Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rainbow Trout Stocking update

Many anglers have asked about steelhead and kamloops stocking along the north shore.  Here is some information from the MN DNR management plan outlining the 2015 stocking statistics.

Reminder, even though some steelhead you may catch are stocked, you still cannot harvest them. This will be apparent as the adipose fin is not clipped on stocked steelhead.  The adipose fin is only clipped on kamloops rainbow trout, and only clipped fin rainbow trout may be harvested in the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior.  This fin clipping is done when the fish are juveniles. The clipped fin area will be recognized by a healed over scar. 

Steelhead Stocking:
A total of 356,390 steelhead fry were stocked in 2015 (Table 4). Stocked fish were offspring produced from Knife River captive broodstock and/or wild adult steelhead captured at the mouth of the French River. Steelhead fry continue to be reared for short lengths of time at the Spire Valley Hatchery (SVH) to prevent the potential introduction of VHS above the natural barriers. The fry are then transported in well water to North Shore tributaries and stocked upstream of natural barriers. Extended periods of very warm Lake Superior water in 2012 caused considerable mortality of steelhead broodstock in the FRCWH, which reduced fry availability in recent years. The steelhead stocking quota was modified with revisions to the 2016 Lake Superior Management Plan. The annual quota will be reduced or eliminated at some rivers in future years to more accurately reflect the annual fry availability over the past decade. Progress has been made to replace the losses of captive steelhead broodstock at the FRCWH, but it will take several more years before it is completely replenished.

 Table 4. Steelhead fry stocking quota and number stocked in 2015 by MNDNR management area and stream.

MNDNR Management Area  Stream  Quota  Number Stocked
Duluth Area French River 150,000 99,908
Gooseberry River 50,000 37,282
Lester River 100,000 71,743
Silver Creek 50,000 23,617
Finland Area Split Rock River 150,000 66,151
Baptism River 150,000 57,689
Total 650,000 356,390

Kamloops Stocking:
 A total of 102,649 Kamloops yearlings were stocked in the French River (45,446), Lester River (19,730), and McQuade Harbor (37,473) in 2015, which exceeded the annual quota of 92,500. About 73% of the Kamloops quota is partially reared at SVH before being returned to the FRCWH each year. Spire Valley Kamloops are reared for approximately three months at FRCWH prior to being stocked into Lake Superior. The remaining Kamloops are reared entirely at the FRCWH prior to stocking in Lake Superior.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Women on the Fly Streamside clinic

Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore: The shores give way to an expanse of water that is Lake Superior into which our favorite tributaries flow.  The river mouths serving as the staging ground for the trout gathering in anticipation of Mother Nature’s cues to embark on their annual upstream journey.  Surrounded by vast forests are the picturesque waterfalls where our treasured steelhead venture in early spring in pursuit of the perfect spawning ground and a suitable mate.  As the season warms and the spawning cycle reaches completion, the bright silver flashes of a hen digging redds and the trail of males usually found trailing close behind her begin to fade indicating they have begun their retreat toward their primary residence in Lake Superior.

For many anglers the end of the spawn marks the end of their annual steelhead fishing.  While the visible activity may not be as apparent, a patient and knowledgeable angler can continue finding plenty of activity beneath the water this time of year.  Fishing for backdrops is greatly satisfying and offers up a golden opportunity to lean on your knowledge of the water and understanding of the fish.  This was the basis of our 2016 Women on the Fly Streamside Clinic that was held on the Baptism River this past Saturday, May 21st

Five of our eight registered participants were able to attend the clinic, two North Shore residents and three made the trek from the twin cities area. Three ladies brought spinning setups and two used fly rods.  Each woman was given a binder containing an outline of the day’s discussion topics, several articles related to what they’d be learning on the water and other information pertaining to the fishery, species identification, techniques, etc. so they have something to reference after the clinic.  Anyone who’s been new to fly fishing and steelheading knows there is a great deal of information to process.  Rods, reels, lines, leaders… Pockets, seams, tail outs, riffles… Steelhead, Kamloops, Brook Trout, Browns… Having the information organized and accessible for the women after the clinic is just as vital as going over it during the event.  Our goal is not only to get them out and comfortable on the water but to provide resources to help keep them on the water.

It was my privilege to coordinate and lead the inaugural Minnesota Steelheader’s Women on the Fly Clinic.  To help instruct and assist in the discussion were my fiancĂ© Jared and Neil, Minnesota Steelheader’s VP.  The weather was perfect as we gathered at the picnic tables near the Tettegouche lot for introductions and to cover the basics: Steelhead/Kamloop identification, habitat, history and life spawning cycles, a summary of typical species caught during the spring steelhead run, overview of techniques and when to apply each from shore casting to fly fishing, review of gear, reading water, river crossing and safety tips.  When the class portion had concluded, the women had an opportunity to look more closely at the gear we talked about as the contents of my own hip bag were displayed on the picnic table.  They asked great questions about the different flies and yarn colors and were able to take anything they needed; hooks, sinkers, yarn, swivels, flies and so on.  We were now ready to go streamside!

The hike down to the water was beautiful.  We paused on the bridge overlooking the river to review how to identify seams, pocket water, eddies, etc.  Arriving at our streamside location we broke down into groups: Jared with Deb, Kady with Neil and I had Natalie and Samantha.  Our teenage angler who was familiar with the stretch we were fishing and had some previous experience steelheading with her dad, floated between us.  Our young angler’s wit and enthusiasm for the outdoors was contagious and we were fortunate to have her with us!

