4-24-04 - The Land of the Red Hats, The North Shore,
MINNESOTA (Part I)
Waters Fished: French River, Knife River, Sucker
Fish Caught: 2/15
Outing Date: 4-24-04
Weather: Sunny early, cloudy later, strong winds much of the day
Air Temp: in the 40's
Water Temp: Knife River 43F, Sucker Creek 46F
Water Level: Knife and Sucker both dropping
Water Color: French Clear & Staiend, Knife muddy, vis 1', Sucker
Stained & Clear, visibility 3'+
Fish Species: Kamloops Rainbow Trout & Manistee Steelhead (stocked
Pattern Fished: tiny eggs
Pattern Color: Pink and peach were top producers.
Fishing Quality: FIVE STAR BABY!
This trip has been planned since JANUARY...well,
not exactly. You see, originally when I emailed out my 2004 fishin'
schedule to my buddies, Mr. Red
Hat (Neil) told me, I swear, that to hit the North Shore Looper
run the ideal time would be the first week of May, so I put it down
as May 1-2!
Somewhere along the way Red Hat realized that this was not when he meant; things got out of whack a bit and we had to play it by ear; so as mid April approaches I start asking when I should come; this weekend, weekend before, next weekend??? Brennon, aka. 'T-Bone' or 'Mystic Mountain Goat' or just 'B' informs me on Thursday that a) Red Hat slammed them that morning and b) He has some commitments on coming weekends in May that would prevent him from getting a full weekend on the water with me.
So we email back and forth a bit, and ultimately it turns out that the 24th/25th is the "call in dead" weekend....get here and get here NOW is the ultimate message, so Friday night I throw my stuff in my car and make the 6 hour drive to Brennon's place in St. Paul, arriving around 1:30 AM Saturday!
Meanwhile B's car is shot, Red Hat and B are running around trying to get it towed to a shop, and it's decided that maybe we don't need to be on the water at 5:00 AM afterall! So to the benefit of this weary traveler, I get to sleep in to around 7:30! A breakfast of oatmeal and oatmeal cookies served up by B is all it takes to wake me up and get me ready to drive...well first I need a shower!
B tries a shortcut to get to Red Hat's; as you
know with shortcuts they seldom pan out. Big surprise, we end up
on the wrong road 20 minutes north of Red Hat's...a few cell phone
calls and a new meeting spot is arranged. We meet, exchange pleasantries
between the "enemy captains" and get on the road (remember,
Red Hat is capt. of the BLT's, and I happen to be 50% of the founding
members of the Smokin' Tahoe...go back and find the Pet
Fly Smackdown if you don't have a clue!).
Maybe 1.5 hours later we arrive in Duluth and I get all licensed up; I opt for an annual nonresident as MN is literally minutes from Dorchester, IA....in other words I may want to go back to chase Inland trout too! Finally, it's time to get fishin...only maybe 10:30 AM by this point!
Our first stop is the French River; the main broodstock river for North Shore (of Superior) hatchery operations. You can't fish the downstream portion of the river; it's sanctuary, but Neil takes us there to look and see what's up...
OH MY GOD...you remember those pictures of Trout
Run in PA right? Arguably just as many fish were stacked into
the first pool on the French but there was just a bit more water
for them than Trout Run has. In any case, I was half-tempted to
wade into the lake and start fishin' right there, but Red Hat had
other plans....he snapped us back to reality and we were on our
Next stop; Knife River. We parked and looked at a downstream stretch...from my experience it just didn't look promising...rather deep, muddy, at least I *think* it was deep. We moved across the street to look at another section...this consisted of some slower water and a riffle...then I saw the stream signs...first falls <- 0.4 miles that way.
Neil had filled me in that the Knife was dropping...from FAT's Root River Doctrine I concluded that falling flows early in the run, go for the "dam", which in this case is a fish trap up by the main highway. 0.4 miles is NOT a long hike along this obviously well traveled stream.
So we arrive, and each of us takes up a spot; I chose the big whirlpool eddy off the side of a fast riffle....really looks just like the Pike Dam to me, seems VERY fishy. Brennon spends a lot of time rigging while Neil heads a bit downstream. We all get to watch the lone angler who was there before us land one...a good sign.
Later on, Neil comes back up and tells us that he lost one..was yelling and yelling and yelling. So Red Hat is pretty confident that the fish are holding in the fast water, and we all move down to work over the area where he hooked up.
B hooks up and loses his first hookup of the day..Neil is talking to another angler and then works the outer half of the river; I see a fish roll and somehow it is suggested that B & I go downstream of the big pool (with 16 anglers) and fish the tail and riffles. On the way down I almost step on what were probably 5-6 garter snakes; most scatter but I pull the "Jeff Corwin" (according to Brennon); tail one and get his pic..and he's on his way.
B steps into the riffles and starts working his way downstream...I soon follow and somehow B has overlooked a pair of bucks that are hammering each other on the far side of the river. Neil comes down and sees me working the far corner; as he approaches he calls Brennon over and he sets up on the pool below me.
I hook into one on an egg, but loose it all too quickly. I rerig, I think now was the point where I looked to Neil and said "Mutha FN BIG RED STREAMER TIME....you see how those bucks are hammering each other's gill plates...that's nothing but a bright red target for them". Sure enough, first cast the NASTY buck takes my fly...as I'm hoisting it over the streamer is embedded in his upper lip..his white mouth gaping open. "It's Fair...It's Fair" I shout...the streamer pops out of the mouth...and the trailer buries itself into the fish's side..."It's FOUL It's FOUL" I now shout! Ended up getting away.
