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Video shows wolf fishing for spawning suckers in northern Minnesota

Greg Stanley, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

MINNEAPOLIS — Late in the dark of night a wolf stands alone, listening, on the shore of an island in the Ash River in northern Minnesota. A splash. The wolf darts into the water, corrals the fish toward shore, dunks her head under and pulls up a fat white sucker.

The spring spawning run has begun for one the state's most abundant fish, a time when white suckers leave their comfortable depths to swim up into the stony creeks and shallows to lay their eggs. And some of Minnesota's more enterprising wolves, much like grizzly bears targeting salmon out west, are going to the rivers to feast.

The Ash River encounter was captured around 3 a.m. on a recent Sunday on a trail camera set up by Ian Smith, a research technician with the Voyageurs Wolf Project. The research project, which gets funding from state lottery profits, uses a web of trail cameras and GPS collars to study how Minnesota's wolves behave, hunt and survive in the summer, when they've historically been most difficult to track. It's the first time researchers with the project has been able to film a wolf pulling a fish out of the water.

"It shows how flexible their hunting strategies are," said Thomas Gable, project lead.

Wolves will hunt in packs to chase, outlast and run down moose that are 10 to 20 times their size. They'll sprint after deer alone. They can scavenge. And, as the video shows, they'll sit waiting like a cat in ambush throughout the early morning hours in the hope that a fish will rise.

 

The wolf in the video is collared and is part of a small pack that's been in the area for years. It's just her, her mate and a litter of three pups, Gable said.

GPS data shows that quickly after catching the fish, she ran back to her den — presumably to feed it to her pups — then returned to the same shoreline to keep fishing, Gable said.

The spawn lasts a few weeks and takes place almost entirely at night. In daylight the fish retreat back into the safety of deeper waters.

Late spring and early summer can be lean times for Minnesota's wolves. Deer fawns have grown up and are more difficult to catch. There's no snow yet to slow prey. Wolf pups are a little bigger and require more food. When the spawning run ends in a week or two, the wolves start to rely more on berries, beaver and what deer they are able to chase down.


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