Points North: Strange Steelhead Fishing

Steelhead, photo from wikimedia commons
Steelhead, photo from wikimedia commons

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Steelhead began running in North Shore rivers nearly a month ahead of schedule. If the rivers get much dryer, they’ll have to walk rather than swim upstream to reach their spawning grounds. The snowmelt has run off the land and has not been followed notable precipitation—neither rain nor snow.

At this writing, enough water is running in streams, especially the larger ones, to merit going fishing. Actually, the catching can be pretty good in such situations, because the big rainbow trout have few places where they can hide from anglers. Fortunately, catch and release rules protect the vulnerable spawners from harvest.

I don’t enjoy fishing in drought conditions and so have spent less time on rivers than usual. My guess is that the first good rain (hopefully lasting a week) will raise the rivers and improve the fishing conditions. My experience tells me that after the rain occurs, water temperatures will rapidly warm, bringing an early end to the run. Bottom line: if you want to catch a steelhead, go fishing soon.

And when you do go, use a single hook. A local conservation officer told me she received a question from angler who is hearing that some fly-fishers are using a separate dropper fly off their leader. While you can use up to three flies on inland trout waters, such is not the case in the lower reaches of North Shore streams, where a single-hook-only rule applies.

This rule is in place for a good reason. Years ago, snagging steelhead and salmon was a common, if unlawful, practice. Someone skilled at the “Knife River twitch” was especially deadly if they used treble hooks, which is why they were outlawed. Those twitchers can still do plenty of damage with a single hook and a few, surprisingly, still exist. I see one or two blatant snaggers on Minnesota rivers every spring. However, chronic poachers, who once operated with impunity on the North Shore, are no longer tolerated by the vast majority of river anglers.

Unfortunately, we continue to live with their legacy—the single-hook rule. Not only does this mean you can’t fish with two or three flies, it also means you can’t use treble-hooked Mepps spinners, Rapalas or Little Cleo spoons in North Shore streams. All are common lures for trout elsewhere. This is not to suggest we change the rule, but only to show how bad apples can spoil it for everyone.

Airdate: April 8, 2010

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