We provided lessons on snelling yarn, guidance on the areas to target and why and instruction in technique.  It wasn’t very long after we had everyone in the water and fishing that one of our participants had a fish on.  More specifically, Natalie had an approximately 24-inch bright hen on the end of her line that was jumping through the air and giving her a true, wild steelhead battle.  It took a couple of attempts but we were able to land the fish.  Handing Natalie her first river steelie was an awesome moment to put it mildly!  Just as soon as we had stopped trembling from the excitement of Nat’s catch, I received word that Deb had caught a juvenile steelhead!  I then ran upstream to check in with Deb who was up around the corner from us and when I returned to Natalie and Samantha I learned that Sam had caught a brook trout!  We don’t go into these clinics with the expectation of catching fish because our primary objective is helping participants get comfortable on the water, become familiar with the equipment and work on developing good technique.  We consider any fish caught to be a bonus so with 3 of our 5 ladies getting fish, we definitely hit the lotto!

We started the clinic at 9:45am and before I knew it, we had bypassed our end time of 12:45pm.  Time absolutely flew by. My original intention was to work with all of the women one-on-one throughout our time on the water however I had only briefly been upstream with Deb and hadn’t work with Kady at all.  Despite it not going exactly how I envisioned, the event exceeded my expectations.  Kady was in great hands with Neil and she picked up the technique beautifully as did Deb under Jared’s instruction.  Both Samantha and Natalie were quick to learn and asked a lot of great questions.  The enthusiasm of our 15-yr old participant for the outdoors and for steelheading is admirable.  She is incredibly driven and just an overall great young lady.  Working with this group of women was an honor, they all did an amazing job and should be very proud of themselves.  Every one of them earned their place on the North Shore as Women on the Fly!

The weather was perfect, the low water made it easy to identify the different types of water, Neil and Jared did an exceptional job with the ladies under their instruction and with adding to our discussion, we caught fish in the locations we were teaching the women to target for back drop fish and I had the best group of women I could possibly have had for our first event.  At the end of the day everyone had a positive experience and were asking about future clinics.  Our first clinic was a great success!
When we created Women on the Fly, we really had no idea what kind of response we would receive.  We are the first to offer a North Shore steelheading/fly fishing women’s program so much of what we are doing and events we’ll be offering are essentially new, unexplored territories and concepts.  To see the number of women wanting to learn and seeking the resources they need to become successful anglers is exciting.  The North Shore’s female anglers are massively unrepresented but as we continue to develop and build Women on the Fly, there is no doubt that’ll change.  More and more people are recognizing the value in the program and are offering their support.  More and more women are realizing that it’s really not an intimidating sport if you have the right resources and knowhow.  We have a great thing going with Women on the Fly and I am excited to see what the future holds for the program.

Thank you to Jared, Neil and all of our participants for making our first Women on the Fly Streamside Clinic a huge success!


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lisa's Journey to Becoming a Woman on the Fly:

As we prepare to share stories and experiences of steelheading ladies, I figure it's time to provide a glimpse into my own journey.

Many folks envision a successful steelhead angler as someone with a particular grace with a fly rod.  An example of intense focus and patience.  A person at ease on the rugged terrain that must be traversed through dense forest and swift, flowing rivers.  An individual who exudes that special sense of peace when in nature...

There I stood one April morning on a North Shore stream for the first time.  The cute guy I had convinced to take me fishing had provided a couple lessons in casting, drifting, knot tying and yarn cutting but that was the limit of my training. As gentle rays of the new day's early light peered delicately through the trees, we began to fish.  After a few unfruitful drifts we trudged further upstream and again I presented that little snippet of yarn, while in the back of my mind wrestling with the rationale of expecting a fish to strike the tiny bundle of fibers.  Within seconds however the proof
was right there, ripping line from my fly reel, testing the strength and flex of the 9 ft., 8 wt. rod and jumping through the air, putting on an impressive display. That quiet, serene morning took a turn very quick when I hooked that steelhead.  I froze in both shock and awe at the utter power of the fish while Jared and his buddy started yelling instructions.  Mind you, until this moment my battles as an angler had been with pan fish, walleye and the occasional pike on walleye rods and spinning reels so most terms being hurled at me were completely foreign.  Despite the guys' best intentions to help, I just didn't understand what on earth they were telling me to do.  I lost my first steelhead.  As it turned out, that was the first of many steelies I would lose until our last stop on the last day of our last trip of my second steelheading season.

Remember those ideal attributes of many successful steelhead anglers I mentioned earlier?  Well as a hot-headed, Irish girl I was not naturally blessed with those qualities.  For some of us, having those traits from the get go isn't what makes us great steelheaders.  In my case it was the determination and drive to be a great steelheader that helped me to develop those attributes. 

I spent two seasons hooking fish but failing to land them.  Or Jare would hand over the rod when he'd hook a fish and I could land those. Two seasons of hat-stomping frustration and some colorful language eventually led me to find patience and peace.  Two seasons of demanding unrealistic expectations of myself despite inexperience and unfamiliar conditions taught me to focus on the present, to be more open to change and to further my adaptability.  The learning curve was pretty steep but finally after two challenging seasons I made my first official steelhead catch.  Though it wasn't an impressive steelie nor a dramatic battle, I wouldn't change it for the world.  That moment signified a lot of work and represented many obstacles overcome. The pieces had finally all fallen into place and I've been a steelheader ever since. 

Not long after that, Jared and I decided to move up to his childhood home on Minnesota's majestic North Shore and are raising our family here.  The opportunity to frequent these rivers as often as I do is amazing.  You'd think by now I would've learned how to walk the trails with more grace than an elephant on roller skates but not the case.  I still face-plant in mud on a regular basis, still take out frustration on any inexpensive piece of gear that can be hurled to the ground without breaking from time to time.  I still about jump out of my waders when a small critter catches me off guard while I'm fishing.  Some things may never change but some of my favorite aspects of the sport are the unique adventures, constant challenges and the crazy experiences. 

I want other women to experience the empowerment that comes with conquering these rivers and battling these strong, beautiful trout.  I want women to see that they have a place among the guys and know that while we are the minority, there are more like-minded women out there than we realize. 
It's an honor to be a part of a program like Minnesota Steelheader's Women on the Fly and to be able to help share the stories we otherwise wouldn't hear.  A couple such stories will be coming up soon and if you would like to share yours, we'd love to hear from you!  Feel free to shoot us an email to anytime!


