4-25-04 - The Land of the Red Hats, The North Shore,
MINNESOTA (Part II)
Waters Fished: Lester River, Talmadge River, Sucker
Fish Caught: 3/16
Outing Date: 4-25-04
Weather: Rain in the AM, going to mostly cloudy in the afternoon
Air Temp: 32F rising to mid 40's
Water Temp: Lester River 42F, Sucker Creek 46F
Water Level: Streams continuing to drop
Water Color: Lester stained but visibility of 2'+, Talmadge Muddy,
Sucker Stained but still clear!
Fish Species: Kamloops Rainbow Trout & Manistee Steelhead (stocked
Pattern Fished: tiny eggs, Tucker Nymph, Dull Surprise
Pattern Color: Chartreuse & Orange were top producers.
Fishing Quality: Still Outstanding
So last night Brennon and I find ourselves driving
around the North Shore, on down to Duluth, looking for a place to
eat and sleep. EVERYTHING is booked solid...or if it's not it's
an expensive place ($89, $100, etc..). We get to the turn to head
into WI...I joke that we might just end up at the Brule Motel and
well, we might as well fish the Brule then!
Thankfully we find a cheap room ($48) at the Stockade
Motel; not too shabby of a place considering that the rooms are
big and it has the "smoker smell". No ALARM CLOCK THOUGH?!
Dinner winds up consisting of a McDonald's McRib.
8:00 AM we're up and it's raining outside; top
that off with the weather channel telling us it's 32F and Brennon
and I are in NO hurry to go fishing. Instead we watch a Redfish
tournament on one of the sports/outdoors channel.
After a good McD's breakfast (no Steak Egg &
Cheese Bagle though?!) we find a cheapo rainslicker ($1.50 blue
poncho) for Brennon and we get to the Lester about 10:00 AM. There
weren't tons of people out, but it wasn't exactly like we had the
place to ourselves.
Just then it hits me...bathroom break...and the
closest place to go is back in Duluth at the Holiday gas station.
I KNEW this was gonna happen....when I get back I get my stuff out
of the trunk and grab the net...as I walk down B is fighting a fish
and I run up to help him out. Brennon breaks the day's skunk like
a toothpick between his fingers with a beautiful FAT Looper!
As I watch what's going on in the water, a couple
guys are out fishin' and hooking up occasionally. One of them ends
up on the Bridge...they're talking about going to the Sucker but
the fish sitting right below them in the Lester keep begging for
one more shot. They end up fishing for them "spotter style"
with shout-outs from above as to the location of the fish...my point
being that the fish weren't really holding too long in any one spot
before moving or chasing each other around. Periodically they'd
come around by Brennon or me....
For some reason I felt it wasn't an egg day, and
my guess was correct. I tried the Dull Surprise and got a couple
fair hits (lots of head thrashin) before losing the fly. Next up,
the TUCKER NYMPH and immediately, first cast I tied into another
We got it landed an Brennon took a couple pictures..pictures
of my gloating...brought the Tucker Nymph and it totally worked
in the Red Hat's home waters....I think that's 4 or 5 steelies now
who have fallen for the Tucker!
As the day continued to get brighter the fishing
on the Lester slowed dramatically, and then the Kids showed up.
Must have been around noon; the most "offensive" were
a couple of kids who were out with their dad tossing lead the size
of medium rocks....every time it landed it made a huge splash...heck
one almost nailed Brennon! The kids were about as close to snagging
as you could be, with their Dad sitting on the bridge telling them
where to cast, how far to reel in and then he'd shout "STOP"...not
sure what that was all about. Brennon and I decided it was time
to move on, ending our time at the Lester having gone 1/4 (MP) and
On our way upstream we decided to stop at the Talmadge
and look around. Neil had described it to Brennon and myself but
we hadn't seen it; it truly is a "one-pool" stream...you
have the mouth, a big deep pool that you can't sightfish, and then
right across the road the barrier falls! We probably would have
fished it had there not been four people already there.
On to the Sucker, and we decided to do a bit of
early afternoon exploring...we can get into position for the evening's
fresh fish later. On Saturday we had run across a guy who said that
the fishing upstream was pretty good; lots of sightable fish. That
was all the incentive we needed to check it out.
We geared up and hiked in; on our way down the
hill a guy was coming up and gave us the suggestion to watch the
mud, it was really slippery on the hills. Definitely a good warning;
I am shocked that neither Brennon or I took a spill.
Upstream from the Scenic Highway we found the railroad
tressel...after that the stream briefly splits and then rejoins
upstream in a large pool at a 90 degree turn to the left. Just around
this turn is a good-sized falls. Brennon got up there right away
while I sat and shot a few rounds of Panoramas.
I had to hike a bit back down from my perched location
to cross in some knee-deep runs and make my way up to Brennon...by
this time Brennon decided to keep moving and climbed up the falls.
