Few fisheries offer the options or opportunities of Minnesota’s share of mighty Lake Superior and its fish-rich major tributary, the St. Louis River. Afoot or afloat, savvy anglers can find good fishing for a variety of species all month long on this slice of Great Lakes paradise.
To be sure, this rolling, sprawling, inland sea can be intimidating. Its sheer size alone causes more than a few anglers to shy away from its icy waters. That’s understandable. Minnesota’s portion of Lake Superior is 1.4 million acres, which is a lot for one lake — especially when you consider that the rest of our fishable waters total 3.8 million acres. Superior is big enough to swallow the other Great Lakes with ease — and still have enough room for a trio of Lake Erie-sized fisheries. But the good news is, you can narrow much of it down pretty quickly.
You can start the process by determining which species you’re after. If walleyes, northern pike, smallmouth bass or crappies are your quarry, the St. Louis is a great option. Superior gets the nod for a salmonid smorgasbord including lake trout and salmon — namely cohos and kings, but also including pinks — as well as the occasional brown trout, steelhead and kamloops rainbow.
Let’s start in Duluth, our gateway to the action. Carved into the rugged cliffs of the Sawtooth Mountain foothills, this historic seaport offers traveling anglers everything to outfit a big-water adventure, including ample accommodations, bait, charters and much more.
On the trout and salmon front, water temperature is a critical factor in finding the fish.
To be sure, cool water is the rule on Superior. Dip your toes into the lake along the shifting beach sands of Park Point and even in July they’ll quickly turn blue. But the lake’s surface temps and the whims of ever-changing underwater currents vary enough to shuffle salmonids around among largely predictable locations.
Right now, the action is relatively close to shore. Cruise under the iconic aerial lift bridge and out onto the main lake, and you won’t have to venture far to find lake trout and salmon. Trollers target lakers and salmon over depths to about 60 feet of water, and because the surface is still chilly, there’s no need to dredge bottom. If you’re new to the game, there’s no need to buy your own tackle store to get started. Go-to presentations include a spread of crankbaits, spoons or treble-rigged smelt towed behind fish-attracting flashers.
“Water temperature is key,” says Russ Francisco, owner of Marine General (800-777-8557), a staple supplier of gear and advice for North Shore anglers since the mid-1970s. “Depending on the weather, the Minnesota and Wisconsin shorelines near Duluth are typically very good in June for lake trout and salmon, because the surface water is a bit warmer than out on the main lake or farther up the North Shore.”
For example, you might find trout-friendly 42- to 46-degree surface temps near shore in the “corner” of the lake near Duluth and the city of Superior, compared to 36 degrees farther out or near the Knife River.
“Look for temperature breaks,” he adds, “these can really be red-hot. Lake Superior doesn’t have a lot of fish for its size, but where there are fish, there are a lot of them!”
Francisco favors stickbaits for taking lake trout, which typically run a couple of pounds but can top 20. “Troll a large Rapala X-Rap, Storm ThunderStick or Brad’s 57 Chevy (a gaudy, yellow and orange-ladderback bait) at speeds of 1 to 1.2 mph,” he says, noting that large baits in bright colors are the rule. “You don’t necessarily want to match the hatch; you want your bait to stand out from the crowd.”
The strike zone hinges on water temperature, but rarely dips below 30 feet from the surface right now. Delivery options include longlining, adding some type of weight, and running downriggers. Stout mono in the 15-pound class, such as Berkley Big Game or Sufix, are local favorites, he says. If you use a low-stretch super-braid, add a mono or fluorocarbon leader to help avoid spooking the fish.
One of Francisco’s favorite trolling grounds is right off Park Point, which is easy enough for small-boat anglers to tackle. “The beauty of a trailerable boat is, when the surface temperature gets too warm here, you can tow the boat a bit farther up the North Shore to one of the public accesses to stay on the action,” he says.
To keep abreast of water temperatures, Francisco recommends monitoring Web sites like CoastWatch, from Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provide temperature trends and other handy data. Watching charter boats is also an option, as the veteran captains collaborate to keep on top of ideal conditions. Speaking of charters, there’s no better way to learn the ropes in a hurry that booking a trip with one of the many fine boats running out of Duluth. The Web site www.fishduluth.com offers information and handy links to get you started.
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