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mid and Upper Shore Updates

Couple updates for you-

Mid Shore: This Region is just hitting the initiation temps. Stream temp increases are being inhibited by remaining snow-pack and melt along the Mid Shore, but flows are increasing for the same reason. Ignore the catch trend for anything after the 8th, we are waiting for the latest creel reports which are not reflected in the data below:

Upper Shore: Looks good right? Not so fast my steelheading friends.... Our only Index Stream with a temperature package is really small, consequently it usually hits initiation temps 7-10 days prior to the bulk of the Upper Shore steelhead streams. Basically you can't use it to gauge wider conditions, but it still is a great resource. Here too, stream temp increases are being inhibited by remaining snow-pack and melt along the Upper Shore, but flows are increasing for the same reason. Ignore the catch trend for anything after the 10th, we are waiting for the latest creel reports which are not reflected in the data below:

Overall, we are finally there. It's been a really strange pre-run, we'll have more analysis once we release the 2016 Creel Project results in early June. For now, get out there! We are getting some crazy reports from both Lower and Mid Shore.

As always, we appreciate you submitting any and all Creel Project Reports. You and submit Creel Reports HERE

And don't forget about the Steelhead Genetics Project. For more information, contact Nick Peterson at (218) 302-3272 or by e-mail: Nick Peterson 

Minnesota Steelheader

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lower Shore Update

    It appears based on everything we are seeing in the data that we have finally hit the initiation temps on the Lower North Shore. We should be seeing significant numbers of adult steelhead beginning their upstream migration in earnest. Look for a large increase in both trap numbers as well as fish reported in the creel. We've included max daily temps in this graphic as well, just so you get a feel for what they are doing.

The creel trend below flat-lines after the 10th simply because we don't have any fresher reports yet, so don't let that fool you. It's magic time for the Lower Shore


Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Creel Project Running Totals

DATE: 05/27/2016
Lower Shore
Brook Trout
Number Reported001
Total Reported13338214
DATE: 05/17/2016
Mid Shore
Brook Trout
Number Reported2100
Total Reported5632112
DATE: 05/27/2016
Upper Shore
Brook Trout
Number Reported1190
Total Reported22954
DATE: 05/27/2016
Shore-Wide Totals
Brook Trout
Number Reported13191
Total Reported91754230

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Updated 2016 Creel Trend - All Three North Shore Regions

Wow, we just cannot seem to get a jump-start from stream temps. Fish are active and sneaking in when stream temps peak in the afternoons, but we just have not gotten that first major up-bound migration yet:

Lower Shore Creel Trend as of 04.08.2016

Mid Shore Creel Trend as of 04.08.2016

Upper Shore Creel Trend as of 04.08.2016

Friday, April 08, 2016

2016 Running Trap Summary

DATE: 04/15/2016
Knife River Flow: 349 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured19204223
Total Captured10311081211
DATE: 04/15/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 41.36°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured3861387
Total Captured5312533
DATE: 04/11/2016
Knife River Flow: 166 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured84231315
Total Captured84904988
DATE: 04/11/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 33.43°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured202
Total Captured1451146
DATE: 04/06/2016
Knife River Flow: 130 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured0673673
Total Captured0673673
DATE: 04/06/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 31.81°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured00144
Total Captured1431144
DATE: 04/05/2016
Knife River Flow: 142 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured000
Total Captured000
DATE: 04/05/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 31.02°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured1431144
Total Captured1431144
DATE: 03/31/2016
Knife River Flow: 447 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured000
Total Captured000
DATE: 03/31/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 32.58°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured000
Total Captured000
DATE: 03/27/2016
Knife River Flow: 147 CFS
French RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured000
Total Captured000
DATE: 03/27/2016
Index River Avg Temp: 32.02°F
Knife RiverSteelheadKamloops
Number Captured000
Total Captured000

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


A fisherwomen's checklist - Part one:

Being equipped properly on the water is not just a matter of comfort.  It is a matter of safety.  All anglers will find themselves in a risky scenario at some point and that is when you need to be confident that you can trust your gear with your life. 

Let’s review the basics: Polarized sunglasses, stocking foot waders, wading boots, base layers, hat and hip pack

Polarized Sunglasses:
Whether you are whipping fly line around or dislodging a snag, you want your eyeballs to be protected from flying hooks and sinkers.  Shades are essential.  The functionality of the polarized lenses will become apparent as you learn to look through the water versus at the water.  Not only will you be able to spot your target fish in some instances but the ability to see through the water will also give you a boost of confidence as you begin crossing rivers.
Polarized shades are pretty easy to find.  Just be sure they fit your melon well because you’ll sweat and be moving around so unless they are snug on your face, they’ll fall right off and be long gone before you realize they’re missing.

Stocking-foot Waders:
Good quality womens waders are difficult to find.  Cabelas make some that fit well and would suit a beginner just fine.  When purchasing waders, keep in mind that you need enough room to layer underneath for those cold, early spring mornings but don’t want to be swimming in them when you’re rocking the minimum base layers on warm, late spring days.  You need to move freely and comfortably in your waders.  Too much constriction and you’ll blow out the rear when bending over to land your fish. Too much bunching or bagginess will make you feel like an orca in a kiddy pool.  The best way to figure out what size works best for you is by trying them on.  Acknowledging that not all of us are  within reasonable driving distance to retailer’s physical locations, Cabelas, Simms, Gander Mountain, etc. all provide measurements on their websites to help you decide what size to purchase if you are shopping online.
Over time if you discover your waders aren’t holding up to your active angling, my recommendation is to look into purchasing Simms womens waders.  Simms make very high-quality, well-constructed waders for women.  For those of us above or below the “average” height standard, Simms offers both “tall” and “short” sizing.  As a tall woman who spends substantial time in waders, having that extra length goes a long way in terms of comfort and overall function. 

