Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall on the North Shore

     Although it is supposed to be nearly 90 degrees today and humid as a sauna, fall is on my mind.  The Sate Fair is here and cooler nights are in the forecast.  Soon the leaves will change colors and there are few better places to witness a sea of fall colors than the North Shore of Minnesota's Lake Superior.  The combination of rocky rivers and blaze orange maples always tempts me into a picture or 500.   There are a number of places to stay on the North Shore.  My favorite is Easy Bay Suites in Grand Marais.  The staff is friendly and rooms are freshly renovated.  Plus, the view is amazing.  The place sits right on the water.   Grand Marais is a great town too.  There are at least three restaurants that are great and one in every price range from the Crooked Spoon on the high end to My Sisters Place on the dive/but great food and beer end.  The Gunflint Tavern sits as a nice middle ground with a great beer selection and a fresh modern menu. 
Cascade River
Cascade River
Beautiful North Shore veiw
Cascade River State Park
Oberg Mountain

    I would not recommend the Beaver Bay Inn in Beaver Bay.  Unless you want unwashed sheets and/or to stay in a renovated trailer.   I would stay away unless it is the last place on the North Shore.  Unfortunately, it happened to be the only place available for us one year. 
    The other great attraction to the north shore in fall is the pink salmon run.  Even if you are not a fisherman/fisherperson the site of migrating salmon up a river right in front of your eyes offers a real connection to a species' fight for survival.  No one apparently knows how the pink salmon were introduced to the North Shore but it appears they are here to stay.  All pink salmon are naturally produced; the DNR does not stock these fish.  The salmon come into the rivers along Lake Superior in mid September and spawn through early October.  They lay their eggs in the gravely river bottom where they develop until March or April.  Then they leave the river and live in the lake for usually 2 years before they return to spawn.  Spawning is a one time event for salmon.  The males drastically change their appearance.  They grow a mean looking hook jaw and form a huge humped back giving the pink salmon their nick name, humpies.   The females generally look as they do in the lake.   Once they enter the river their stomachs collapse to make room for eggs and their bodies start to decay.  Since pink salmon do not eat while spawning in the rivers, it is best to target fish that have just entered the river and attempt to illicit an instinct strike.  This can be done by drifting either a large fly that imitates something that may be a risk to the eggs like a minnow or, as a different tactic, an egg pattern that is literally drifted inches from the fishes mouth. 
    Pink salmon are not known for being great eating fish.  When caught in the lake the flesh is firmer and better but once they enter the river they start to get a little mushy. The best bet for good eating fish is to release fish that look a little decayed and keep ones that look fresh from the lake. 
    On another note, there may be people present who are snagging or otherwise illegally "catching" fish.  This is poaching and should be reported to the DNR.  A few years back I saw a person reeling a 3/0 treble hook through a group of over a hundred salmon.  He dragged them in by their backs and tossed them in a trash bag on shore, alive.  It is possible that you will snag a fish by accident since there are so many fish but try to bring it in quickly and release it immediately.   Taking a few legally caught fish home is perfectly okay. There are so many fish in such a small spawning ground I think all possible sites for fish to develop are saturated.
Pink salmon spawning.  Notice the big one in the middle?  Yeah, that's a King salmon.  There are a few of those around but not many.
Call to report poachers:

