ON FRENCH RIVER, Minn. -- Nobody will say the Kamloops rainbow trout fishing has been fast lately.
"Ten hours on Sunday to hook just one fish," Seth Fromberg of Duluth shouted over the incoming waves on Lake Superior one morning.
Was it worth it?
"It's always worth it," Fromberg said.
He and a friend had caught two fish in 11 hours of fishing that Sunday.
"I cleaned them up and made fish soup for Grandpa," Fromberg said.
Fromberg was among about 20 anglers who worked the snowpacked shore of Lake Superior near the French River. The sky over the big lake ranged from moody blue to pearl gray, and a northeasterly wind rolled a low chop into the shoreline. Most anglers stood alongside 11-foot spinning rods, fishing night crawlers off the bottom or dangling dainty flies beneath bobbers.
Bryan Dunaiski was soaking a 'crawler when his rod tip started pointing toward Wisconsin. He set the hook.
His fishing partner, Mark Mohr, went for the net and stood ready along the wave-washed cobblestones. After a short battle on Dunaiski's 6-pound-test line, the rainbow came twisting and flopping into the shallows, where Mohr made the snatch and escorted a 5-pound rainbow up and onto the ice.
"It's been slow," Dunaiski said. "This is only my third fish of the year. But there seem to be fish here."
Anglers see them rolling near the surface on calm days, dimpling the clear waters. Even if the fish won't bite, that's encouraging to anglers.
"There are a lot of fish here," Dunaiski said.
He put his fish in cold storage -- covering it with snow -- and tossed another night crawler into the big lake.
The Kamloops rainbows that cruise the waters off the French River in late February are coming home. They were hatched just up the hill from here at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' French River Coldwater Hatchery. They were raised either at the hatchery or at another DNR hatchery near Remer, Minn., then stocked as 6- to 9-inch "smolts" in Lake Superior near the French River, the Lester River or at McQuade Small Craft Harbor between the two rivers.
After they spend three to five years in Lake Superior, Kamloops rainbows home back to the distinctive scent of the French River to spawn from late March through April. If they're not caught by anglers like Dunaiski, they ascend the French River to a DNR trap. Fisheries officials capture the returning adults and use their spawn to create another year's batch of the trout.
The Kamloops fishery is a "put-grow-and-take" fishery. No known natural reproduction of Kamloops rainbows has been documented by fisheries biologists in Minnesota.
"I hope we don't lose this program," Dunaiski said, echoing the comments of other Kamloops rainbow anglers.
The French River Hatchery is costly to operate because water from Lake Superior must be warmed for hatchery use. DNR officials recently hired consultants to figure out how much it might cost to bring the aging hatchery back into better operating condition.
ONE BEACH OR ANOTHER
Mohr is just learning the Kamloops game from his fishing partner, Dunaiski. He had caught and released a 26-inch steelhead earlier.
"I've got a cousin in Costa Rica," Mohr said. "He's on the beach down there, and I'm on this beach here. It's great to see some open water."
Up and down the beach, most anglers weren't catching fish. One other angler had caught at least a couple of rainbows, but he didn't want to go public about his good fortune.
Scott Lattimer of Little Falls, Minn., and his friend Ray Herold of Pierz, Minn., had come up to spend a few days chasing rainbows.
"I got a limit (three fish) my last time up," Lattimer said.
Jeremy McLeod of Duluth was fishing from an ice ridge that had formed on the gravel bar at the mouth of the French River. He hadn't caught a fish yet, but he was happy.
"It's a perfect day," he said.
And, for fishing Kamloops rainbows, it was. The pewter sky meant that fish would stay closer to shore, available to anglers. On bright days, the sun penetrates the clear water, and the rainbows often move out beyond casting distance.
The temperature hung near freezing, which meant ice wouldn't form in the guides of anglers' fishing rods.
The snow along the shore was stained crimson, evidence of angler success in the recent past.
ONE MORE TIME
Now Dunaiski was hustling out of his canvas chair to grab his spinning rod. He had another fish on. He played it efficiently. Mohr put on another clinic with the net. Soon, a 61/2-pound rainbow lay on the ice. It was the color of smoke, with dark flecks along its flanks. A swoosh of deep red ran down each side.
Dunaiski was happy. He removed his hook and took a good look at the fish. It was a nice fish, long and thick. He held it briefly for a photo, then put it with his 5-pounder.
Up and down the beach, other anglers no doubt saw Dunaiski catch the fish. Good, they would be thinking. Someone's catching fish. There must be fish around.
(c)2013 Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
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