Your wading belt needs to be snug and secure.  In the event you get washed downstream, the purpose of that belt is to keep your waders from filling with water causing you to sink to the bottom of the river. It’s much harder for water to get below a properly secured wading belt, allowing you more time to get out of the dangerous situation. You may smell like a wet puppy once you’re back on shore but you’ll be a live wet puppy.
Wading Boots:
You have two basic options when it comes to wading boots: Rubber or felt-soled.  Some states have banned felt-soled wading boots in an effort to stop the spread of invasive species from watershed to watershed.  Minnesota currently does not have any restrictions so you still have a choice between the two.  Rubber-soled boots have made massive strides over the last decade so the pros and cons pretty well match its felt counterpart according to most people, especially when used with studs for additional traction.  My personal experience has been exclusively with felt-soled wading boots.  Despite different brands, my felt-soled boots have always provided adequate traction and stability on various terrain.  Even if I’m crossing a mucky stream where it’s impossible to see the bottom, I’m confident my boots will perform and help get me to the other side safely.  There are several brands of wading boots (both rubber and felt-soled) to choose from.  My recommendations again are Cabelas womens wading boots or Simms womens wading boots.  Both brands make felt and rubber-soled options and both make wading boots that can handle the rugged hiking that’s required to get to some of our favorite North Shore honey holes! 
Base Layers & Wading Socks:
To stay dry and comfortable on the water you want a fitted, moisture-wicking base layer.  Steelheading on the North Shore in spring can mean you’ll start out fishing in morning temps at or below freezing and by lunchtime you’re basking in 60 degree sun.  Embrace the layering!  If the forecast calls for some chilly weather, I’ll usually throw on a Henley and fleece zip up or hoody over my base layer.  Finally I’ll top off with a light jacket.  It takes some experimenting to figure out what layers work best for you but the key components you must have are your base layer top and bottom and wading socks to keep any sweat away from your skin.  Cabelas, Gander Mountain and Under Armor are my recommendations for finding layering pieces.  **Just because waders have to be boring earthy tones doesn’t mean you can’t rock bright pink thermals underneath.  Embrace your cheetah print loving self in your layers girl!

Worn in addition to your polarized shades, a hat will provide more sun protection as well as reduce glare helping you see through the water even better.  My recommendation: A Minnesota Steelheader hat of course!  Not only are Minnesota Steelheader hats a good luck charm, the proceeds fund steelhead genetics research!

 Hip Packs:
Aside from shore casting, the fishing techniques we utilize for steelheading don’t require us to carry much.  Most things found in a steelheader’s bag of goodies: Scissors, pliers, small tackle box with hooks and sinkers, flies, pocket knife, spawn, file, fishing license (with trout stamp) and perhaps a few more items depending on the individual.  Hip bags and packs come in all shapes and sizes and can be found at any sporting goods store and online.  For a beginner, think simple.  You want a pack that is big enough to hold your supplies but not so big that all of your stuff rolls around leaving you reaching into a dark dungeon of chaos every time you need something.  Your selection should be comfortable to wear and easy to keep organized.

 Rods, reels and other major equipment will be covered in the days to come.  For any new angler, there is a lot of information to absorb and digest so we’ll pace ourselves a little bit.
If you have any questions, need help or have comments, feel free to post to our facebook page: or send me an email at

Tight Lines and Safe Travels,



Steelheaders are a unique breed.  Not many who try it will stick with it and of those who do, very few are women.  It is a tough sport for anyone regardless of their gender, and organizations such as Minnesota Steelheader play a pivotal role in the success of many novice anglers who are just starting out. 

Rainbow trout anglers encounter unique challenges in their quest for Steelhead and Kamloops on Minnesota’s North Shore and while the general issues are addressed very well by Minnesota Steelheader and like groups, support networks available  specifically to women are virtually nonexistent. 

Minnesota Steelheader’s new women’s program Women on the Fly, is on a mission to change that.  As an avid female North Shore angler myself, I’m familiar with the issues women face on the water.  From the comical scenarios such as trying to piddle in the woods while outfitted in waders and full rain gear, to the aggravating circumstance of being the target of an inappropriate comment by another fisherman, it’s important to know that you have a network of women you can turn to who understand and can relate.  It’s time we have a place where ladies can go to find information specific to them, powered by women, empowered for women.

Minnesota Steelheader: Women on the Fly is that place.  Women on the Fly will provide information on women-specific gear, technical articles, events, programs, advice and contact information.  Any questions you may have will come directly to and be answered by, a fellow fisherwoman.  Our ultimate goal with Women on the Fly is to provide great information, help educate and become the most dependable resource for North Shore women anglers’. We want to get women comfortably on the water, help them build the confidence and skills necessary to sustain their success as anglers on the North Shore and to be their place to ask questions, get advice, share stories and to support one another. 

Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll be posting on the Minnesota Steelheader Blog and getting a women’s gear/equipment list together to ensure you are adequately outfitted for the fast approaching Steelhead run. We have plenty more in store so be sure to keep an eye on Women on the Fly’s Facebook page:  We’ll also be posting new updates, information and articles on

Tight lines and safe travels,


Minnesota Steelheader Board Member

***If you have any ideas for future subject matter, have questions or concerns, need current condition updates or just want to say hello, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email at

Monday, April 04, 2016

MS Creel Update as of 4.03.16

WOW, talk about getting the rug yanked out from underneath...

Just when things were starting to get really interesting, mother nature played one hell of an April Fools joke on us.

Temperatures which had been doing a steady climb suddenly retreated to the cellar along with much of the fish activity.

To be sure, there are fish around, but they have developed a case of lock-jaw with average stream temps now hovering in the 31-32F range. Can you still catch them? Yes. Will you have to work your tail off to do so? You bet your sweet bippy!

