on our trip convinced me that Leech is at a high, and from the variety of sizes of fish we caught, it would appear the next few years could be even better. We hit the water on Tuesday morning a little after sun-up. The lake was flat, the sky was clear, the air temperature was in the low 50’s. This was the kind of day almost any angler would look forward to. Al said there were some walleyes deep and some shallow. Since shallow walleyes are usually biters, we decided to start shallow. We never went deep: Didn’t have to. The shallow walleyes bit all the while we fished for them. Eaters for





the frying pan and slot fish that had to be released. The slot on Leech is the reason there is an abundance of big fish but also plenty of smaller fish that can be taken home. We were fishing a necked down area between two larger bodies of water. There was a channel about eight feet deep with large feeding flats and random beds of cabbage on the flats. The walleyes were holding on the edge of the cabbage in four to six feet of water. In shallow water it’s best to get your bait out away from the boat to prevent spooking the fish. We were casting eighth ounce stand-up FireBall jigs in a variety of colors, but parrot and parakeet where the best. We were tipping the jigs with rainbow and fathead minnows in the three to four inch range. A dragging retrieve was best. This technique will work on many lakes, reservoirs, and rivers across the Midwest and wherever walleyes swim. As the water cools off, the fish will move deeper for most of the day, but will continue to make daily forays into the shallows. Areas that the wind is blowing into will be best. As we were heading to the boat ramp in early afternoon, Al said he wanted to make one quick stop to see if any perch were around. We

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FACEBOOK.COM/FISHINGTHEMIDWEST tied on sixteenth ounce jigs and began drifting across a huge shallow sand flat. The water was only three or four feet deep. We cast the minnow tipped jigs behind the boat, let it sink to the bottom, and started slowly lifting and dropping the jig with our rod tip. Much of the time there was a perch on the jig right away. We caught lots of seven to nine inchers, but also plenty of eleven to thirteen inchers to keep things interesting. There aren’t many fish that are better on a plate then perch. This bite on Leech is dependant on weather. If temperatures stay warm or moderate, the bite will continue. The bite will continue if the weather cools off, but techniques will change. Regardless of weather, you should make plans to visit Leech. I hope to get back up there soon; maybe we’ll see you there

For All Your Fall Sporting Needs.


Al Maas with a Leech Lake walleye. The bite is on now, take advantage of it.

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