5-01-04 - Steelhead (Slackjawed)
Waters Fished: French River, Stewart River, Split
Rock River, Silver Creek, Sucker Creek
Fish Caught: 2/3
Outing Date: 5-01-04
Weather: Mostly Sunny
Air Temp: Maybe upper 30's in the morning, 50's in the evening?
Water Temp: didn't take them all; Split Rock 46F, Gooseberry 48F,
Sucker Creek 50F
Water Level: Normal to low on most
Water Color: French = clear & stained, Stewart clear and stained,
Split Rock = pretty clear & stained, Silver Creek pretty clear
& stained, Sucker Clear & Stained.
Fish Species: Kamloops Rainbow Trout & Manistee Steelhead (stocked
Pattern Fished: a wide variety of eggs and nymphs, breifly tried
Pattern Color: subdued naturals worked best
Fishing Quality: Enjoyable
My week is spent debating...what to do...where to go...I really want to go back to the North Shore! FAT was supposed to go, but signals got crossed and he ended up double-booking himself! Bart wimped out (OK, to be fair he had plans with his Father to go to IA...). I thought I might end up just sticking around doing some things I needed to be doing (like rod building) but then agian, I REALLY wanted to go back.
Emails when out to everyone that I would've liked to take this trip with, and almost everyone wasn't able to go (I honestly didn't think I'd get a last minute taker). But then Rcochran left me a voicemail, he was IN! SWEEEEET.
We got everything finalized probably only 4 hours
before we left, a last-minute trip if there ever was one! Met up
at the office in Lincolnwood at 6:00 PM, got Randy's stuff in the
Bitchin' Camaro, hit the trip odometer and we were on our way. I
drove well through the Dells, probably switching with Randy with
only 1.5 hours left in the drive. We made it back up to Brennon's
about 1:00 AM again!
This time Red Hat was definitely unable to make it out, and Brennon had just the one day, so B decided we COULD do the early AM thing; maybe not insane early but he did wake me up at 6:00 AM by RINGING HIS CELL PHONE LOL! Got me up in no time!
I don't know exactly how, but it seems we made it up to Duluth in record time; stopped at the Holiday Gas Station where 35 ends and picks up 61 - license for Randy, food and drinks all around, gas and we're on our way to adventure!
First stop MUST always be French Creek..it gets you JAZZED no matter what to see all those fish running around. Even better, it gives you an idea as to what the fishing might be like on the lower shore. This time we found MANY fish, perhaps even more than the week before. Many were what we'd call "crusty"; white patches without scales where the fish had either been beating themselves against rocks or the result of sparring with each other.
Originally we had planned on showing Randy French and then going back down to Lester, but based on the condition of the fish we decided that the lower tribs were not going to be the best place to hit fresh fish. Instead, we decided that going up the shore would be the best bet, Brennon lead the way. I figured we stop somewhere around Two Harbors.
Next stop was indeed the Stewart River; a quick check of the mouth and lower river suggested that no fish were there. Brennon didn't know how far up the barrier falls might be. We talked it over, ran into some other guys who were also moving up the shore in search of fresh fish, and decided to skip fishing the Stewart and instead keep going up the shore.
Brennon continues to lead, and with each stream we pass I get to wondering where he's going...more and more anxious to stop and look, but B seems hell-bent on going ever farther up the shore. He had talked about hitting Split Rock (which I had originally brought up last week; I think I read somewhere that it still gets the occasional run of wild Atlantic Salmon!). Randy was driving the BC, and as we passed Gooseberry I told Randy "Next river we go over, I don't care if B keeps going, we're stopping and taking a look!".
Brennon totally blew by Split Rock and on over the bridge...Randy started slowing down and I'm shouting "STOP STOP STOP here on the left!" I wonder where the heck Brennon is going, perhaps all the way to Cascade(!), but he notices we've pulled over and pulls the U turn to come back to the parking lot. Turns out that the Split Rock River had been Brennon's destination all along...he just didn't know where to park and missed it!
We get out, and it is decided that we WILL fish Split Rock no matter what...by this point it's 10:00 AM! Our first look is the mouth & bay....not much happening there. We decide to enter low and hike as far up as we can. As soon as I get into the water I noticed a deer carcass on the far shore with a pristine hoof pointing out right at me...interesting...
The lower stretches can best be described as a meadow of sorts, lots of grass, swamp, the flood-plain has several little side streams meandering about alongside the main river. Remember, the lower main river runs along the northeast side of the valley for the most part.
