fly fishing
   Scott Thomas Thorpe


About Lake Superior Steelhead

Rainbow trout (steelhead) from the McCloud River, California were introduced into Lake Michigan's AuSable River in the 1880's and subsequently into Lake Superior in 1895. Additional Rogue River steelhead strains were introduced in the Duluth area and by the turn of the century, steelhead had naturalized in most rivers in the western end of Lake Superior. By the 1940's, steelhead were common throughout Lake Superior. The collapse of the lake trout population due to sea lamprey predation and over fishing in the 1950's created the perfect niche for steelhead and the 1960's and 1970's are generally acknowledged to be the apogee of Lake Superior steelhead angling. Populations along Wisconsin's south shore and Minnesota's north shore are in fluctuation, and reflect the varying carrying capacity of the big lake and each individual tributary. Runs into the Wisconsin Bois Brule, a spring fed stream, averaged around 8,000 steelhead a year for a decade. However, the 2011-12 run was half of that. The runs returned to about 6,700 steelhead in 2012-13 but dropped to 3,800 in 2013-14. Runs into Minnesota's Knife River, once the premier stream of the north shore, now average under 500 wild steelhead annually. The Lake Superior Steelhead Association, recipients of a Lessard-Sams grant is striving to improve fish habitat in the cooler headwater tributaries of the Knife. The north shore streams of Lake Superior are probably the harshest environment in which wild steelhead can survive. Their short length and rapid descent from the rugged Canadian Shield mean minimal spawning and nursery areas. These rivers are fed primarily from surface run-off, and as spate streams, fluctuate wildly from high to low water. Winter flows are minimal and summer flows can be low and lethally warm. It is a tough little steelhead smolt that can survive two seasons in a Lake Superior north shore river before heading out to explore the lake.

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