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Minnesota Fishing Reports
Articles : Big-River Bounty by Dan Johnson
Posted by LSF on Feb 23, 2010 (1522 reads) News by the same author

Icing St. Louis River Walleyes
Of Minnesota’s major walleye destinations, the St. Louis River is among the most overlooked by the masses. Much is said about walleye factories like Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods and Leech, but this rejuvenated fishery gets little press outside the Duluth area. Funny, because the river offers excellent opportunities for ’eyes of all sizes during the ice and open-water seasons.

On Saturday, February 20, I joined Lindy guide and avowed river rat Charlie Nelson on the river for a glimpse at the waterway’s potential. I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve fished a variety of Great Lakes walleye tributaries including the Saginaw and Detroit rivers, and have to say the St. Louis ranks high in terms of quality and accessibility. According to Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist John Lindgren, three good year-classes—from 1995, ’96 and ’97—produced a bumper crop of walleyes that are now in the mid-20-inch range. Another recent strong hatch stoked the system with fish in the 15- to 17-inch class.

Until a couple weeks ago, the annual surge of Lake Superior spawners into the St. Louis estuary had produced a fantastic walleye bite in the lower reaches of the river, not far from the seaplane base off Park Point in the Duluth Harbor Basin. The fishing was so good, in fact, that Lindgren fielded calls from anglers concerned that too many walleyes were being harvested. “I knew it would slow down as the fish moved upriver,” says Lindgren. “The bite typically tapers off in January, but it lasted longer this winter.”

While some anglers remain loyal to these flats, others are following the action along the shipping channel toward the Blatnik Bridge—which is exactly what Nelson and I do. “The Duluth Harbor is broken into two different bites,” he explains as we drill holes and check depths not far from an oceangoing cargo ship resting in port for the winter.

One of the more reliable bites occurs along the edge of the channel in 20 to 25 feet of water. It’s not uncommon to see fish houses lined up over key depths on the breakline. Adjacent to the channel, walleyes also feed on 6- to 8-foot flats. “The fish slosh back and forth between the two areas,” says Nelson, explaining that he typically goes into search mode until discovering the best fishing areas—then hunkers downs over active walleyes. One of his inside tips for the flats is watching for “lines” of anglers there, too. “The current creates dunes on the bottom, and some days it’s best to be at a specific spot on a dune,” he says.

“I fish two holes, a jigging spoon in one and a minnow under a slip-bobber in the other,” he says. The spoon serves as an attractor, and fish that don’t hit the metal often hit the minnow. His go-to jigging presentation is minnow head impaled on a ¼-ounce Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoon. The spoon’s time-tested combination of ’eye-catching colors, fish-attracting rattles and Techni-Glo phosphorescence are second to none. Plus, the trademark “wings” give it a gliding, fluttering descent predators find hard to resist.

Appropriate that Nelson favors the Flyer, I think, considering he’s a recently-retired F-16 fighter pilot with three tours in Iraq to his credit, along with countless sorties elsewhere. As we discuss the intricacies of fishing the lower St. Louis, I broach the subject of military service. He explains how a kid used to running a 6-horse outboard became a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota Air National Guard. He also recalls the invasion of Iraq and incessant mortar fire at his airbase, a world away from the river—and walleyes—of home.

Finally, I have to ask: “Did you ever fly inverted over a Russian MIG, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun?” Nelson laughs and shakes his head. Then he talks about all the positive things he saw in Iraq, where American forces and Iraqis are working together for a better life for everyone. “The media doesn’t focus on that,” he notes.

The discussion returns to walleyes, and all too soon we’re loading gear back in the truck for the ride to Park Point and terra firma. As my old Ford bounces across the Duluth Harbor ice, Charlie talks about the good fishing available here in the summer months. Trolling spinners like Lindy’s Old Guide’s Secret series and Little Joe’s venerable Red Devils, he plucks walleyes by the score from shallow weed flats. We end the day with plans to continue my field research on the St. Louis estuary this May, when the season reopens.

As we part ways, I count my blessings for all the pilots and other military folks like Charlie, who are willing to sacrifice everything for those of us here at home. I’m thankful he’s returned safely to his family in Duluth—and to the walleyes of his beloved St. Louis River. And I pray all our fighting forces enjoy the same happy ending.

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