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STEELHEAD 2016

North Shore rivers and other tributaries to Lake Superior are still asleep, but last years’s remarkable steelhead run and intrigue about the 2016 return are increasing anticipation for April fishing from Duluth to Grand Marais and beyond.  “Last year was pretty darn good, so we are hoping for another one,” said Russ Francisco of Marine General in Duluth.

According to the Rainbow Trout Management Summary for the Minnesota Waters of Lake Superior, the state Department of Natural Resources[DNR] recorded a shorewide catch of 3,588 steelhead last spring, 40 percent more than the historic average.  The spike was achieved despite a low turnout of anglers, including some who were deterred by on again, off again stream flows.    Nick Peterson, a migratory fish specialist for the DNR in Duluth, said angling hours in April and May last season declined by 32 percent to 21,120 for the period.  Together with the abundance of fish, North Shore anglers enjoyed the highest steelhead catch rates in at least 23 years.

“Last year it was right on the money in terms of timing of the spring,” Peterson said.  Fishable rivers flows sparked by pulses of rain were a welcomed change from the previous two springs, when late ice and cold disrupted spawning runs.  By contrast in 2015, Duluth-area streams started to clear in early April and all rivers up the shore were free of ice by late-April.  That could be the case again this year.

The DNR surveys anglers at 18 North Shore tributaries and operates a steelhead fish trap on the Knife River.  Steelhead retuns in 2015 were the highest observed since the trap became operational in 1996, the agency said.

Craig Wilson, president of the Lake Superior Steelhead Association, said the flourish last year could be attributed in part to good stocking from 22008-10.  Eggs were collected from wild adults, hatched in DNR facilities and fry returned to the river.  If the young mature in the river for two years before swimming to Lake Superior, they have an approximately one-in-eight chance of returning to spawn four or five years later, Wilson said.  They can return to spawn six times in their lifetimes.

We are starting to see stocking make a difference,” he said.  But Peterson said returns are difficult to predict from year to year, and low returns are possible.  He said DNR stream assessments in the Knife River and its tributaries found few juvenile steelhead from the 2011 and 2012 year classes.  “The influence of these weak year classes on adult returns should start to be realized with adult returns in 2016,” Peterson wrote in his latest report. From Tony Kennedy  writer for the Star Tribune.

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