Our latest creel update which includes numbers through April 3rd illustrates it pretty well:
Note the catch trend from the 29th - April 1st. The biggest player here were the daily average temps at just over 34 combined with high temps approaching 40F. If you were out at the right time of day, you were catching fish. The storm dropped both average and high temps into the 31-32 range which brought most activity to a virtual stand-still. If the water wasn't moving in the first picture, it would be frozen over. Those chunks you see in the photo are all slush. Doesn't look like much but an hour earlier, you could barely get your line in the water.

Hard to say what will happen over the next few days other than to say we've gone back into a holding pattern with the forecast calling for more cold. Beyond that, here are the latest numbers:

2016 Creel Project Day 24:
118 Rainbows reported
4.91 fish per day average
64 Steelhead
54 Kamloops
2 Brook Trout/Presumed Coasters

Lower Shore:
53 Kamloops
52 Steelhead
2 Brook Trout/Presumed Coasters

Mid Shore:
1 Kamloop
12 Steelhead

More to come!
Regards - Minnesota Steelheader

Thursday, March 31, 2016

2016 Creel Update with Numbers

Another quick numbers update as promised, just so you have an idea of where things may be at-

Total Lower Shore creel numbers from March 10th through March 31 - Day 22:
Total Rainbows Reported: 85
Total Brook Trout/Coasters Reported: 2

Steelhead Reported: 48
Kamloops Reported: 37

Average Rainbows Reported per day: 3.86
Currently not tracking numbers of Anglers reporting or CPUE, Sorry...

Mid Shore is beginning to wake up, Upper Shore still fairly sleepy. Keep watching those stream temps!
Minnesota Steelheader

March 30th Updates

Quick update for now. Brownup is accelerating, you can see the "wrap-effect" on snowline as it spins up and around the western arm of Superior. Some of this is due to the effect Superior water temps have on local conditions. There is also one hell of a sediment plume spinning out into the Lake from mostly the Nemadji.

What does it mean? Streams will begin warming far more rapidly now with browner ground and less cold snowmelt hitting the streams provided we get some sun...

We have been receiving steady creel reports so thank YOU to all who have submitted. We only have temp numbers through the 28th, but so far, trending upwards.

We did have to make one adjustment. We decided to use a different index stream for Lower Shore temps. This stream presents a much more realistic picture of stream conditions across the Lower Shore, and should be a better indicator of where things are at.

As you can see, people are catching fish. Don't get too excited though, numbers appear high, but we are really looking at a trend in this graphic. We'll try and post some actual numbers shortly, suffice to say for now the cold conditions are pretty much driving the bus with respect to numbers; lets hope for some sun or a good warm rain.

For other information on conditions and numbers, please visit this great resource:  2016 North Shore Fishing Report

Saturday, March 26, 2016

2016 Creel Reports and Status

As we said recently, we are watching conditions very closely and thanks to some early Creel Report submissions, we actually have some data analyze and post. A big MS Thank You to those who have already begun to submit reports, You folks rock!

First to consider and understand is that we again only have temp data from a couple small streams along the Lower Shore beat. While this is still invaluable, you have to understand that these streams warm far more quickly, and typically hit the initiation threshold 5-8 days before larger streams such as the Knife. Given the fact of early warming on small tribs, even these streams are not there yet:

This particular trib is probably the smallest of our data index streams, but even this one hasn't quite cracked 40 yet.

Our next index stream is a little larger, fairly comparable to the Sucker in size. You can see the effect water volume and differences in overhead cover make in the rate of warming; overall this stream is 1-3 days behind the one above.
 In both you can see the influence of the daily solar cycle on warming. You can also see how the  storm we got on March 15th and 16th affected stream temps and flows. Flows go way up, but all that cold water suppresses warming. Once it flushes from the system and we get some sun again, the classic heartbeat signature from the sun re-develops. Understanding these influences, particularly cold rain or snow once the run kicks off is important to steelheaders, you have to adjust your tactics to the conditions, cold rain or snow change how the fish behave, how much they move, where they hold etc. early in the run.

Below we see the effects once again of the storm on the 15th and 16th.  The difference here is we are not looking at stream temps, we are looking at stream discharge, flow if you like.

Even though we received a significant amount of precipitation, you can see how quickly it leaves the system. Streams on the North Shore, particularly on the Lower and Mid Shore are spate streams, that is they are heavily dependent on precipitation. They also rocket up and down quickly, so keeping an eye on conditions and adapting helps you succeed as a steelheader.

 What you also see illustrated very well here is that as flow decreases, there's that classic early-season heartbeat signature. While the underlying cause is the same, that being the daily solar cycle, just remember that because we are looking at flow, the sun is melting snow and the melt-water hitting the stream is driving the heartbeat, not increases in water temperature.

The critical point here is that while the sun plays a part in warming the stream and jump-starting the run, it is also creating a problem. As the stream begins maximum warming in the afternoons while there is still snow-pack on the ground, all that snow-melt is dumping very cold water back into the stream which actually slows warming down. Keep this in mind as you fish during the early part of the run and you'll know what part of the day is the optimal time to try and catch fish.

Putting it All Together

As we said, we are already receiving 2016 creel data, so we hope you see and understand how useful it is. Your submissions help everyone become better, more successful steelheaders.

All of the same data above is here presented in a unified chart: Flow, Temps and Creel Trend. Past MS Creel Data analysis tells us that roughly 10% of adult steelhead caught are reported prior to the initiation temperature being reached (the red line). These early fish are almost exclusively caught between average daily stream temperatures of 34° F to 38° F.

Prior to the 12th of March, there was just too much ice in the tribs to get reliable data.The storm around the 15th dumped a bunch of cold water into the tribs causing stream temps to drop by about 2° F. Once stream temps hit 34 again on the 19th of March, we started seeing fish being caught in the streams. This trend has increased as average daily temps increased from 34° F to around 36° F.

This trend will continue upwards as long as the streams continue to warm, culminating in a magical 7-21 day period of steelheading once the initiation thresholds are met. WHEN we hit that magic initiation threshold is the big question at this point. It all depends on snowpack, sun and mother nature at this point. This coming week is forecasted to be warm, but the brakes might just be stamped on if we get the predicted Polar Vortex next weekend.

