In Nobles County, located in extreme southwest Minnesota and just a stone’s throw from the arid Dakotas, water can be a scarce, precious commodity even in the best of times.
But that is especially so in years such as this, when rainfall has come sparingly over the summer months.
So Dale VanThuyne and I were not altogether surprised at what we found on Friday, the eve of Minnesota’s waterfowl opener, as we scouted Lake Bella, located seven miles south of Worthington.
After several months of meager rainfall, the man-made lake that was created in the 1960s as a reservoir to assist in recharging that community’s chronically thirsty water wells, was extremely low.
The wide expanses of mud that separated the thick ring of cattails from the water’s edge made it clear the lightweight boat we had brought along would be useless.
What’s more, even if we could have launched the craft, the area we had hoped to hunt — the upper reaches of the lake where a meandering creek widens to form the lake basin — was bone-dry.
Three years ago, we were able to motor easily to the spot. Hunting was excellent.
Two years ago, we could reach the spot, but only after closing the last several hundred yards with push-poles and middle-aged muscle.
But once there, the waterfowl hunting once again was worth the effort.
Last year, during the Drought of 2012, we didn’t even bother. Months with virtually no rainfall had transformed our hunting spot to an expanse of cracked, dry mud better suited to hunting pheasants than waterfowl.
In spite of the current low water conditions on Friday, we nevertheless were encouraged by several hundred blue-winged teal that bobbed on the waves, occasionally taking to wing, circling, then settling onto the water again.