Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Points North Remembering Jack Skrypek

By Shawn Perich

Last year, I hiked up to the slides on the Reservation River, an out-of-the-way North Shore trout stream. Decades ago, the Reservation was considered one of Minnesota’s best steelhead rivers. These days, about the only anglers who fish there are the ones willing to spring a few extra bucks for a Grand Portage Indian Reservation fishing license. Most of the time, I have plenty of elbow room.

I walked into the river along the old Sleepy Hollow Road and then headed upstream. I passed around a couple of beaver dams, climbing over beaver-felled trees. There was no angler path along the bank, so I bulled my way through the alder brush. The river was running high and dirty. My goal was to get upstream of a muddy tributary to where the river runs clear.

A half-mile of busting the brush brought me to where two equally sized creeks—one clay-red and the other clear-flowing—merged. I walked up the clear creek, hoping to see a steelhead or two holding in the current. But the creek was high, fast and raucous as it tumbled through the rocks. I gave up and walked up the bank instead.

It was another quarter mile to the slides, which is an angler term for waterfalls comprised of sloping rock shelves. Sometimes a slide, like a waterfall, will prevent a spawning trout from swimming further upstream. In other situations, they can negotiate the rocky obstacle. Either way, migrating steelhead tend to “stack up” beneath slides or falls, which makes them good places to fish.

That’s the theory, anyway. I stood on the rocks and dangled a yarn fly into the frothing pockets where a steelhead could rest before muscling over the slides. Nobody was home. So I found a comfortable spot to sit down and enjoy just being there on a wild trout stream. As I did, I thought about the man who first described this spot to me, former Minnesota DNR fisheries chief Jack Skrypek.

Skrypek, who recently died at age 75, had fond memories of fishing the Reservation River during the 1960s and 70s. More than once, my interview with him for a news story or magazine article would end with a conversation about steelhead fishing. He was a trout fisherman at heart and that meant the Reservation River was forever running in his mind. He told me about the muddy tributary, the clear water above it where you can see steelhead and the slides, which he wasn’t sure the steelhead could ascend.

In a career of writing about fishing, Skrypek remains among the few fisheries professionals I’ve met who truly enjoyed fishing, even though, when I knew him, he didn’t seem to find the time to get out very often. But because he was a fisherman, he had an uncommon appreciation for Minnesota’s fisheries resources and the people who use them. And he based his fisheries management decisions on what was best for fish and anglers.

It was during the Skrypek years that Minnesota began edging away from the one-size-fits-all fishing seasons and bag limits that characterized old school fisheries management. He was also one of the first in the agency to reach out to rank-and-file anglers by forming the Minnesota Fishing Roundtable, which has become an annual January event encompassing fish, wildlife and ecology. Although he grappled with really tough issues, including treaty rights on Mille Lacs and private walleye rearing and stocking, he lacked the political sheen that so often coats today’s fish and wildlife bureaucrats.

In short, Skrypek was a regular guy who cared deeply about Minnesota’s fish and fishing. You really can’t ask for more in a state fisheries chief.

After he retired as fisheries chief, outgoing Governor Arne Carlson launched a Minnesota lakes initiative, which was intended guide the management of our 10,000 lakes (arguably the state’s most valuable natural resource). Skrypek was chosen to lead the fledgling project forward. Unfortunately, the next governor was less enamored with lakes and the initiative died for lack of political support. Funny thing, but Governor Carlson, who made no bones about being a city slicker, arguably was the last Governor who made a serious effort at bettering Minnesota’s outdoors.

As for Skrypek, there is no doubt that he served as a role model and mentor to folks of my generation both inside and outside the Minnesota DNR. He was the sort of man who made decisions based on what was right for the fishery resource, while also being considerate of the people who use it. Even though the fishing was slow, I wish he could have accompanied me on that walk along the Reservation River. I would have enjoyed his company. And I know he’ll be in my thoughts whenever I go there in the future.

Lake Superior Fishing Warms Up

“You should be out on the lake,” my neighbor said last Saturday.

He went on to tell me he’d been out twice in the previous 24 hours. Lake trout were biting in the shoreline shallows. Summer had finally arrived on Lake Superior. Until last week, the lake’s surface water temperatures were in the 30s and 40s—too cold for successful trolling. Finally the temps had nudged up to 50 degrees, triggering feeding activity in trout and salmon.

Usually, this summer warm-up occurs in early to mid-July. This summer—or what has passed for summer—the lake stayed cool. Heck, there were still hunks of ice floating around out there in June. Hopefully, we may get to enjoy a few weeks of good fishing. If you like Lake Superior trolling, now is the time to get out and do it.

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