We know the steel head move north as the season gets later but this has been a cold spring and the fish are still around close to Duluth. We made a pit stop by the French River because there is a spawning area that is illegal to fish and the fish are there in copious amounts. The reason for stopping was to see how many were still in the river, we were in luck the rivers still loaded with Steelies, but from spending weeks in the river banging against rocks, logs, and one another they are becoming a dark ugly color and appear to be deteriorating.
A short jaunt up the North Shore is Betty's pies a great spot to stop for a bite, but we weren't there for that as it is located right next to the Stewart River, which we thought would give us the best chance to lay into some steelies. Seth and Donnie had fished the river the year before so they already had a few spots picked out. A few miles short of the river rain drops start to pepper the wind shield, a little rain wasn't about to dampen our spirits. We slapped on our waders, set up our fly-rods, and made sure we were carrying the right back up lures, and off we went up the river. There was no shortage of fishermen, so we had to follow the fishermen code and pass up on the first pool that produced last year as we didn't want to be those guys.
Getting across the river was no walk in the park, the river was high and we needed to cross a section with fast moving rapids and a steep rock wall. One after the other we cautiously climbed down the side and handed each other our rods, part two actually getting across the waist high rapids without filling our waders. Sounds easy enough well it wasn't hunting waders are pretty buoyant and like to float from underneath a guy if he isn't careful. We moved slowly and successfully, no one went swimming. Roughly a quarter mile further up the river was the second pool they had in mind and we were in luck, no one was fishing our spot.
All of us were casting yarn or a lure made of yarn to imitate an egg as that's what their diet is during this part of the season. We each took a spot and repeatedly whipped our lures over every inch of the raging river. With a late start to the day most of our casts were unsuccessful, catching rocks and branches. And as the mid-day wore on, my fingers got cold. I wasn't properly dressed, I had no gloves, I was wearing a ball cap and my jacket didn't have a hood and was only water retardant. For fishing with yarn a special knot called a snell knot is used and with cold hands I was no longer able to get close to tying it. I had to rely on Donnie, the knot master to help me or I would have had to retie my line all the time.
11:30 A.M. I'm fumbling with my line trying to get reset, after a fight with a rock for a good five minutes when bam! got one! yells Seth. Donnie and I quickly set our rods to the side and observe Seth as he gracefully plays the steelie, he tells me, "grab the net" I do as I'm told and step shin deep in the water and try to net the Houdini of fish. This fish wasn't having any part of the net, I had his head and half his body in when he decided it wasn't going down like this, it shot out of the net and I chased and damn near went face first into the water. Seth's reel was buzzing and the fight was back on. After another couple minutes the fish was worn out and In Seth's grip. A nice steelie roughly 25'' in length and beautiful in color. I snapped a few pics with Seth's camera so I can prove it's not one of those fishing stories, but I am going to wait till the weekend for the pics as Seth is a busy man.
For the most part we practice catch and release and on this day it was no different, after a couple photos and a bit of marveling at the creature Seth placed it in the stream and gave it a little fish CPR to make sure it would swim off. On with our day, a half hour after the catch another friend, Kyle, joined up with us and we all went back to snagging trees and catching rocks. After a couple hours of no fish and lots of rain we had enough of the Stewart River for the day and headed to the trucks. Its amazing how great a; rainy, unsuccessful day of fishing can be, we sat on Kyle's tail gate, Wild Cat in hand, getting dumped on, and it was awesome. It was my first experience fly-fishing on the North Shore and miraculously I'm addicted.