Shortly thereafter I too made the move; above the falls we found
a medium sized deep run, on the far side the river split and came
back together. Then, continuing up, was another deep cut in a bend,
this time heading to the right. Mostly sandy bottom here; it looked
REALLY fishy though, so both Brennon and I gave it a fair amount
of time before continuing to move.
The river then winds again to the left, maybe 45
degrees, another riffle and then another bend to the right, again
about 45 degrees. Brennon ran into another angler who was working
his way down...apparently he had "rolled a few" but not
landed anything upstream. Brennon and I didn't let this info stop
us; we were both interested in seeing the barrier falls and the
hike was rather enjoyable.
Going around these two aforementioned bends we
found classic pool/riffle structure...well the pools were rather
small so maybe it's better described as pocketwater. The scenery
was just gorgeous.
Sighting fish? Didn't see a single thing! As we
made our way up this fast section of water we found two anglers
camped out in what looked to be the deeper, more likely pockets
you'd find fish. Brennon got back to fishing; I got back to taking
The Barrier Falls were honestly not terribly impressive,
but they did signify the end of the line for andronomous salmonids,
and the end of our hike. As you might expect, there was an angler
camped on the pool, same thing I'd do, so I came back down and suggested
to Brennon that it was time to head downstream!
The hike back out was a bit scary at times...lots
of mud, no well defined path, but we did make it down to the highway.
A quick stop at the car and then we continued downstream through
the pines on the WELL worn path.
On the way down we ran into the three anglers we
had been fishing with earlier at Lester; one of them stopped and
said "Shouldn't you be on the Root?!". I kinda laughed,
MP had been recognized yet again....wierd but I guess folks from
all over the world watch this website (and if we had the traffic
statistics turned ON I could tell you all how MANY people were watching
Anyway, turns out these were the guys from TheHawgTrough.com;
we chatted just a bit 'cause there was fishin' to be had...I think
they had OK luck downstream but were in search mode as we were.
Finally we made it down to the lakefront and I
started pounding the traditional spots. Peach Eggs, Pink eggs and
such were good producers yesterday, so I was back at them today.
It didn't take long to get my first hookup, and
probably after 2 or 3 I landed my first fish...keep in mind that
at this time, I'm STILL thinking that fish with the adipose+pec
clip are steelhead as the THREE (3) DNR guys all told us. So I'm
cursing the steelies, still looking for Loopers!
The action slowed for a bit and Brennon hadn't
tied into anything while I had hooked several...I suggested that
perhaps Brennon come up to where I was and I'd go down; I figured
different flies on a different drift might elicit more hits from
Right when I get down there, I noticed a pod of
fish holding at the tail....and I ask B, "Did you not see the
3 fish sitting right here?!"
"What fish?" was B's reply.
At this point the pod of fish included a hen that
had moved up just below me and was flashing. Quarters were tight
and I fouled up on her several times while drifting. Each time,
I could plainly see I was foul, so rather than set the hook I'd
lay my line flat, give a quick jerk/twitch and the fly would pop
right off...the Hen didn't even seem to mind, which was great 'cause
there were now 5-6 bucks piled up on her!
Well, things were slow for a while until another
guy across from me nailed one...I took a close look at what he was
using...small and bright orange. Whipped out the Estaz egg and tied
FIRST CAST and BAM fish on...fish off. Another
CAST, fish on...fish off. I don't know how many fish I lost fair
at this point, and at what point I FINALLY tied in with the good
It was a good fight, again, you'll see a common
theme running in these reports....Loopers DO fight well..they fight
a lot like the SE WI Lake Run Browns. This guy gave me a run for
my money, tons of thrashing jaw gaping head shakes at the surface.
I'm sure he tried to get down into the lake, but we ended up getting
him landed and I got a chance to admire the beauty of what I STILL
thought was a steelhead! WHY AM I CURSED TO ONLY LAND STEELHEAD?!?!
So Brennon has still NOT hooked up, and I'm feeling
his frustration...time to watch him and see what he's doing / not
doing. Not to knock B, he's a fine angler, but he's making a mistake
that I used to make in my drifts.
Earlier on I had been telling B about FAT's dropped
lead rig (put the led on the tag between tippet and leader)...again
FAT has great theories and this one seems to work really well...if
the lead is not on your main line a) it can slide off the tag should
it become hung up, b) it keeps your main line and fly out of the
bottom rubble, c) it doesn't deaden the connection between you and
the fly, instead acting like a pivot point and thus d) allows you
to feel more of your subtle takes and stops.
B had the dropper thing down, but still wasn't
hooking up. Again, the problem was in the drift, we were using almost
identical flies at this point. Then I caught it, B had his fly line
ON the water (which in this close situation he didn't need to do)
and with the line on the water, he wasn't mending.