The best part is we are just getting started... This process will be repeated on both the Mid and Upper Shore, and depending on the start dates for those two regions, you may just be steelheading into June.

Minnesota Steelheader

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Current State of the Steelhead Union

Sediment Plume from the Nemadji
Greetings from the MS nerve center where the alert level just ratcheted up a notch.

The first item of significant note is that we are seeing the first large-scale sediment plumes on the satellite imagery. The brown "S" shaped plume at left is largely from the Nemadji. These plumes are significant because they indicate the thawing of the tribs and increases in flow have begun. This process carries sediment and the stream's unique chemical signature out into the lake which the fish use to navigate back to their home streams.

And while it is going fast, we still have some snow-pack on the ground. A measured snow pack melt is desirable as opposed to a rapid, massive melt which plays havoc with stream chemistry not to mention flows, and can have negative impacts on the fish, particularly young steelhead..

We are once again somewhat blind as to live Lower Shore conditions due to limited gauge data, but the past creel project data is beginning to pay dividends, and based on that here's where we think sit:

Currently we are in the deep breath before the plunge. The data below is from one of the smaller Lower Shore tribs. Based on prior creel data, we know that we have a ways to go before we hit the initiation threshold and the first major upbound migrations of steelhead and kamloops. This threshold is the temperature range which is closely correlated with significant upbound migrations. As you can see from the chart below (stream temps in red), the daily warming cycle isn't quite hitting the mid-30's. We need to be warming close to, or into the lower 40's to hit the magic number.

Don't get discouraged however, there are more and more fish staging off the river mouths due to those increased flows, warming water and sediment plumes.One of the other things we now know from the creel data you've all been so kindly submitting, is that even though we have not reached the initiation threshold, roughly 10% of adult fish caught during any given run return during the period we are in right now. You'll have to work a little harder, and change your tactics to match conditions, but there are fish to be had if you can find open water.

Stay tuned to the blog, we are watching conditions on a daily basis now; we'll keep you posted.
Lower Shore Small Trib Temp, Flow and Precip Data

Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 Creel Project is Open!

Whether you are new to Minnesota Steelheader, or simply missed it last year, we need your help!

The Minnesota Steelheader Creel Project is a non-scientific poll of catch information similar to what is provided in the Official MNDNR creel reports.

Your part is very simple - When you fish in 2016, simply record the following information:

Species and Number Caught: Kamloops, Steelhead or Brook Trout

The Region Where You Caught the Fish: Lower, Mid or Upper Shore. It is critical that you get the location correct. MS is not interested in the specific streams, simply the region, so please use this format:
Lower Shore Region - All Tributaries from Mission Creek to Knife River
Mid Shore Region - All Tributaries from Stewart River to Baptism River

Upper Shore Region - All Tributaries from Little Marais River to Pigeon River including those on the Reservation.
The Date the Fish Were Caught: Well, the date....

That's it! Species, Region and Date, how simple is that? There is one other important ground rule.

Please make sure that you only report steelhead, kamloops and brook trout numbers once. If you fished with a group, put your heads together and pick one person to report the TOTAL numbers, OR, only report fish you personally caught. This helps prevent duplication in catch data.

Example: If you and your fishing partner caught a total of two steelhead on April 24th, please do not both report back that you caught two steelhead, otherwise it will look like four steelhead were caught that day and it will skew the numbers.

Click Here to
enter your data OR, send your information directly to:

The data collected in our Creel Project ultimately provides us all with an increasingly better picture of steelhead fishing on the North Shore. MS publishes the information for you to think about and use whether you are brand new to the sport, or a veteran of 40 seasons. It's good stuff.

Important Item: We could really use more data on the Upper Shore, particularly late-season; so if you head up that way and have some success, please keep us in mind. We'll also take data from any time during the year, you'll be helping everyone out when you send it in.

Last but not least, stay tuned for exciting information on the 2016 Steelhead Genetics Project!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Getting fishy out there.

Spring is just around the corner!

Though the weather is warming, our North Shore rivers have a long way to go until they will run freely without an ice covered canopy.  In the meantime, fish are cruising the ice free shorelines of Minnesota's Lake Superior waters. There are miles and miles of good angling shoreline on our North Shore, don't be fooled that the only place to catch fish is where a crowd may be. 

Notice the "nub" where the adipose fin was on the fish in this photo.  This is a healed fin clip from when this buck was just a little guy.  Remember this adipose must be absent (healed over) in order to keep your Rainbow.  Yep, this is a Kamloops strain Rainbow Trout.  These fish are raised and stocked for all you trout stamp carting anglers to catch and keep for the table. 

Don't forget to check us out on Facebook.  We actively post current happenings, events, and volunteer opportunities.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

2016 On the Move

March 6th 2016 Satellite Imagery
Greetings from the ops center at Minnesota Steelheader! We've been in a bit of a holding pattern, keeping tabs on conditions as we like to do at this time of year, and things appear to be on the move.

2016 already looks to be a bit of an anomaly. Weather conditions have been all over the board, but we do look like we are in for an early warming trend. How this will affect steelhead overall is just too difficult to say at this moment, but we can tell you that monitoring of conditions is about to kick into high gear.

Currently there are a number of items of note:

  • With the warmer temps, the snowline is rapidly moving north. We are not seeing too much in the way of brown-up in the St. Louis valley, or along the eastern edge of the shore near the Lake, but it cannot be too far away
  • Not much in the way of daily warming cycle as indicated by classic "heartbeat" signatures in North Shore tributary discharge and stage, but we are now watching closely for the first signs. We don't anticipate seeing ice-movement or mud plumes at the outflows just yet, but we are watching now
  • Although we don't typically post regarding non-North Shore activity, one of the early signs comes from the WI Brule. If you aren't already aware, the Brule gauge went live on February 18th which is incredibly early. This means ice-out has reached the USGS Station near the DNR HQ.  
  • Kamloops activity is picking up and coho, which are following the smelt and foraging on them as they stage for spawning, are also increasing in the shore catch
We are gearing up for a number of exciting projects which we will tell you about shortly. As conditions begin to change, we will start posting regularly in the blog, so stay tuned.

