By Dan Nienaber
---- — COURTLAND — After a day of searching by land and water Sunday, Nicollet County Sheriff David Lange said Monday daily river checks for a missing kayaker will end.
Since June 22, authorities have been looking for 50-year-old Stephen Fritze of Watertown, S.D. He was kayaking with two friends on the Minnesota River when they capsized at a sharp bend in the river just west of Courtland and south of the River Ridge Gun Club.
The Watertown men who were with Fritze, John Carter and Cameron Buri, told sheriff's deputies that Fritze went under the water and never came back up again after floating through tree limbs collecting in the river. Les Zwach, River Ridge Gun Club manager, said debris had been gathering in the area for years.
Nicollet County deputies, Courtland firefighters and searchers from NorthStar Search & Rescue and Central Lakes Search & Rescue conducted an extensive search Sunday, Lange said. They checked areas on land that had been flooded before and used cadaver smelling dogs on the river in an unsuccessful attempt to find Fritze.
For several days after the accident, law enforcement officers from area counties and volunteers did extensive searches in the area of the debris and down river. Dogs were also brought in early on in an attempt to narrow the search area. The early searches were made difficult by high, fast-moving water on the river.
More recently deputies from Brown and Nicollet counties have been using one boat to search the river. The two counties had been alternating days, Lange said. The river level is much lower now and there have been difficulties using the propeller-powered boats because the props are being damaged by debris.
"At this point the searching is going to be tapering off until we get calls from recreationalists on the river," Lange said.
He is asking kayakers, canoeists and those who will be hunting soon to be looking for anything suspicious if they are near the river. Anyone who finds anything should leave the area as it is, leave immediately and call authorities as soon as possible, Lange said.