Spring Rainbows and Steel Part I

Two thousand sixteen was a decent year for Lake Superior’s rainbow trout and steelhead along Minnesota’s North shore. With the social media monster growing ever larger and creating exponentially greater fishing pressure, I have decided to hold off on posting regular updates and create more of an end-of-season summary instead. We had some great days on the water this year so I will be doing this in several installments.

As of the end of April, 1,395 rainbow trout had been captured at the French River trap. This is really good news since the long-term average is 884. But fishing success has not followed with the high numbers of fish captured which has been a bit of a mystery to the locals who fish the shore regularly. Before much of the fish rearing migrated to the Spire Valley hatchery, fishing was quite good in the fall and all winter. For the past several years, this has not been the case – but the numbers of fish are still out there which has been baffling.

Lake Superior Rainbow Trout

Joe caught this nice female rainbow trout on one of his very own hand-tied jigs.

My friend Joe was putting in his time early on trying to catch a rainbow trout from shore this year and when he finally did, he texted me a picture I will not soon forget. The fish did not grab my attention but the fact that he put it on the front seat of his truck! I think he was pretty excited to get that first fish of the year.

Great Lakes Rainbow Trout

This trout received special treatment and even got to ride shotgun in Joe’s truck!

Once in a while, things really came together for us…

Great Lakes Rainbow Trout

A banner day catching rainbow trout along Lake Superior’s North shore.

Great Lakes Steelhead

One of the nicer looking steelhead from this spring.

Great Lakes Steelhead

Great Lakes Rainbow Trout

Some of the rainbows get a fungus that grows on them. No one is really sure what causes it, but apparently it is harmless… yet I have seen fish that appear blind in one eye if the fungus covers much of their face. I don’t care much for catching these fungus-faced trout but they still put up a good fight.

Who is Tina?

It was a typical day at the fish hatchery. Fish roe and milt were stripped from live fish using compressed air. Before fertilization, the eggs are first disinfected because of concerns for disease. They are then moved into special tanks where they hatch into baby rainbow trout. Something happened on this day that no one ever noticed. One of those fish eggs mutated.

Did it have something to do with the treatment process for disease? Was something else introduced by accident? Did some kind of green ooze leak into the tank? Are we witnessing the first ever mutant ninja rainbow trout? Whatever it was that happened – on this day, Tina was born.

This is not Tina, but possibly an answer to another question:

Some people believe Tina is the the result of some transgenic trout experiment gone wrong.

Some people believe Tina is the result of a transgenic trout experiment gone wrong. (Researchers have developed transgenic rainbow trout with enhanced muscle growth that results in fish with what have been described as six-pack abs and muscular shoulders.)

My friend Mitch and I were sitting on some late ice early this spring sight fishing for these big Lake Superior rainbow trout when we first met her. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Very slowly she just coasted through the water underneath us. An enormous mutant. She must have been 12″ tall or more and well over 30″ long. Her belly was so wide and saggy it ballooned out wider than her back so when you looked straight down at her she just looked goofy. There was clearly something different about this fish besides her unnatural proportions. She did not look or behave like a normal hatchery trout. It was clear that she had a higher brain function than any other fish. This was Tina.

There are rumors that Tina was born with two heads and after one head fell off, she was left with twice the brain power and twice the normal body size of any other trout.

There are rumors that Tina was born with two heads and after one head fell off, she was left with twice the brain power and twice the normal body size of any other trout.

Again and again, she would circle through and slowly coast circles around our presentations without even moving a fin or tail. Already, each of us had iced a couple of nice rainbow trout, but Tina was too smart to fall for our tricks. Each time she came by nice and slow, she would look straight up at our presentation out of the corner of her eye – almost head cocked like a curious bird – studying them very closely. I wonder now if she was looking straight up through the gaping hole in the ice and studying me, looking me right in the eye.

We tried every dirty trick we new at the time to try to coax Tina to bite, but each time she would just study everything very slowly and deliberately. We ended the day with more questions than answers. And I have since made it my goal for this season to find Tina.

I know I have been close. Below you will find pictures of Helga and Henry – both large fish who were in cahoots with Tina and caught in recent week. They were interrogated at length as to Tina’s whereabouts. All that we could get out of them was that they knew Tina and she was still out there somewhere close by. Henry and Helga did not get the chance to go back and warn Tina. I’m not taking any chances. I will find her. If not this year then next when she continues to grow even more massive and further mutate.

Beautiful Spring Day on the Big Lake

It felt like summer for a day. And then it dropped about 30 degrees the next. Taking advantage of the nice weather like everyone else, we took a kayak and canoe out on the lake to jig for herring and lake trout. The fishing was okay, but the weather was better. A couple of herring and several lake trout made it into the boats. After fishing deep we ventured shallower and even managed a nice steelhead. The fishing should continue to pick up but seems to shut down during the drastic temperature changes. Although some seemed to hit it just right and had some pretty good fishing.

lake superior canoe fishing lake superior canoe fishing lake superior kayak fishing lake superior steelhead

Last walkable ice, first big rainbows

The ice was deteriorating quickly but we were determined to get one more day in before it was gone. Calm winds and steady temperatures were on our side. Action was not fast and furious, but we spent all day and there were just enough fish around to keep us interested.

Dead deer frozen in the ice

When I first walked out, I did not know what I was looking at and walked right on past.

Deer drowned in the ice

Less than 48 hours prior, the ice was borderline walk-able and this deer found out the hard way. It must have wandered out at night, broke through and couldn’t make it back out, dying of exhaustion and drowning. Sad.

Mitch with his first big Lake Superior rainbow through the ice.

Mitch with his first big Lake Superior rainbow through the ice.

Lake Superior Kamloops Rainbow Trout