As always, the Creel Project will be open soon, so if you get a chance, we would appreciate any and all reports. Best of luck and good fishing in 2016!
Minnesota Steelheader  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Five Facts about Love Potion #3kPZS

Five Facts about Love Potion #3kPZS: By Sharon Moen, Minnesota Sea Grant

Weiming Li, now FEJ Fry Chair of Environmental Physiology at Michigan State University, labored since he was a Sea Grant-funded doctoral student at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s to bring a pheromone to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in a useful form for managing sea lamprey. In December 2015 the U.S. EPA approved 3kPZS for use in the Great Lakes and Canadian approval isn’t far behind. 

  1. The smell of success smells like nothing. Well, 3kPZS smells like nothing to you. Yet, mere drops of this species-specific compound will send females whipping miles upstream in a come-hither rush. Emitted by male sea lamprey, the pheromone lures mate-ready females into traps and Li expects it can draw almost-mate-ready lamprey of both sexes to a particular area. 
  2. “Love potions” could be pivotal for managing primitive fish. "Lamprey ... I would hardly call them fish…,” says Peter Sorensen, Li’s former advisor and professor at the University of Minnesota, “…they’re some sort of cartilaginous, prehistoric beings. And they’re devils to manage.” The U.S. and Canada have worked for six decades to control a species whose massive olfactory organs rival the size of their brains. Physical barriers, traps and a $20-million-per-year lampricide program have been their tools until now. Experts think pheromonal cues akin to 3kPZS might revolutionize efforts to save Pacific lamprey, and dwindling lamprey populations in Europe.
  3. This is a story about vision and grit. “To make breakthrough advances, you’ve got to have the freedom to make mistakes and you must be given time,” said Sorensen. “I applaud Li’s perseverance and credit the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for affording him the freedom and time to create this useful tool.” If you ask Li, now 25 years in, what he likes best about his work, he is puzzled. “I love it all,” he says. “Discovery is exciting but the questions and methods are, too.”
  4. Sea Grant funded the initial research but the history spans an ocean.The arrival of 3kPZS is preceded by a quest to identify migratory pheromones that bring lamprey into particular streams. In an inspired moment, Sorensen and Li wrote to G.A.D. Haselwood, a biochemist who documented how the bile acids of sea lamprey were peculiar, as if the steroid was constructed backward (1967). Upon receiving the letter, the retired Englishman traveled from his seaside cottage to his old laboratory in London. There, he unearthed a few crystals of the bile salt and mailed them to Minnesota. “We owed everything to him,” said Sorensen. “It was only a couple of crystals but when we exposed sea lamprey to Haselwood’s bile salt we knew instantly how important they were. That’s where this started.”
  5. 3kPZS is only the beginning.  Fish Pheromones and Related Cues (2015) , co-edited by Sorensen, is ushering the emerging field of managing fish with pheromones along. Meanwhile, related Sea Grant projects have included ruffe,trout and shrimp. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission continues to support sea lamprey work and federal grants are enabling Sorensen’s laboratory to investigate aggregation pheromones to aid in managing invasive carp

Minnesota Sea Grant article here

Friday, January 01, 2016

Cold Water Steelheading with a Trout Mentality

Photo Credit Benjamin Jose
One sure way to improve your early-season steelheading chops is to do a little winter trout fishing. There’s nothing quite like getting a thorough beat-down prior to the steelhead season to make you pay attention to fundamentals. Given the right conditions, a winter butt-kicking can actually be quite enjoyable, and keeps you tuned and ready to go for when the big migratory rainbows once again enter North Shore Tributaries.

First up on the order of business is deciding where to go. Southeast Minnesota is an option, but if you’re looking to get out before the regular Catch and Release opener which doesn’t occur in Minnesota until January, you have other options.

Fortunately for me, Northeastern Iowa isn’t all that much farther away than my favorite SE Minnesota streams. Plus, I can fish any time from the Minnesota September closer all the way through until March. Sometimes conditions are just a bit better south of the border with more moderate stream temps due to spring-fed activity and slightly warmer air temps, not to mention the chance of exploring some new water.

With Minnesota trout closed in December, we decided to head for Iowa. Snow, slick roads and 15-20 mile-per-hour winds blowing directly on-shore up on Gitchee put the brakes on a North Shore trip.

The stream we fished isn’t really necessary to know, all one needs to do is hit the Iowa DNR Website, scroll down, find a stream or two, print out the maps and you’re in business.

Winter trout have quite a bit in common with steelhead as they are both creatures of metabolism. When the water is really cold, they will utilize slower areas of the stream more heavily as it takes much less energy to hold in pools, pockets and seams while allowing food to come to them. That doesn’t mean you won’t find them in faster water, but targeting these other areas first maximizes hookup potential.
Typical Winter Holding Water
The next piece of the puzzle is your approach. Don’t just go charging up to the next likely pool or run, approach carefully from downstream, and scan the water as soon as you are able. Look for fish before you leap, you may have to actually circle back downstream a bit, especially if you didn’t realize that tail-out where all the fish are holding is further down (and closer to you) than it looked. Cold water is typically clear water; there’s nothing worse than getting pegged from 40 feet away and not realizing that every fish in a pool or run is now hunkered down with lock-jaw, or already 100 yards upstream heading for safer pastures until it is too late.

