Around Cook County

News and other information from Cook County

Trout opener moves beyond BWCAW

Fri, 01/15/2016 - 5:34am

(Audio Below)-- January 16 is a key date for the ice fishing season in northeastern Minnesota. Starting this weekend, essentially any and all lakes are open for ice fishing. That includes all trout lakes in the region, including an assortment of very popular fishing lakes for trout located up the Gunflint Trail.

This weekend’s opener follows the trout fishing season for lakes located entirely within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The first two weeks for that season came and went without much action to report. During the first weekend of the BWCAW trout season, the ice was thin enough that it kept many anglers away. During the second weekend, which was Jan. 9th and 10th, bitter cold swept across the region. This not only kept anglers away from area lakes, but many of those who ventured out found a lethargic bite from the fish, though there were reports of limits being filled on both weekends.
With the opener this weekend, it’s important to remember there are specific rules that apply for ice fishing on a designated trout lake. Possessing live minnows or using them for bait on designated stream trout lakes is prohibited. Only dried, frozen, or brined minnows are allowed.

Fishing hours for stream trout on inland waters are from one hour before sunrise to 11 p.m. And in contrast to other lakes in the region, only one line is allowed winter or when ice fishing on designated stream trout lakes. This is why it’s extremely valuable to know if the lake your fishing is indeed a designated trout lake. In the Gunflint Trail area, some of the most popular ice fishing lakes for trout include Carrot, Leo, Musquash, Ester and Ram. These are all designated trout lakes, meaning no live minnows can be used for bait and only one line is allowed for each licensed fisherman. It’s also important to remember that in addition to purchasing a Minnesota fishing license, one must also buy the $10 trout stamp if you plan to fish for trout or are merely fishing on a designated trout lake.

Conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources are very likely to be checking area lakes this weekend. They remind everyone planning to fish that simply purchasing a fishing license isn’t good enough. One must have their license with them at all times while they are fishing lakes in Minnesota. Claiming to have left it at home after you purchased a license isn’t good enough. A conservation can write you a ticket if you don’t have the license with you while you fish.
The ice-fishing season for all species of trout runs through March 31. The ice fishing season for walleye and northern pike ends on Feb. 28.

And though temperatures along the North Shore and inland have been bitterly cold recently, some area lakes might not have safe ice. If you’re traveling by snowmobile or another motorized vehicle to reach your fishing hole, proceed with caution, particularly on bigger lakes such as Clearwater, Gunflint or Loon. 


Operation Family Christmas needs new organizers

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 11:42am

For many kids in Cook County, Christmas would not have been the same without Operation Family Christmas, but the four women who have brought the program to the county the past five years are ready for someone else to fill their shoes.

It’s not that they feel it hasn’t been successful, but maybe that’s been the biggest problem, the program is outgrowing what they are capable of giving, said one of the event organizers, Andrea Everson.

“We would like the community to know that there is a large need for Operation Family Christmas to continue but we feel at this time it needs new blood, new ideas and new energy,” she said.

Besides Everson, the others behind this much-loved gift giving operation have been Anna Sandstrom, Lindsay Mielke and Samantha Wallner.

“We had 68 kids that were able to get toys this year,” said Everson. “The community really pulled together to insure that these children would get items on their list. We couldn’t have done this again if it hadn’t been for the North Shore Credit Union, Grand Portage Charter School, Cook County I.S.D. 166, Grand Portage Health and Human Services, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Arrowhead Cooperative, Bethlehem Lutheran Church and the Violence Prevention Center.”

“If anyone is interested in learning more about Operation Family Christmas, please contact Lindsay Mielke at the Cook County Sheriff’s office,” Everson said, adding

“We will be interested in helping anyone who is interested in taking the program over.”

Weekend to turn cold, struggle to get above negative numbers

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 10:56am

Warmer weather is about to turn into colder weather this weekend. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Carol Christenson.


Tofte shooter makes second courtroom appearance

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 4:31am

Kirk Lee Bigby, the Finland, Minnesota, resident charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Twin Cites man as the result of a shooting in the parking lot of Bluefin Bay Resort late last year was back in court Wednesday, Jan. 13.

This was Bigby’s second court appearance in Cook County since the shooting took place in the early morning of Dec. 9. He was arrested for shooting and killing 35-year old Marcus Lee Roberts, a resident of Bloomington. Two days later, the 61-year-old Bigby pled not guilty by reason of self-defense.

