9-23-06 - Stars In Alignment!
Waters Fished: Neil's Secret Trib #1, Brule River, Temperance River, Neil's Secret Trib #2, Baptism River
Fish Caught: TONS
Outing Date: 9-23-06
Raining right up until we started fishing - cloudy all day
Air Temp: rising into the upper 50's
Water Temp: N/A
Water Level: up - first bump in flows in 2 months
Water Color: #1 was cloudy, Brule Clear, Temperance Heavily Stained, #2 clear, Baptism cloudy and stained.
Fish Species: Pink Salmon, Coho Salmon, Brook Trout (Coaster), King Salmon
Pattern Fished: Mostly eggs
Pattern Color: Orange eggs accounted for 90% of the fish I personally landed.
Let me start this report off with a comment about WHERE I am at the moment - for a change, I"m actually able to write this report ON the drive back from Duluth with Neil and Brennon in the front seat. We've just finished roughly 14 hours of the best fishing I've experienced on Minnesota's North Shore, not to mention that we were pretty much right on time for Fall Colors. As it happens, this was also my first trip to the North Shore in the FALL! Everyone needs to thank Renee - she had a wedding to attend in the Twin Cities, but due to her involvement in the wedding itself, she actually suggested that I didn't need to go with, thus opening the window of opportunity for this trip to actually happen. Had I not already had the time off of work originally scheduled to go with Renee to the wedding, I wouldn't have taken the time off nor would I have even THOUGHT about heading up to the North Shore. A lot of this day on the water has ended up being very serendipitous. The worst part? We started fishing about 16 hours before the time I've actually sat down to write this report, and already the day is a BLUR. I've personally had 2 quick naps, Brennon at least that many, and somehow Neil has been driving EVERYWHERE (where he gets the energy I have no clue). I'll stop the rambling and get to the highlights in a moment, my apologies for summarizing much of this trip, but seriously, I caught so many fish I lost track, if that gives you ANY indication of how outstanding this day on the North Shore turned out to be. A special thanks to Brennon and Neil for joining me on this adventure, and to Renee for "freeing me up" to see my MN buds!
Our morning started at 2:00 AM, leaving Red Hat's house in the Twin Cities area, making the long drive north, through Duluth, and onward northeast along the Lake Superior Northern Shore. Our starting destination was a small unnamed tributary that Neil has permission to fish and bring guests. In the past 2 months the entire north shore tributary system has been woefully undernourished...there hadn't been any rain or bumps in river flow. Of course, it rained all yesterday and the entire drive north. Neil suggested that I may be a bit of a good luck charm. I suggested that if I really was the good luck rain charm, the rain would stop right before we got on the river.
T-Bone, Red Hat and I met up with Flyboy - while Alice and I went through a somewhat draw out morning ritual, the rest of the guys were rigged and ready to go. By the time I made it down to the water, several fish had already been hooked. Did I mention the rain stopped about 10 minutes before we arrived? :)
As it turned out, there were Pink Salmon everywhere. As I spent the pre-dawn working the middle of the lower pool, I realized that as I stood at the water's edge, Pinks were swimming less than 1 foot away from the shore!
A change in strategy, casting upstream along the shore produced my first pink. Soon thereafter the sun came up (although you wouldn't have known it with all the clouds!). One by one, we worked our way upstream, Dan first, then Neil, then myself, and finally Brennon.
The water upstream simply provided some better fly fishing opportunities...rather than a large pool of relatively slow moving water, we could actually get a decent drift going. Neil, Brennon and myself all landed several pinks. Crap, a "Tire Pressure Sensor Fault" just beeped and flashed as we're driving down 35....this happened once before, I checked it and found nothing wrong with my tires. Great, the new Hybrid Escape is most definitely not "Bitchin'"....let's hope this doesn't end up being an actual problem!
Where was I? Ah yes, upstream, chasing Pinks. The morning simply flew by. Most every single fish I landed came on a bright orange egg pattern..the only other patterns to produced were a peach egg and a red egg with white wing. During the mid-morning I started fouling a lot of fish...part of it was being tired from only 4 hours of real sleep, and part of it was simply setting the hook on any little fish bump. Once I realized I could wait, watch, and observe a pink shaking it's head violently in the vicinity of my flies, I quickly stopped setting the hooks on fin and belly bumps, focusing on watching for thrashing heads. The foul rate dropped like a rock...still fouled one here and there. One note, I can't really say I ever felt these initial headshakes...they were transmitted back to my just like any other pause that's not 100% solid. Adding vision strike confirmation really turned the game around - I spent less time landing and unhooking fouled fish, which gave me more time to make drifts (and ultimately hook more fair).
Well, anyway, sometime likely after 10:00 AM Neil excited called downstream to Brennon and myself - Dan had something on that we needed to see. I anticipated our wildest dreams, a Coaster (Migratory Brook Trout). Even though one had been seen, not this fish - instead, something just about as rare on the North Shore, a Coho!
