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Today our steelhead have approximately 60 streams and rivers along Minnesota's North Shore accessible for their spring migration; roughly 20 of these waters produce major spring runs. One can pursue these silver bullets as soon as the rivers “open up” from the ice cover, usually in April. At this time, as the water warms, the steelhead are quick to ascend the rivers (in most cases less than a mile), “dig” their Redds, spawn, and return to the big lake in hopes to spawn another season. The Steelhead of the North Shore have nearly 145 miles of rivers to run. 80 of these miles are a result of modifying some of the natural falls through stream improvement.
Fall runs on the North Shore? It is not known for certain why it happens but, some steelhead along the North Shore will also run in the late fall of the year, usually with the onset of rain storms, rising rivers and the cold November weather. These types of conditions require a patient, determined breed of angler. Though the conditions can be tough, anyone who has tied into one of these fall beauties knows that the intense fights and spectacular leaps are second to none.
Photo courtesy - Lake County Historical Society
Knife River - 1915
Knife River - today
Our Lake Superior Steelhead:
Later introductions were made in 1885 in the St. Louis River and in 1901 in the ever popular Lester River and Poplar River. It didn't take long for anglers to realize the remarkable success of these fish. Though suffering in the early days, like the lake trout, of near catastrophic depredation from the Sea Lamprey, our Steelhead, with the help of lamprey control and continued stocking, continues today to arguably be the most sought after fish on the North Shore.
Our salmo gairdneri, or more commonly called, Rainbow Trout, are of the same family of fish as the Pacific Coast Steelhead (oncorhynchus mykiss); the names simply categorize the fish by the lifestyle. The name, rainbow trout, most likely derived from the pinkish stripe on both lateral sides, refers to a non-migratory fish which never leaves its home waters. Steelhead on the other hand are anadromous. As adults, they migrate annually, from Lake Superior in this case, to streams and rivers to spawn. The basic distinction - steelhead migrate and rainbow trout don't.
The river running rainbows of the North Shore gained tremendous respect in those early days. The remarkable success came from their ability to adapt to the ever changing environmental conditions. Soon after their introduction, the steelhead rapidly homesteaded virtually all the quality spawning steams along the Shore. Though the first catch of a steelhead is said to have been in a commercial net back in 1895; stream steelheaders started taking steelies as early as 1897. By the early 1900's there were thousands of adult spawning steelhead being caught by stream anglers from our North Shore Rivers.
T he lake Superior steelhead of today have ancestral roots from the Pacific Coast Rivers. The first of our transplanted Steelhead came to the Canadian waters of Lake Superior in 1883.
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