FAT never fishes with big chunks of lead on the
fly; only enough to get the fly down and occasionally tap the bottom
rocks. This does require though that you mend your line properly
to keep the fly drifting slightly slower than the surface water,
or if you're fishing in tight on a fairly long leader, you high-stick
and keep the fly line out of the water, only leader in (makes it
REALLY easy to get a good slow drift).
The second B got his fly line off the water he
hooked up! Like a first cast kind of thing. As long as his fly line
was on the water, the surface water had been pushing on the fly
line, causing the flies to speed up and move faster downstream than
the water was moving. This caused them to lift up well off the bottom
and fly right over the fish's heads....the second he made it down
with a good slow drift to the fish, a good solid fair hookup.
In true looper style the head thrashing began and
B was off. No worries, B got it now. 2nd cast, fish on AGAIN! B
tells me it was the same fish that again hit the orange egg. And
yet somehow he FAILS to land this one too, again the looper throws
By this point it's 4:00 PM, do or die time as MP
has a drive all the way back to SE WI ahead of him. 3rd cast.....
SPLASH and another looper fair...Brennon is totally
on the ball with this one and the fight is good and long...running
up and down and all around. More head thrashing, but Brennon stays
connected and I take over net-b*tch duties for a change and carefully
get B's fish landed.
I go in to help untangle the hook & leader
and that's when I stop dead in my tracks....the fish is not HOOKED.
He's not tangled up in the leader either. In fact, this fish was
ONLY hanging on 'cause the YARN on the hook was FIRMLY caught in
his teeth. UNFRICKIN BELIEVABLE, HOLY SH*T this fish was caught
fair without even needing a HOOK! INSANE. I get a picture, you can
actually see if you look closely that the BEND of the hook is tangled
around the net, only the YARN was stuck in this fish's mouth.
Brennon had broken the Sucker River Curse at the
clutch with the most amazing landing I think I've ever seen...fairing
a fish without even hooking it, totally unbelievable. There were
hearty high-fives all around and we got to taking pictures of Brennon
this this prize. Brennon also fills me in that this buck is the
same buck he had just lost twice...that fish wanted B's fly in the
WORST possible way, so bad that he hit 3 times in a row on 3 consecutive
B got to reviving the fish, I kept taking pictures;
we both agreed this was the PERFECT way to end a PERFECT trip to
the North Shore. I ended my day on Sucker going 2/12, Brennon was
at least 1/3, life was good. We packed it up and got to talking
with Tim from TheHawgTrough for a good hour and a half about Iowa,
Brook Trout, and King Salmon down in SE WI. Turns out that I had
nailed a shot of Jason playing a fish back on the Lester too. Finally
around 5:30 PM we simply had to be on the road.
So the story doesn't exactly end here. All weekend
I've been cursing the darn loopers...why can't I get a looper?!
Oh well, 5 STEELIES for the weekend isn't anything to snub your
nose at, but when we get to Neils house I hear the good news...Neil
tells me that in fact I had been right earlier on...all steelies
have maxillary clips...every single fish I've landed was EXACTLY
what I came up for, Kamloops Rainbow Trout. HOW FRIGGIN' SWEET IS
One last note; some of you may be wondering exactly
what a Looper is...Here's my take on it. Looper=Kamloops Rainbow
Trout. They are NOT steelhead, here's why; Steelhead are based on
strains of Rainbow Trout that run up from the sea to spawn, that
is they are andromonous. The Kamloops Rainbow Trout is a LAKE resident
strain from British Columbia; in Superior it runs the rivers just
like a steelhead, but tends to stay close to shore throughout the
year and generally does not run as far up the river as a steelhead
will go...hence why we found redding fish at the MOUTH of the Sucker!
Overall, the differences between a Looper and a
Steelhead can be summed up like this: Loopers tend to be "thicker
bodied", which I think accounts for the nature of the fight;
Loopers tend to bulldog more...they fight a LOT like a lake run
brown trout (and are built more like one too). Loopers tend NOT
to jump, but instead do a lot of head thrashing. I think they fight
this way at least due in part to their football-like body shape;
it's hard for a fat fish to go airborne; sleek steelies have no
problem getting the speed needed to achieve low earth orbit. Additionally,
the loopers have more spots and the spots travel farther down the
body, well below the lateral line. Looper HENS can color up just
like the males, which I can't really say I've seen in a steelhead.
Look at the fresh hens we caught this morning and compare the coloration
with a fresh hen steelie, which will be totally silver. Our hens
were some of the most gorgeous fish we've ever landed, and the Looper
bucks had all the bright red coloration one would look for, but
the best part was these were all pretty FRESH fish!
I hope you didn't get enough of the North Shore...it
was so good that the moment I got home I started planning a trip
for the following weekend!