By Shawn Perich
Kadunce Creek was kind to me. The big rainbow trout we call steelhead, newly arrived from the depths of Lake Superior, were unwary and willing to bite. In a half hour of fishing I hooked three of them, even though the water temperature was an icy 34 degrees. It seemed a good omen for a five-day fishing holiday.
Somewhere in 120 miles between me and Duluth, my friend Alan Lutkevich was fishing, too. We planned to scout out a few creeks and then meet at midmorning to start our fishing vacation. Most years, we spend this time fishing Ontario’s wild North Shore. Due to a much delayed spring, this year the steelhead spawning run was just getting started “down south” in Minnesota. Our plan was to stay at my house and fish the rivers near Grand Marais.
Two days of warm sunshine melted some of the deep snows blanketing the land and flooded the rivers with cold, dirty water. From experience, we knew the steelhead would show up as the muddy flows dropped and cleared. The big question was how soon this would occur. We just hoped the run would happen during our five days of fishing.
It didn’t happen on the first day. Neither of us had even a bite after my moment of glory on the Kadunce. It didn’t happen the second day, when each of us managed to catch one fish. Fishing improved on the third day, although it was still pretty tough. On the fourth day, the water temperature in the first stream we fished in the morning was 32 degrees. It snowed off and on during the day. Eventually, the water temperature warmed enough for a few fish to become active in the afternoon.
Finally, at mid-afternoon on our fifth and final day, it happened. The water temperature warmed to 42 degrees and suddenly the rivers were full of fish. I hooked more steelhead in a couple of hours than I had in the previous four days. The good fishing would likely last for several days, but for Al and I it was time to go back to work.
When it comes to catching fish, we’ve had better fishing trips. But our five-day backyard holiday was hardly a bust. Sometimes, you need to spend a little extra time in your own backyard just to reaffirm the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. I fished a few streams that I hadn’t had an opportunity to fish for several years and even explored on small creek I’d never fished before. I followed it for a half mile to a secluded Lake Superior beach. Dodging crashing surf, I found several small agates as the waves rearranged a pebble beach. At the mouth of another tiny tributary, we happened upon two otters perched on a large rock. They slipped into the lake before I could sneak close enough to take a picture.
Since we weren’t heading to Ontario, we purchased fishing licenses for the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, which contains some fine trout streams, including the famed Reservation River. Since I live just a few miles away, I’m looking forward to fishing there, something I haven’t done for several years.\
One afternoon, we walked along a creek near Grand Marais that flows through a deep ravine. Al caught a fish as we started out, giving us hope that we’d find more. We didn’t, but neither one of us thought the hike was a bust. The creek was postcard pretty and no one was around. Aside from catching something, trout fishing doesn’t get better.
Aside from Saturday, which was the Minnesota walleye fishing opener, we saw few other anglers. Even then, the anglers we did see all remarked on how few people were out on the rivers. Steelhead fishing has long been a popular spring activity along the North Shore. I don’t know if fishing interest is beginning to wane or if the late spring interrupted everyone’s fishing schedule. One thing is certain: the anglers weren’t inland exploring the North Shore’s many lakes, because all were covered with a thick layer of ice. Whether they will open in time for the second weekend of fishing season is anyone’s guess.
Among the anglers we did see were some familiar faces. One day, we ran into Duluth area angler and fly-fishing guide Keith Behn, who was looking at the water level of his favorite river. The water was looking good.
“If the fish aren’t here today, they’ll be here tomorrow,” Behn said. And he was right.
The next day, we ran into fly-fisher and artist Tim Pearson of Silver Bay working flies in the lower reaches of Minnesota’s Brule River. His lack of success that day was of little concern.
“I caught one here two weeks ago that rocketed out of the water when I set the hook,” he said. “I don’t mind getting my butt kicked by the fish today. It’s all worthwhile when you catch one.”
The following evening, a couple of fly-fishers arrived at my place, where they parked their Airstream trailer. Alaska and Minnesota fly-fishing guide Scott Thorpe was taking a busman’s holiday with his wife, Maria. They planned to fish around my place for a few days and then Scott would head to Ontario.
“I try to keep my guiding schedule clear during May,” he said. “This is my time to fish.”
Good for Scott. My schedule for the remainder of May is anything but clear. Since I live on the North Shore, I can sneak out for an hour or two of fishing whenever I have the opportunity. And I will. But it is rare when I take five days just to go fishing in my own backyard. Perhaps I should do so more often.