I make another cast and foul the bright buck...Neil thinks he's seen a few more fish running around and well, after fouling the pod spooks...right into the next pool that Brennon has been working. Almost instantly he hooks up and lands a nice little buck looper...first fish landed for the day...sweet!
Eventually B spooks the pod too, but Neil hooks up a few times in the riffles, each time managing to pull the "air fish"....eventually we end up kinda sitting around, a little tired, a little hungry, and I suggest we continue to work downstream. I opt to head to the car for a bit of lunch while Neil and B continue to fish..I should've known exactly what would happen next.
15 minutes go by and I've eaten, fired up the Jon-E handwarmers, and I'm back out, sans pole but with the Camera...I knew there'd be something to take pictures of.
Sure enough, Brennon had landed a MOSTER male Kamloops Rainbow Trout. Taped out around 29" or so...full color, spots everywhere, huge kyped lower jaw, a spectacular fish in every sense! This was what we ALL had come to see (and catch)!
By now I had the itch to fish, but not here...I was ready for some clear water! Personally, I think I do better in clear water. Red Hat was all over it, time to get into "the" spot on the Sucker for fresh run loopers this evening! Neil has been talking up the Sucker like it's heaven on earth...truth be told I've been itchin' to see it all day. Before we leave I tally the numbers; MP is 0/2, Brennon is 2/3, and Neil is 0/5 on the Knife.
We arrive about 3:00 PM, and B decides to warm up and grab some lunch....Neil and I head downstream to his "spot". In no time the action starts...fish are running all over the place and we're in prime position to take 'em down!
In no time I've hooked into 2 fair, head shakes galore, fish off. These fish are fiesty-fresh, the best kind. I'm in total heaven; fish everywhere. The wardens came down, one on each side of the stream, checking licenses; of course I'm already prepared by the time they get to me...right after the check I hook up YET AGAIN!
The fight is on, and I've got a good solid hookset on this puppy; Neil is going for the camera and I'm screaming "what the heck are you doing...get the fish...we can take pictures when it's landed!" Thankfully Red Hat overcomes his desire to photograph the event and we quickly land my fish.
The wardens come back over and look at my fish, a gorgeous buck rainbow trout, about 24". They look at the clips and determine that this fish is a stocked steelhead! Awesome, but uh, I came up for LOOPERS! Just as we're getting ready to take the picture the fish starts thrashing violently and escapes my grasp; all I'm left with is Neil taking my picture with my arms outstretched going "IT was THIS big".
Brennon makes his way down and asks how it's been going...I tell him I'm 1/3 and he better get in the water. Neil jumps across stream (not literally) and starts fishing the pool from the opposite shore.
Meanwhile the hits keep coming, and most make it off without too much trouble. Neil hooks up, still fishless for the afternoon, and gets taken for a walk down the shore as his fish heads for the big pond!
Eventually he stops this fish from getting out into the thicket of anglers in the lake, and from across the river I get a shot...I go for the 2nd and catch Neil loosing the grip on his fish!
I could detail every battle, but why bother, there were SOOOOOO many. Neil hooked into another fiesty fish and again got taken for the long walk towards the lake...unreal. I managed to be on the same side this time around and got a closeup of his #2 in the fading light.
At this point the creel survey guy starts his way up the stream and asks me the usual info (where am I from, what am I targeting). He seems kinda surprised when he doesn't recognize my zip code, and that's when he learns I've come 600 miles for loopers. He asks if I have a preference, and I sure do; I came for LOOPERS.
We discuss the fish I landed, I tell him we were unsure if it was a looper or a steelhead. I tell him adipose clip, right pectoral clip, no maxillary clip and he tells me "Oh that's a steelhead" and marks it down as such. We part ways with him wishing me luck land a looper, they're all over the place; definitely the dominant fish in the runs.
Somehow towards evening B had still not hooked up with any fish; guess his luck came early as it was my turn to score again...can't let wiley old Red Hat win the day. I'm 1/12 FAIR at this point...some have come off with blistering runs, some have come off with really cool gaping mouth head thrashing at the surface, while I even had one little one that hit hard and then went totally balistic, jumping a good 2-3 feet in the air before getting off.
Finally as the evening was winding down (you can fish until 1 hour after sunset) my number was up; hooked into yet another fish that gave me a good fight. Can't remember if I beached it or Brennon went and tailed it, but the end result was a beautiful hen, big and fat, with adipose and right pectoral clips. According to the streamside info I had recieved from 3 DNR officials , this was another stocked steelhead.
Man I loved that fish, but all evening I was cursing the steelies...I drove up here for LOOPERS! The numbers were just phenomenal however; I killed them with a total of 2/13; Neil had gone 2/6 on the Sucker, while B just couldn't connect, ending his day on the Sucker sucking the big 0.
A 2/15 day sure is nice, I totally have to give props to FAT; getting a refresher earlier this year on his steelhead techniques has really turned me and my flyrod into a deadly weapon..they should lock me up for steelhead assalt! Ok, all ego bragging aside, we all had a GREAT day...I just needed my Loopers! Keep in mind that at this point I am misinformed...both fish I landed today were in fact LOOPERS...I wouldn't find this out for a while yet...I cursed and cursed all night that tomorrow I would land a looper...no more darn stocked steelhead!