Mink Displays Impressive Fishing Expertise
When most folks say they like being where “things are happening,” they usually mean a place buzzing with human activity.
Eric Christensen of Stoughton, Wisconsin, has a different idea. As a stalwart wildlife photographer (@salmobyfly on Instagram) who isn’t deterred by cold weather, Christensen likes hiding along river banks where fast currents forbid ice from forming. These open river sections create oases that attract ducks, geese, mergansers and other waterfowl looking to eat or rest.
Christensen seldom leaves home without his Nikon camera and Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens beside him, even if it’s just to drive his kids to practices and other functions. And if he has an early morning or late afternoon to himself, he goes looking for his definition of action.
On a recent December morning, Christensen set up his camouflage blind along open water on a river, dropped his seat-pad onto a dry spot, and settled in. Experience told him any wildlife within sight or sound would need 30 to 45 minutes to forget his intrusion or accept his presence. As he waited, he figured his best bet for photographs would be common mergansers returning to feed on minnows in front of his blind.
As he kept watch, he noticed movement 50 yards down the riverbank, and saw a mink pop out of the water and scurry for land. He faced his camera lens that way in hopes the mink would work his way. It moved closer, but then disappeared. When it didn’t reappear after a while, Christensen turned his lens back toward open water.
Soon after, he spotted movement again, but much closer. He spotted the mink beside an iced-in tree stump about 10 feet away, and soon realized the stump provided an access point to water below. The mink, meanwhile, realized Christensen wasn’t just another stump or muskrat house, and eyed him while sniffing suspiciously.
But not for long. “It seemed to figure I was no threat and that everything was fine,” Christensen said. “When it went down the hole, I figured it was disappearing for good, but it popped back up about 15 seconds later with a small fish, and laid it on the bank. I was thinking I’d get some photos of it eating the fish, but it went back down the hole again, and returned 15 seconds later with another small fish. It made three dives, caught three fish, and laid out all three on the bank before stopping to eat them.”
Christensen said the mink wasn’t done fishing, though. Before long, it zipped back down the hole and returned with another 3- to 4-inch fish. During a 30-minute period, the mink caught and ate eight fish, which included a bass, bullhead, perch, crappies and bluegills.
He said that was the third or fourth time he’s seen a mink while photographing, but never before had he photographed a mink fishing.
“I used to think mergansers were good at fishing, but that mink put on a performance second to none,” Christensen said. “It was truly spectacular. Every time it came out, it had a fish in its mouth. There’s no stop signs out there for a mink. They can run, climb, swim and go just about anywhere.”
At one point Christensen scooched about 5 feet ahead to avoid a branch that was interfering with his pictures, but the mink didn’t stop its work.
“It was really bold,” Christensen said. “The shutter on my camera isn’t silent, but the mink didn’t care about the sound. It just kept fishing and eating. It wasn’t fazed, but it kept an eye on me. Cool things are always happening out in the woods if you stay quiet enough, but seeing a mink fishing is pretty spectacular.”
Mink are about the size of a cat, and belong to the same family as weasels, martens, fishers, badgers and wolverines. Males weigh about 3 pounds and measure 23 to 28 inches long with a 9-inch tail. Females measure 18 to 22 inches long and aren’t as heavy. When threatened, mink secrete a foul-smelling liquid from their rear end, but they can’t spray it as skunks do.
Mink are fairly common across Wisconsin, but are seldom seen because they’re most active at night. As carnivores, they’ll eat nearly anything that bleeds, including crayfish, ducks frogs, fish, mice, muskrats, rabbits and even squirrels. They typically kill their prey by biting the neck.
They seldom damage buildings or other human property, but they’re capable of “mass murder.” If they get into a chicken coop, they’re notorious for killing far more than they can eat. In some cases they wipe out every chicken in the coop in one night, biting off their heads and lining up their kills in a neat row.
As Christensen witnessed, mink are deadly in water, too. He said he couldn’t see the mink as it swam and fished the river, but assumes it’s extremely fast, stealthy and aggressive.
“It caught eight fish in 30 minutes,” he said. “I assumed the fish would spook and scatter after the first couple of attacks. When I catch fish in shallow areas, the place goes dead after I catch a few, and then you wait awhile before they relax and start biting again.”
Although it’s rare for mink to be targeted by other predators, they’re occasionally nailed by hawks, owls, eagles and other predatory birds. Trappers often target them, of course, because mink are famous for their rich, smooth chocolate-colored pelts.
The 2018-19 fur harvest summary compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports that trappers caught 4,299 mink last year. Mink ranked No. 6 behind the raccoon, muskrat, coyote, otter and fisher in popularity among trappers; with 1,204 trappers pursuing them a year ago.