Wednesday’s courtroom hearing was what is referred to in the legal process as an omnibus hearing. This is typically where evidence is presented in the case and a trial date is set if the accused continues to plead not guilty. And while Bigby continues to plead not guilty, the only action taken Wednesday was to delay this hearing until March 11 at 2 p.m. Duluth-based Judge Eric Hylden agreed to postpone the hearing until all DNA evidence is available in the case. Both Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken and Public Defender Brent Olson agreed forensics in the case are still being processed. An autopsy on Roberts was conducted at the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's office in December. 

Also during the brief courtroom hearing Wednesday, Judge Hylden agreed to set up an assessment on Bigby to be conducted by staff from Arrowhead Regional Corrections. The assessment could determine if Bigby would be considered a flight risk should he meet bail. As of now, Bigby’s bail is set at $1 million. Olson argued on Wednesday that amount is “constitutionally excessive.” Olson requested Judge Hylden lower the bail to $10,000 cash, with those funds paid directly to the court. Hylden said he will make no decision on changing Bigby’s bail until the ARC assessment is complete.

Present during Bigby’s hearing Wednesday were approximately 15 family members and friends of Roberts. Though they declined to speak specifically with the media, emotions were strong in the courtroom, particularly when Bigby initially entered the room. Family and friends of Roberts wore white t-shirts with his picture emblazoned on them and his name in large print. Several family members were moved to tears at the mere sight of Bigby, who himself showed little to no emotion during the hearing.

According to the original criminal complaint filed against Bigby, there was no altercation leading up to the shooting at Bluefin. Witnesses say they saw the victim walk up to Bigby and that is when he allegedly pulled out a gun and shot Roberts. Roberts was a blackjack dealer hired to work the resort's employee holiday party.

A “Go Fund Me” website has been set up to raise funds for the children of Marcus Roberts. It can be found by clicking here. 


Check conditions before heading out on the trails

Tue, 01/12/2016 - 11:50am

Winter sports enthusiasts are reminded to check in with friends or area businesses before heading out snowmobiling, snowshoeing or skiing. The freezing rain and heavy snow that fell in December toppled brush and trees that is still being cleared in some places.

In addition, trail managers caution that in many places, water from creeks and small ponds is still flowing under the snow and not all lakes are completely frozen. The frigid weather the last few days will help, but be extremely vigilant for wet areas and ice.

Local clubs would love to have help with the cleanup effort.

To help in the Grand Marais area, contact the Cook County Ridge Riders at  (218) 370-0645 or email

In the Lutsen area, contact the Lutsen Trailblazers by calling Larry at 218-370-9268 or Scott at 218-663-7305 or email

Ski trail organizations like the Banadad Ski Trail Association are also seeking assistance. Anyone who would like to help clear the Banadad is encouraged to contact Ted Young at 218-388-4487 or email

Also seeking volunteers is David Williams of the Bally Creek Ski System. To help on those trails, contact Williams at 218-387-1162.

Many other trail groups are reporting progress, and some areas are looking great, but caution is still advised. The best advice is to talk to others before trekking out onto the trails. For the most up-to-date information on Cook County trail conditions, visit and click on the cross country trails or snowmobile trails links.

Volunteers wanted to help clear area recreation trails

Tue, 01/12/2016 - 11:45am

Cook County Commissioners and county staff agreed volunteers and donations are likely the most realistic approach to assist with clearing the vast network of recreation trails in the county.

This consensus comes one week after the commissioners agreed to reach out to the Department of Natural Resources, various state agencies and the State Legislature to see if funding could be provided to help remove heavy snow and fallen or sagging trees from the miles of yet un-cleared, and therefore unusable, recreation trails in the county. The DNR and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) said no emergency funds were available for the county with regard to paying trail-clearing crews or other similar expenses.

“Right now, we’re hitting walls,” Board Chair Heidi Doo-Kirk said in regard to obtaining the funds. “But it doesn’t mean we’re not looking.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating funds to assist with clearing recreation trails in Cook County can either contact a local business or organization in need of help, or simply contact County Administrator Jeff Cadwell and he will provide contact information or direction for where and when to help.

Cadwell can be reached directly at (218) 387-3687.

The local Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club was provided a small amount of funding from IRRRB to assist with trail clearing in advance of last weekend’s Gunflint Mail Run sled-dog race, according to Doo-Kirk. At the very least, this allowed the Mail Run to take place. In response, Commissioner Frank Moe praised the efforts of the Ridge Riders in opening trails for the race and throughout the county.

However, Doo-Kirk pointed out, there are still many miles of recreation trails in dire need of help. For example, Doo-Kirk said, the Banadad Ski Trail still has 16-miles of trail yet to be opened this year.

Heavy snowfall in December plagued area trails with an abundance of sagging or fallen trees, making many of the trails nearly impossible to use. Crews, both paid and volunteers, have been working to clear the trails for recreational use. Thus far, those efforts have been slow to make progress.