We spot exactly three fish in this section; B spooks the first one holding at the tail of a pool; Randy finds #2 as we're working upstream past the first rocky bend in the river. This one is totally oblivious to our presence until Brennon puts a TINY flame orange egg in front of it...aparently this fish knows what that is, as it BOLTED at the first sight of this fly. I moved upstream to coach B and to fish as well (I had on a dark nymph); it is here that I spotted the third fish, being chased around by #2 which we were fishing.
Further upstream Randy spotted a fourth holding in a deep pool which may have been undercut; by this point the stream had taken on a bit more characteristic solid rocky bottom with more pool / ripple structure. Randy and I both got chase out of this fish before it presumeably spooked and ran for cover.
Moving upstream we came to the obvious "good spot" on the stream, a long pool against a rock wall bordered by shallow riffles at the tail and a deep / fast riffle into plunge at the head. I'd say this is the start of the "canyon" section of Split Rock.
It is here, at the base of the Canyon, that I hooked up drifting a small nymph that PeterM had tied up for me back in 2002. Big tungsten bead head, lots of estaz for the thorax, a flash back, green pearl braid body and biots for the tail; a no-name concoction that just seemed ideal for this deep, clear but stained pool. My line just started moving odd, I set the hook, and the fight was on. At first I thought it might be foul, then I saw the fish thrashing its head violently in the depths as it rolled side to side, its HUGE mouth agape as it shook, normally an indication of a fair fish trying to get off the hook.
Brennon landed it "bear-style" (aka with his hands) and it was then that we got to look at this fish..the "huge" mouth was not really huge, rather the lower jaw was broken and hanging down at well over a 90 degree angle. We all surmised that this injury was more than likely caused by an angler, NOT a natural occurance. Based on this fact, I am pretty unsure as to whether this fish actually hit my fly, or more likely I simply lined it with such a huge gaping target. However, it came to shore fair, and had it been a stocker we would've creeled this otherwise healthy-yet-slackjawed fish. This turned out to be an unclipped wild steelhead; North Shore steelies are Manistee strain, so despite the horrendous mouth situation we had to let it go to probably die a slow death from starvation.
Randy hooked up as well in this pool..when we go the fish to the net it came in fouled, and was a healthy Kamloops. Looking upstream the anglers that WERE there had moved up or down, so we continued upstream into the Canyon.
The scenery was amazing, surrounded by steep rocks with the river forming classic pool-riffle structure. As we moved up we came to what are likely the first "barrier" falls; water flowed very fast through a deep cut in the rock into a large deep pool. A few anglers were working the rapids above this cut; we didn't have the time or patience to pursue it further, so we focused our attention back downstream.
Turned out to be a fair choice, as Randy spotted another steelie holding at the tail of a small pool...hooked into it fair a couple times but never managed to seal the deal. I think the one I remember most was when the fish came to the surface with it's mouth gaping, thrashing about in classic looper style (like Jaws) and threw Randy's hook. DRAT!
It was time to keep moving, I was 1/1, Randy 0/several
fairs, Brennon 0/0(?!), so we found a trail up to the ridge and
took the "fast" way out...a quick drive and we arrived
at Gooseberry Falls. I wasn't sure I wanted to fish here...it's
basically the neighbor of Split Rock just a couple miles away...if
one stream isn't hot the other one wasn't likely to be either. We
all agreed though that seeing the falls would be an experience.
Gooseberry was very "touristy", being a State Park and THE rest area along 61...easily 100 cars in the lot. We took the hike in and looked at the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls (see the Panoramics at right); pretty, but not much going on. We fished VERY briefly; the anglers who had been camping out at the main pool reported no success all day; time to keep moving!
I wanted to put a bit of distance between us and the "cold" streams, so we drove back down the shore, skipping Crow Creek and the Encampment River. On our way up I had been kinda jazzed when I saw the mouth of Silver Creek, so when we got there we stopped.
For some reason we decided not to check out the mouth, but instead to immediately head straight upstream. Immediately above the highway was a chute that lead into the shallow water travelling under the bridge, upstream of that Silver makes a bend to the left and forms a small flat which is deep on the far side...but not deep enough to conceal any steelies or loopers....no fish sighted here!
It wasn't until we got up to the next bend (to the right) that the water changed over to small pocket water...a nice little trout stream. Above this we could see a large outcrop; the barrier falls.
It was here that we found 2 anglers and also found the fish. I went straight up to the falls and surprise suprise, there's a looper sitting with it's head underneath 2 rocks; not wedged there just resting. But I guess it didn't realize it's entire lower half was plainly visible. Later on B tried for it bear style, but it just kicked up deeper into this little hole.
