OGDEN -- One of the byproducts of Ogden's efforts to make the Ogden River Parkway more welcoming may be that it has made the area more welcoming for mink.
Not mink to make coats out of. These are common, American, fish-stealing mink. They are mink so aggressive, or hungry, they're willing to play tug-of-war for a 13-inch brown trout.
Marianne Mancuso played that game with a mink and lost. It was the fish or her tackle, she said, and the mink, all 15 inches of it -- not counting the tail -- won.
Mancuso, of Ogden, likes to fish in the Ogden River because it's an easy cycling distance from her home.
Lately, she said, she has noticed some carnivorous competition at her favorite fishing hole, which is under the Harrison Boulevard bridge.
"Earlier this spring, the black minks were out, and now they're back," Mancuso said. On Oct. 2, "I was fishing under Harrison. I caught two 13-inch trout, (and) a mink stole them."
She had the fish on a chain in the water, and the mink came right up and grabbed one of the fish.
"I grabbed the chain because he was pulling my chain out into the river," she said.
"I had the chain, and he had the fish," and Mancuso finally fed one of the fish to the mink.
Thinking she would still have fish for dinner, "I was leaving with the biggest fish I had, and here comes another mink, and it came close to my feet, so I fed it my other fish."
As she climbed up the rocks away from the river, she saw four more mink.
This isn't the first time she has seen mink -- or been robbed by them.
Mancuso, who got into trouble in 2008 for setting fires in abandoned houses near the river but has since repented and served time, said she fishes in the river almost daily. She has seen mink in the river near Washington Boulevard, and even farther down.
"Last year, I was fishing and caught a 14-inch brown," she said, "and I moved downriver by Walmart," near Wall Avenue.
"I put the brown into the water, and people said, 'Hey, ma'am, a muskrat's got hold of your fish,' and it was a black mink."
Mancuso pulled the fish out and put it on her bike for safety, and the mink "tried to get it off that, and so I left. I wanted to keep that brown."
"It's frustrating because I want to go fishing again. Those mink are aggressive, and I'm amazed how many of them there are," she said.
Mancuso is amazed, but the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources isn't.
Mancuso speculated that the mink might be escapees from commercial mink ranches in Morgan, or even part of a batch released last year by animal rights activists.
But Phil Gray, at the Ogden office of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said no, these are native critters.
Any of the mink released by activists quickly died, he said.
"If they didn't get hit by cars, they starved to death. Those are captive mink. They don't know how to survive in the wild."
The division's website says the common wild American mink has a range that extends all up and down the Wasatch Front and east into the Uinta Mountains in Utah. They're common all over the U.S. and Canada.
"The species may be found in the northern half of Utah, where it prefers wetlands, marshes and riparian zones, particularly those near forested areas," the website states.
That very accurately describes the Ogden River Parkway, which Gray said is actually pretty ideal from a mink's point of view. And, he said, there have been other reported sightings of mink there.
Mink normally live in the mountains, "but if one does follow the river down and finds a nice little home, there's no predators, no danger."
Mink are carnivores, eating birds, insects, small mammals and, yes, fish.
That means someone like Mansuco is, from a mink's point of view, room service.
"Once they learn of this two-legged ape that walks up and puts a meal on the riverbank," Gray said, "they're going to go grab it."
Phil Douglass, DWR outreach coordinator, said anyone who thinks DWR should control the mink needs to keep in mind that the river parkway is meant to be a natural area, and mink are part of nature.
If mink are grabbing an occasional fish, he said, "they're doing what mink do."
Mink are a protected species, he said, which means people who want to hunt them would need to get a license and do their hunting or trapping during the proper season.
Mink aren't the only critters along the river. There are beaver and muskrats, Gray said. Deer and moose are common all over Ogden. Last year, someone even caught a bear in Ogden Canyon.
"That's one of the nice things about living in Ogden," Gray said. "The wilderness is right next door."
Mancuso said, wilderness or not, she's not quitting fishing.
About two weeks ago, she said, a mink "went right between my feet and grabbed my fish," but she managed to pull that one back and take it home for the frying pan.
But Mancuso is not uncharitable about things.
On Thursday, when she went fishing again, "I caught five, threw two back and left one for the mink."