Get low. This applies to any kind of fishing where you can see the fish, but is particularly relevant to trout and steelhead any time they are in the streams. Steelhead and trout see up and out of the water in a 360-degree cone, but there are limitations. I’ll skip all of the light-refraction physics involved, but they are essentially “blind” to anything outside the cone. The rough rule of thumb is that you gain 3 feet in height (from the ground) of blind zone for every 18 feet of distance you are from your fish. For example, a 4-foot tall angler standing 36 feet away from a fish holding in a stream could do jumping-jacks and the fish probably would not see this. But don’t try that either! They may not see it, but all that thumping on the ground will be picked up via their lateral line and they will still boogie. Take the same scenario, but use a just-under 6 foot tall angler. At 36 feet, the taller angler can still stand there observing fish and not be seen, but as soon as he or she raised their arms straight over their heads and penetrated the cone at 6 feet above the ground, the fish sees a couple of disembodied arms waving around and heads for the next county.
Staying Low
As you get closer, you have to scrunch down below the cone so as not to be seen. At 18 feet from the fish, you need to be “hiding” in the blind spot, which at 18 feet away is roughly only 3 feet from the ground to the bottom of the vision cone and what a fish can see. Don’t forget to factor bank-height into this, if you are on a high bank, you need to get low further away from the fish. If you’re a total dork like myself and prefer working out the physics, stay below a ten-degree angle at any fixed distance from the fish and you’ll have mastered invisibility. At least to the fish, I tried this once on my spouse to get out of vacuuming, it doesn’t work and you look really stupid crouching motionless in the middle of the living room.

As was previously mentioned, don’t stomp. Fish have lateral lines and anglers clomping around up and down the stream get the same results from the fish as being spotted, “Buh-bye!”

About Gear and Presentations:

Everyone goes through a process or evolution as anglers, and not everyone progresses at the same rate. Some have such a great time doing one thing they say the hell with graduation. Some master one technique and move on, but keep using previously acquired gear and techniques whenever the situation dictates. Others continue on in their angling evolution until you don’t even realize what they are doing is fishing. I ran into a guy once on the upper Brule who was wearing nothing but rainbow suspenders and tighty-whities made out of puff-ball fungus. No rod of any kind in sight, but darned if that guy wasn’t catching fish. He’d just sort of stand there knee-deep in the run, meditating, and the fish would jump right into his arms; sublime… Point is, we at Minnesota Steelheader don’t care where you are at in your journey: support the fishery, respect the fish and your fellow anglers, and it all works out in the end. There are however a couple things to remember about cold water:
  • It’s cold: The fish will utilize slower areas of the stream, look for those: Pools, Pockets and Seams. Remember too that the current speed at the bottom will be moving slower than what things appear to be doing on the surface. You may have a depression or pocket in the stream bed below fast moving water, and the fish may just be hiding there.
  • It’s usually clear: From a presentation standpoint, this ordinarily means using longer, lighter leaders and/or tippet material. It doesn’t fundamentally matter whether you are spinning, pinning, flying or plunking, but using longer, lighter leaders/tippet does. If it’s ridiculously low and clear, and you’re down to 2lb. test, frog hair, or a string of oxygen atoms with a size 32 midge bonded to the end through willpower alone, remember that using a longer rod will allow you to fish much lighter. Longer rods help take strain off the business-end of your rig, and you can catch some ridiculously large fish on ridiculously light terminal line. A 10’ rod sounds stupid in some circles, but it’s a good starting point for clear and cold. It’s also far less likely the fish will see your line because you can get stupid light.
  • It’s cold and clear: Trout and steelhead holding in slow, clear water have a loooooooong time to scrutinize whatever it is you are throwing at them. I’ve watched both trout and steelhead break from a lane and lazily follow a fly for 10-15 feet, only to turn their noses up at last second and reject my offering as bogus. Whatever you show the fish in these conditions, it has to look like food. Better yet if it also smells like food. Some days it’s just best if it really is food. A good rule of thumb on the North Shore seems to be watching for “Magic 40”. Below 40 degrees, bait or scented yarn really produces well. Above 40 degrees, flies really shine. Again, we don’t particularly care which side of the “Tastes Great!”, “Less Filling!” debate you are personally on, we’ve just made the Magic 40 observation through many years of hard-won experience and catch-logging. Since for this particular trip we were fly-fishing, running through the nymph box was the order of the day. Turns out that size 14 and 16 caddis pupa with a gray body were the ticket. Most cold-water days, you just have to experiment a lot: size, color and shape. Adding scent is up to you.

Other considerations:

On this day, I started out with 3 feet of 2lb. tippet, a small caddis fly and nothing else. I was fishing the gut of a pool and only had one missed fish to show for an hours-worth of labor. Ordinarily I’m watching my leader loop and using it as a strike indicator. Basically this is just a piece of highly-visible 25lb. red amnesia shooting line nail-knotted to the end of the fly line, and finished with a perfection loop. Any hesitation, twitch or odd motion of the loop gets a hook-set, just as in steelheading. Problem was I was getting nothing out of it despite knowing there were fish in the pool. So, I switched to a tiny Palsa indicator and a bead-head caddis, and that made all the difference.
A Rainbow Duped by the Caddis

Sure there are fish that will hammer the business-end in cold water making your loop/line stop, race up, down or sideways, but most of the fish I hooked took the fly with an almost imperceptible sip. The Palsa indicator would just do one all-but invisible “plip”, and that would be it, no movement of the line whatsoever.
One of several Brown Trout
The same can be true while steelheading in cold water. If you know there are fish in, make all the other normal adjustments to shot weight, leader length and leader/tippet weight first. If you’re already fishing long, light, small and smelly, but not getting results with a bobber for instance, try downsizing the bobber. Or indicator. Or keeping a tighter line. Whatever you do, watch your rig like a hawk and set that hook on anything that is out of the ordinary in the way of line movement.     

In the end, the greatest gift winter trout fishing imparts is confidence. If you can sneak up on winter trout in skinny, clear and cold conditions, then read the water, figure out what they want and fool them into biting, you’ve gone a long way towards ensuring your next early steelhead trip will be successful. But unless you’re a Zen-Fishing master, I don’t recommend winter fishing in only puffball undies and rainbow suspenders. Try working your way up…

Regards and All the Best in 2016-

Minnesota Steelheader