We continued fishing until almost noon - the Pink Salmon fishing rivaled some of the best days I've spent on the Garden River over the past couple years. While the Lake Superior Pinks were arguably smaller on average than those coming out of Huron, they were every bit as eager to bite and I never had a moment where I doubted there were fish available to my flies! If every drift has a real possibility of hooking a fish, what more can you really ask for?
After eating a fantastic Hot Roast Beef Sandwich at the Blue Water Cafe in Grand Marais, we got back on the road to hit another area stream - the North Shore's Brule River (not to be confused with the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin on Superior's south shore). Suffice it to say I did not personally fish - I spent the time hiking with Alice, trying to get her to do her thing and get some exercise. I took a LOT of pictures despite Alice trying to pull me every which way. There were definitely Pinks here too; when I finally met up with the rest of our group, Brennon had lost at least 2. The fishing was more "typical" perhaps of a North Shore experience...there were pods of pinks around, and as long as you could get to them you had a real shot at landing several fish.
For the rest of the day, part of the goal was not so much to catch more fish, but to show me more of the Upper & Middle Shore tributaries - up until today I'd only been as far upshore as the Baptism River. As Neil drove, he'd point out tributaries that we didn't actually stop at, filing me in on details like the locations of barrier falls, the typical "experience" on such a trib which includes information like "xyz is usually really low in the fall...". Basically, we started working our way back towards Duluth because it was pretty clear from our time on the Brule that the Upper North Shore did not receive the rain that the middle shore had gotten. We passed several good streams that Neil might have liked to spend some time at but were either low or crowded.
We did make a brief stop at the Temperance River - Dan hightailed it to the shore and quickly got into a couple Pinks. Neil pointed out one of his favorite and most challenging spots to fish and we snapped some more pictures. Alice continued to be a maniac, and with all the non-angling tourists around, plus several anglers throwing hardware, we decided to keep moving rather than waste our time here.
Our next stop was another small unnamed tributary which Neil brought us to. We weren't even sure we were going to stay, this was more a "let's just see what it's like" type of stop. Upon seeing the river, it became clear that we should do more than just look around.
Neil ended up taking a break from the fishing while Dan, Brennon and myself scrambled to get on the water - it was already 3:30 PM now! The plan was to fish for maybe an hour and then head to the Baptism to confirm some information we had received earlier in the day (and maybe fish there too). I managed to locate a particularly good fishing hole almost immediately upon getting on the water. That fishing hole wasn't actually in the river, but rather was the surf zone of Lake Superior, right outside the creek mouth. Realistically, every 5-10 good drifts produced a solid hookup. Here too I had several fouled fish, but this was due to the constantly shifting water as it crashed into shore and sometimes even as far as up into the first pool of the river! One wave would reveal a pod of fish, and moments later the next wave would push them off somewhere else and I'd be wondering "where'd those 50 fish just go?"
Despite the very heavy surf and the constantly shifting fish locations I simply inialiated the pinks! Sometimes, instead of 5-10 casts, the very next cast following a clean release was another hookup. With waves crashing all around me, gorgeous fall colors, a beautiful location and near constant hookups, I'd say we just blew the Garden River out of the water. Neil almost never got a chance to go upstream..he was onshore snapping pics and vids of the pinks. So far I've now been blessed with two unforgettable fishing experiences this fall! Now, the highpoint was my 1.5, not quite a full double, but hey, up until the very last moment I was pretty sure I had a true double. We can argue whether fishing 2 flies in the LAKE was legal or not some other time...that whole "single hook" reg is vague enough when it comes to the MN tribs, but I was standing in the LAKE when I was fishing for these fish! Of course, um, Red Hat has to inform me that the "tributary" extends 100 yards into the lake...WTF? MN still has some of the weirdest, vaguest, most ambiguous regs when it comes to fly fishing!
Like all good trips, you get to a point where you've landed so many fish they just don't seem to matter! The boys wanted to head over to the Baptism River - who am I to argue at this point!
We hiked through the forest path to the river, set up shop and simply hoped for the best. Fish weren't sightable so we'd be fishing blind. The rocks in the Baptism quickly took their toll on my already weary body...I don't think I moved more than 10 or 20 yards from where we stepped into the river before I made my last stand.
Neil and Brennon still had the drive and desire for fish. Neil's persistence paid off when he located a small pod of Pinks after sighting a King. He quickly lost one Pink and then landed his second hookup, all while perched on a boulder midstream. It was quite the display of angling prowess!
By this point dusk was quickly blanketing the valley - the camera no longer had the shutter speeds for GOOD pictures. I flogged water and made long casts, covering what I could while perched on my own high-and-dry boulder. Brennon gave the pod a shot, while Neil moved upstream to the tailout and succeeded in one last fish before dusk turned to complete darkness.
A drive through Duluth, a stop at McDonald's for dinner, and we're right back where this report started - in the hybrid, heading to the Twin Cities, and me, exhausted, typing away, worn out from some of the best salmon fishing I've seen in a couple years!