WATSON — Three days before the opening of the Minnesota waterfowl season, Walt Gessler did something few have attempted in more than a year, but many are ready to try.
He launched a motor boat on the waters of Marsh Lake, and got to where he wanted to go.
After a drawdown completed over one and a half years, the waters of Marsh Lake are back to a navigable level for the opening of the Minnesota waterfowl season on Saturday. The control gates were closed on June 21, and recent rains have allowed the lake to rebound to an elevation of 937 feet. Gessler, the manager for the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, said he’s optimistic for the season ahead on the popular waterfowl lake.
The drawdown made possible by a new control structure. The drawdown allowed some 3,000 acres of the shallow lake to be exposed and for vegetation to re-establish itself. Much of that vegetation is annual and now bursting with seeds, offering an appealing smorgasboard for migrating waterfowl.
The big migration is hardly starting yet, but there are lots of local ducks waiting for hunters on the opening weekend. Access will be the key, according to Josh Kavanagh, shallow lakes specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London.
This summer’s drought has dried many of the shallow wetlands in the area, and has made access difficult on many of the wetlands still holding water. An informal survey of the area made by Kavanagh showed him that there were concentrations of waterfowl on some of the wetlands still holding water.
“Scout it out and get there very early in the morning,” said Kavanagh. “There will probably be a race.”
He reminded waterfowl hunters that drawdowns have taken place over the past year on Lake Wakanda south of Willmar and the Schultz, Wheeler and Hubbard chain of lakes connected to Diamond Lake near Atwater. He’s seen good waterfowl numbers in both areas in late summer. He noted that access is the entire issue for those interested in Lake Wakanda. There were lots of birds, but the challenge will be in hunting it.
Local teal and wood ducks will be the main targets this weekend. Kavanagh said he’s noticed a growing number of Canada geese showing up on local waters as well.
There are some uncertainties going into the season. Due to the COVID pandemic, this is the second year that the spring nesting survey of waterfowl numbers was not conducted. There is no population estimate as a result.
This is also the first year of an experimental early teal season, which was held Sept. 4-8. Many will be watching to see if the early season affected the number of local ducks available on the traditional waterfowl opening.
Gessler launched his boat on Wednesday at the Louisburg Grade access, where an excavator had been put to use that morning to ready the access for the weekend. The lake's waters are still shallow and waterfowl hunters will have to be extra cautious about watching for rocks and sand bars, he advised. On his run up the lake, he said he chased up roughly 500 geese and a like number of ducks.
It's impossible to know how many waterfowl may have been out of sight, he added. The lush vegetation now ringing the lake provides lots of cover.
The abundance of vegetation is one of the silver linings to the drought, Kavanagh pointed out. The dry conditions benefit wetlands by allowing vegetation to re-establish.
No one can predict how the dry conditions will affect the overall migration this year, but the vegetation that has emerged this year could help attract birds, he pointed out.
To know the latest status on the waterfowl prospects in the area, visit the DNR weekly waterfowl report.