    The sheer number of salmon in the rivers is amazing.  Hundreds of fish school together and spawn in the pools of north shore streams.  The two places I have seen huge numbers of fish and have actually caught fish were at Cascade State Park and Temperance State Park.  At Cascade, walk up river from the highway 61 crossing to the first slow spot in the river.  There should be fish stacked up along this run for about 50 yards.  At Temperance, walk towards the lake and to a small beach on the south side of the river. There should be fish right at the river outlet to the lake. 
Temperance River State Park
    Even without fishing the North Shore is a beautiful place to visit that time of year.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have over the last few years.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I was recently back in San Diego for a conference and to visit my family for a few days. The last time I was there over the winter I gave some surf fishing a try. I didn't catch anything but during the winter there are not too many fish in the surf. Summer on the other hand is sand crab spawning time and the beaches are alive with all sorts of fish and little crabs diving under the sand in the breakers.
This time, I decided to get some flies at a local shop and figure out what equipment I should be using. Basically, I found out that I didn't have any of the right equipment with me. I left my 9 wt at home due to lack of carry on capacity and I figured I could borrow my Dad's 5wt. The 9wt would have been okay, maybe a little heavy. My intermediate line would work okay as a running line but I really needed a shooting head. And a striping basket, for sure. I know, a striping basket for surf/beach fishing sounds funny but, as I found out later, they are absolutely required. I read on a forum somewhere that a pretty nice striping basket could be made from a small dish tub and a nylon cinching belt. In fact, a very nice striping basket can be made form the a fore mentioned parts and everything, including a waterproof box for my camera, can be found at walmart for less than $15 (the striping basket parts totaled $4 the waterproof box was $11). So, with a under-weighted rod, no shooting head, and some pretty bulky heavy flies, I tried surf fishing.
Torry Pines State Beach
I was standing about where this is about to crash.  Not as much fun with a striping basket and a rod as it is while swimming
Surf fishing with a trout rod.  Don't try this at home. Notice the size of the fly I was trying to cast.  It's almost as long as my reel. 

Can you tell I really set myself up behind the eight ball? Yeah, here we go. My first tip is make sure the striping basket is in the right spot. There is nothing worse than striping in a bunch of line directly into the tumbling surf. If you think a current does bad stuff with striped in line you should see what the surf can do. Second tip: pick a beach that has some time between breakers. I tried Torry Pines State beach first and really had a tough time. I waded in about up to my waist which is right about where the shore break was crashing. The waves were about 1.2 seconds apart which gave me about 10 feet to cast before the next wave would crash and send my line every which way. The idea is to wait for a wave to break in front of you and cast between waves. Since there was no time between waves, there was no place to fish. I left defeated and pretty wet. I was fishing in my trunks with my shirt on and I was soaked. I got back to the car and realized I forgot a towel too. Now I was wet, fishes and very frustrated.
This sport did not exist in San Diego when I moved away. 

I headed back up north to try and find a beach with more spaced out waves. Once I go up to Carlsbad I found a nice stretch of beach that was flatter and seemed to be just what I was looking for. I waded out and realized what my next problem was going to be. It turns out, that I can cast a surf fly with a 5wt about 40 feet which is about 40 feet too short. I had huge open stretches of water to cast to but I could only get my fly out maybe 50 feet if I really tried hard. I see why a 7wt with a nice shooting head is standard equipment. Once again I couldn't shake the skunk and I went back in.
Carlsbad State beach
I learned a few things. Having the right tool for the job is just as important in fly fishing as all other endeavors. Its just too bad my wife doesn't understand why I need ANOTHER fly rod and another fly line and oh yeah, another reel that won't get destroyed in salt water. Maybe if I move back to San Diego I'll get the right stuff but for now, maybe next time I'm in town I'll try out the sweet water river with my 3 wt for some trout.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I was up in north central Minnesota over the 4th of July and again a few weeks back.  There are not too many trout streams up there but I tried my luck in both of them.  The Straight river flows near Park Rapids MN and is one of the premier trout streams in the state.  Apparently, not were I was fishing.  It was choked with vegetation on both sides, which made walking the river almost impossible.  I think I saw 1 trout but there were too many chubs hitting my fly to have a fair chance at the trout.  There has to be better spots somewhere on the stream but I would skip the spots near Osage and try down near Highway 71.  What the Straight lacked in fish quantity it made up for in absolute stunning scenery. I'll add some pictures soon. 

I also fished Stoney Brook that flows into Upper Gull Lake near Nisswa MN.  This stream is spring fed and ice cold even in late July. Stoney Brook is catch and release for all brook trout and has quite a decent population because of that.  The main difficulty is finding a spot were a cast doesn’t spook all the trout in the pool. It runs slow and gin clear close to the parking area. Try heading up stream and fish moving and broken water for better luck. I ended up catching 4 in a few hours.
A respectable sized native brook trout
He decided to hang out by my feet for a second
One of the only runs that was fishable