Any pocket that was deep enough that you couldn't see the bottom, and large enough that it could hold a 24" fish, was tried. We watched one of the anglers, arguably a seasoned local veteran, who sat on a bucket at the base of the falls on the left...he nailed a small looper which gave us all the encentive we needed.
RANDY scored the most memorable fish of the day here...fishing in the right-side pool, no larger than a couple SUV's but easily 3-4 feet deep (the edges were waist deep for Brennon). Randy was there fishing while I was taking panoramics, he hooked up and all hell DID NOT break loose...whatever he had was a PIG that was in no hurry to go anywhere.
The battle unfolded and I was in prime position to take pictures..and eventually VIDEO. Brennon came up and wanted me to go ask the other guy if he had a net...I could see he didn't have one and was really dead-set on documenting this war between Randy and the still-unseen fish. Why do we always neglect to bring the nets out. MP's tip...if you want to hook into fish of a lifetime, do NOT bring a net.
So things were slow, with no real progress made. I'd describe 95% of this battle as a stalemate. It raged on with the waterfall right above us drowning out all sound, everything. Brennon was prepared to go "bear style" again, laying on a rock below Randy who was perched above, tethered to a behemoth in the murky depths below.
Once in a while things got interesting...Randy would get the fish close, working it slowly by winding down, lifting, and then winding down again. Randy was crackin' jokes about having not even hooked a fish, but instead a river otter! The battle just kept going...according to my camera over 15 minutes, and we STILL had not seen the fish.
Towards the end, Brennon realized that he was going to have to go deep to get this one...not sure how deep so he cautiously stepped into the pool and ended up almost waist deep. He says he got to touch the tail a couple times, which leads me to believe two things.
First, the fish was fair. Foul hooked fish just don't stay on this long, their fights are erradic and they tend to make sudden, unpredictable manuevers (not that fair hooked fish can't fight this way). Furthermore, based on where they were and where the fish was, this fish would've been tail hooked if foul based on the WAY the fight was going; Brennon got to touch the tail on this guy and the line was at least a couple feet away from where Brennon's hands were.
Second, this fish was a total PIG. Randy had originally thought that he was snagged up on the bottom until his line started moving. He was on 6lb and simply could not move the fish without risking a snap off. We NEVER got to see this fish, Randy simply could not lift it up high enough in the water column to get a look. This was a BIG BIG FISH. We joke now, it was the new state record.
All of this ended in the most anticlimatic manner, with Randy's fly simply shooting out of the water back at him. FISH OFF! I have it on video but can't put it here...there may be children watching!
While Randy and B were getting rerigged (Randy's leader was totally scuffed up) I tried my hand in the pool with a big pink yarn fly...almost immediately I hooked up on a BIG red buck...it took one leap clear out of the water and dove deep...I was on 8lb and held the line tight...it stayed tight but stopped moving. Apparently the fish had put itself into a hole or something...the action on my line had gone from ballistic to DEAD STILL yet I was still solid with tons of pressure on the line. After a few seconds I pulled harder...I was no longer on the fish, must have been hung up on a rock now or something...this buck had managed to get away.
As we left Silver Creek it was probably about 4:00; time to get onto the Sucker for some evening run fish. On our way out we talked with a couple anglers who had been fishing the mouth of Silver; there were a few fish down there too. Turns out that Silver had fish in a few spots!
We ended our evening downstream on the Sucker; Brennon hooked up with a fish that took him clear down to the lake (see the video at right). Not seeing tons of fish coming in, around 6:00 I moved up. There were some fish holding in the flats; guys were trying for them with huge gobbs of yarn and got ZERO interest for their efforts...I yelled across to try smaller flies.
I proceded to move up to the first small falls/riffle, got on the weight and dual rig of peach and orange eggs, and in just a few casts had a fish on...it was insane. A short but powerful battle almost took me down to the lake as well, my drag was definitely put to the test, but I managed to land a drop back silver hen...upon review this one was a WILD MANISTEE STEELHEAD as well!
Meanwhile Randy had decided to seek out quieter waters and ended up fishing upstream of the Scenic Highway..landed what was likely a looper in the first bend plunge pool. He also found Madmax and his son; they came down and we spent a good deal of time talking about the rivers, fishin, TSS and life in general. Madmax & Madmax Jr. were two great guys that I'd love to fish with anytime!
Despite normally good action during the evening, things just didn't pan out! We were getting cold, the action wasn't there but we stuck it out until pretty late, maybe around Sunset, before calling it quits for the day. A C.O. was running around as were a bunch of kids, probably not legal drinking age, who were organizing a bonfire down on the beach...cold night even with a bonfire if you ask me!