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Foul water for waterfowl - and much more

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It’s an access in name only these days.

And the public boat access on the north side of Lake Sibley in Pequot Lakes isn’t unlike most in the greater Brainerd lakes area — inaccessible thanks to recent heavy rains.

But that didn’t stop boaters from enjoying the lake on a sunny day last weekend. It took a little more work and, in many cases, getting a little wet to get a boat in at the north “access.” There, one local property owner was asking boaters to tread slowly on Sibley — most every property owner on the 400-plus-acre lake had some sort of flood damage and any sort of wake could cause further erosion and damage.

Most of the users were of the recreational variety, but a few were fishing. That’s been a mixed bag on area lakes since the rains came, with most reporting a slow bite or no bite at all. With more water, the fish are more spread out now and more difficult to find, some anglers say. But others, mainly bass anglers, are finding fish in newly created habitat that was high and dry just weeks earlier.

So while much has been adversely impacted by the rains — accesses, trails, even trees and vegetation — fishing action could be good in the area — if you can get to the fish.

“Flooding is not an issue,” Marc Bacigalupi, DNR fisheries supervisor in Brainerd, said in regard to the health of area fisheries. “In fact, it may have opened up some opportunities to them (fish) to migrate to places you wouldn’t normally find them. Certain areas are connected that might not have been connected before.”

According to Wade Miller, area supervisor for the DNR Parks and Trails Division, most all lakes in the area are up significantly, although major flooding has mostly been on the Mississippi River. Still, Bacigalupi said, that shouldn’t hurt fishing.

“The Mississippi River is high most of the summer. That’s nothing unusual,” he said. “I don’t see anything changing (with fishing).”

Particularly for those targeting bass, although they may have to target new areas created by high waters.

“Bass are real opportunistic,” Bacigalupi said. “They can do real well in reservoir systems that become flooded. Different food sources are opened up to them — frogs, whatever. Any kind of shallow, warm-water species is taking advantage of new food sources. They’ve just moved to different places.

“And the walleye habitat is related to the amount of light. They also can handle any kind of increased water moving through the system. They just move to places where they’re comfortable. The (fish) populations will not be hurt in a negative way because of this (flooding). In fact, it might provide a seasonal boost.”

Now it’s just a matter of getting to — and finding — the fish. Like Lake Sibley, a number of accesses are underwater or have been washed away — no-wake warnings are out for Roosevelt Lake and the Whitefish Chain, Bacigalupi said. And on Tuesday, the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department closed public accesses on Black Bear and Miller lakes in Wolford Township and a “Slow No Wake Zone” is in effect “due to impact that threatens public infrastructure,” according to the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department. Lake property owners will still be allowed to use the accesses for removal of watercraft, if needed, the department said.

“Trails are underwater, water accesses are underwater,” Miller said. “Most of our lakes in southern Crow Wing County are relatively good, but lake levels are up, some more than others. The further north you go the higher water you see. In upper Crow Wing County and lower Cass County, most facilities are underwater. They’ve closed water access sites because of significant washouts. In some cases (dock owners) are unable to raise the dock or pull the dock out enough for the user not to get wet.”

And the situation, particularly on the Mississippi River, could get worse before it gets better.

“Accesses on the rivers ... will be cresting in the next few days,” Miller said Tuesday. “What we’re hearing is that the Mississippi in Aitkin will be cresting in two days and in Brainerd three days after that. So we won’t see a decline on any river system. It could be a couple weeks before it starts getting down to a more reasonable level. On lakes, some connected to the river systems are backed up.”

While paved trails such as the Paul Bunyan State Trail and the Cuyuna Lakes Trail are OK, the area’s off-highway vehicle (OHV) and mountain biking trails have suffered.

“Some trails in the Land O’ Lakes Forest (in Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties) have motorized trails underwater,” Miller said. “They’ve been closed since the Memorial Day event (rainstorms) and will probably be closed for the whole season. And the Spider Lake trails in the Foot Hills State Forest (in Cass County) are closed for minor repairs. We hope to have those reopened in a week. And the grant-in-aid trail at Fort Ripley was closed for two days.”

Flooding also could test trees and woodlands that help make the Brainerd area such a popular summertime destination.

“It just depends on how sensitive and tolerant they (trees) are to flood damage whether they have prolonged damage or not,” said Jana Albers, DNR forest health specialist in the Brainerd area. “Some species are tolerant to floods — those that grow in lowlands naturally: tamarack, balsam fir, black ash, green ash, box elder, cottonwood, red maple, silver maple and all the willows. They do very well. Those that are sensitive (to flooding) are pines, aspen, birch, cherry, basswood, sugar maple, pin oak, white oak, red oak.

“If you have water for a week or two, those that are flood sensitive will be fine. But if it’s longer than three to four weeks you’ll see root death, and longer than that, branches go out and you’ll have a tree or two dying. But for the most part, they’ll be able to tolerate flash-flood types of things and do just fine.”

Not so with wildlife.

“Deer, bear and whatever are being displaced,” Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd, said, adding that mosquito problems that come with the flood waters have added to the discomfort for wildlife. “We had a huge amount of nuisance bears last week. Close to 20 calls in three days. It’s peaked and gone down. We had to shoot one bear.

“Bears spend a lot of time in lowland areas and swamps and they’ll be forced out of those swamps. It (flooding) is going to be a hindrance. It’s not a catastrophe for wildlife, but it doesn’t help.”

That goes for waterfowl and game birds, too. This on the heels of a DNR survey that said Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were lower than last year across most of the bird’s range.

“With ruffed grouse that hatch ... hopefully there are a lot that have hatched. And there’s an issue in Aitkin County with sharptail (grouse),” Drotts said. “A lot of areas have flooded there and there’s been a significant impact. And waterfowl will be interesting. A lot should have been hatched out. But there were late-nesting (birds) that had their nests flooded out. The Canada geese hatch was early and is doing fine, but it (flooding) impacts nesting birds.

“And between the two events (rains around Memorial Day and the recent storms) ... It will impact wild rice production.”

And shoreland habitat as a whole, where flood waters as well as accompanying windy conditions are taking their toll.

“It depends on the shore,” Heather Beard, DNR shoreland habitat specialist in Brainerd, said of local damage. “We’re seeing more shores that have groomed shores really being disrupted. There are chunks of shore floating out in the lake. And big winds, too (have caused problems).”

Of lakes in the immediate Brainerd area that have been most impacted, “Gull is really high as it has to do with the corps,” Beard said of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates levels on the Gull Chain. “It’s pretty devastating to have this much water and wind.”

But, Beard said, the silver lining might be how all of this translates to fish habitat and fishing.

“When you lose trees during high water and wind events it adds a lot of wood to the lakes,” she said. “That’s good for the fisheries. It’s beneficial. And it (flooding and wind) could add a lot of woody habitat to the lakes. I’m not too worried about aquatic vegetation (being damaged). So if it (floating wood) is not in the immediate way, if they (property owners) could leave it, that would be great.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to For his blogs, go to