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Minky

Mink are one of my favorite animals.  I am sure part of the reason for that is that it is in my blood.  My Gramps Roth trapped and mink were one of the most profitable and valued catches on his trap-line.  They have always been my favorite fur-bearer to trap too, Back on The Line.

I spend most of my time fishing in a pair of waders.  Another reason I love mink is I often encounter them while I am fishing.  You see, mink are semi-aquatic and they spend a lot of their time hunting on that edge between the land and the water–shorelines.  I spend a lot of my time on shorelines too and often see mink.  I am not superstitious, but any day I see a mink while I am fishing is a good day.

I can tell you a lot of mink stories.  If you ever see a mink, spend some time watching them.  If you do not spook them, you can often follow along behind as they hunt.  Mink can “weasel” into any little hole and often do so while searching for prey.  Back in my grad. school days up in South Dakota there was a mink that had been catching some of our fishy research subjects from some research ponds just north of campus.  One of my professors knew I was a trapper and assigned me the task of trapping the mink.  While I was trying to figure out how I was going to trap that mink one afternoon, I saw him run from one pond to another.  I sneaked over to the edge of the pond and watched as the mink slipped into a hole in the plastic curtain dividing the research pond.  Bingo, I knew how I was going to trap my mink.  And I did.

Another time while trying to call a fox along a SoDakota wetland I watched a mink amble across the ice checking muskrat houses.  Mink and muskrats are a classic predator/prey relationship.  When no foxes came running to my best screaming rabbit imitation, I walked over to follow the mink tracks across the ice.  That mink checked every muskrat house and push-up and eventually I followed its tracks to one house where there were no tracks leading away.  Sure enough that mink was busy trying to drill into the frozen muskrat house to catch a meal.  It did not have a clue I was standing there watching.  I decided I would sure like to add another mink to my fur pile, but I did not want to put a hole in it by shooting it.  So, I found a stick and waited at the muskrat house for the mink to quit drilling and come back out.  All I could see was the end of its tail.  Eventually it backed out and we had a Keystone Cops chase around the muskrat house a time or two.  I was swinging my stick and falling on the ice.  Eventually the mink ran up into the grass with me hot on its tail and after dancing around a bit more I finally added some more to my fur check.

Many times I have tried taking pictures of mink I encounter, especially when I am fishing.  Most of those efforts have been futile.  My son and I encountered a mink at a western Nebraska reservoir one time, and this particular mink kept working the rocks around us trying to find something to eat.  We would see it every 20 minutes or so and it seemed to keep running the same circuit.  Eventually we retrieved a stressed gizzard shad from the water and I had a bright idea–I would put the fish on a rock and then wait with my camera for the mink to come find it.  What amazed me about this encounter is how soon the mink knew there was something in the vicinity it wanted to eat.  Shortly after walking along the rocks and placing the fish where I thought I could get a picture, the mink stuck its head up out of a crevice and started sniffing the air.  I will tell you that a mink’s eyesight is not great, they are very near-sighted, but they have an excellent sense of smell.  That mink knew instantly that there was a fish there on the shoreline near it.  It bounded over the rocks directly to my fish, like it had GPS telling it exactly where to go.  Once there it grabbed the fish and showed me why my plan was not a good one–the fish was not “nailed down” and the mink grabbed it and went right back into a hole in the rocks.  Here is the picture I got:

Mink miss

Look close and you can see the fish in its mouth.

A couple of times this fall I ended up fishing the same shoreline a mink was hunting.  The first time was an afternoon when the wind was blowing 133 mph, and the mink was working the shoreline, checking every nook and cranny for a potential meal.  It saw me several yards up the shore and began frantically sniffing the air trying to identify what I might be.  I laughed because it was straight upwind of me.  No amount of checking the wind was going to do it any good.

A couple of weeks later, near the same spot, I crossed paths with what was probably the same mink.  This time it had no idea I was there.  I caught no fish that afternoon, maybe because I spent so much time watching the mink?  Its predation strategy had changed this time; it was diving into the water catching something, small fish I believe.

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On point.

In that photo you can see minky looking into the water for prey.  Some scents are carried on the surface of the water, suppose it could smell something below the surface?

It would slip into and then under the water and when it did that, I could sneak closer.  I could follow its path under water by watching its bubbles rise to the surface.  At times it would be positioned vertically in the water with nothing but its tail sticking up like a periscope.  I wish I could have gotten a picture of that.  I laughed again.

When it would come out of the water it would shake.

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I know it was successful because many times I could see it chomping down a meal, but I never was sure if it was eating crayfish or small fish.  I am betting small fish, small green sunfish.

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Then it would shuffle down the bank and try again.

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“You watchin’ me?”
Yes I am, Minky, and thank you for the show!

I could tell you a lot more mink stories, but a couple of these are the only ones I have pictures to go along with the stories.  You know I am very serious about my fishing, am always fishing hard trying to catch fish, trying to catch big fish.  But, I am reminded of the theme of our fishing promotion this past spring, “It’s never JUST fishing”.  Even during a hard-core fishing trip, it is really nice to stop and watch the minks!  I love ‘em.

MinkChristmas

About Daryl Bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

3 comments

  1. Daryl, Chuck Scalet and I loved watching the mink at Lake Preston while we were waiting for a pike to set off a tip-up at the railroad trestle.

  2. I would agree that anytime I saw them little buggers it was a good thing for me also. I just got in their way half the time. They were the one animal that could care less if I was standing in their path when they were on the hunt. They definitetly know when fish are in the area.

    My other favorite animal on the rocks is that little grebe that notoriously dives around my fan cast area. I think that sucker just waits for me sometimes! He’s another one that knows when the fish are playing.

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