Out (fishing) on Highway 61

By this time of the year, most of us Minnesotans are already looking forward to 60 degree days, fall colors and sporting our Patagonia fleeces or Paul Bunyan flannels—but it’s the end of September and temperatures were still in the 90’s in St. Paul, Minnesota this past weekend! Way too hot.

Fortunately, some friends had already planned a triple date weekend up to the North Shore of Lake Superior Minnesota for this unbearably warm weekend, so we were able to escape to slightly cooler lake shore weather and fall cabin vibes.

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The plan was to head up on Friday after work and spend most of Saturday and Sunday fishing the pink salmon runs coming in from Lake Superior. Inland brook trout were also on our list of fish to target.

Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’

Gorden Lightfoot, The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald 

Did you know Lake Superior contains more water than all the other great lakes combined? And holding a whopping 10% of the earth’s fresh surface water, Lake Gitche Gumee, or Lake Superior, is truly the greatest of the greats! The 2,700 shoreline miles and over 300 tributaries that surround this lake offer some of the most breathtaking views in North America and offer awesome recreational opportunities–including great fishing.

Let me start by saying I have a love-hate relationship with North Shore fishing on Lake Superior. This is due in part to the fact that the majority of my fishing is done in the Driftless area… I’m used to these sandy streams, grassy banks and weeks without running into any other anglers. Now drop me up on the North (or South) Shore of Lake Superior and I’m fumbling through boulder-littered streams, getting my line stuck in the pine trees and lining up shoulder-to-shoulder with other anglers during lake runs.

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And while I’m over here frustrated at conditions, I can’t help but admire the beauty of the North Shore and different fishing options that are available. You can target steelhead or pink salmon during their runs in from the lake, chase brook trout and waterfalls farther inland, and many other options.

Out on Highway 61

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

A highway influential enough to inspire a Bob Dylan album, Highway 61 stretches from Duluth, Minnesota into Ontario, Canada. The majority of this highway takes its passengers right alongside Superior and through cliff-side tunnels. With multiple pull off sites, river crossings and waterfalls, Highway 61 is a drive everyone should add to their bucket list–and one that we somewhat unintentionally made this past weekend.

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We started early Saturday morning hunting brook trout all the way up past Grand Marais, Minnesota, only 30-some miles from the Canadian border. With “Midwest_Finz”(Drew Mischo) leading the way, we ended up at the top of a trail looking way down into a steep canyon where we could see a beautiful rushing stream below. We slid and stumbled our way down the hill—some of us more gracefully than others –and started fishing the first run at the bottom of a small waterfall. Almost instantly, Drew hooked into probably one of the most beautiful brook trout I have ever seen. Thick,  nearly 14” long and sporting the richest colors I’ve ever seen, it was hard to tell if this was just a healthy inland trout or actually a lake run fish. We weren’t positive, but from what we could tell this fish had made its way up from the lake.

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Afterword, we slowly spread out and headed downstream, and saw the stream was loaded with pink salmon. David Mooers hooked into an aggressive female that smashed his fly from under a fallen log. We also hooked into a few smaller brook and rainbow trout on this system before hiking back up to the top of the canyon.

Around mid-afternoon, half of the group started the drive back towards Two Harbors, so Micah and I decided to hit up a couple more streams in the area. Micah was really hoping to find some more brook trout, but the streams were choked out with pink salmon, so we changed our game plan and were both able to hook into some aggressive fish.

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We were nearly ready to head back south, when we noticed a message from fellow angler and owner of Dead Drift Net Company, Joe. He passed along the coordinates to one of his favorite brook and rainbow trout streams that happened to be along our drive home.

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It was getting close to sunset, but we were able to hook into a few beautiful brook trout and explore this amazing stream before it got too dark!

Sunday was a lot more relaxed, as we fished the streams closer to Two Harbors. The pink salmon were already starting to rot in these streams farther south and were not very aggressive, which resulted in a slower half-day of fishing, before we all made the trek back to the Twin Cities.

Paths in the woods along rust colored rivers

Charlie Parr, Duluth singer/song writer

The arrowhead region of Minnesota is home to the largest iron range in the U.S. You can see the evidence of this on the North Shore: giant shipping ports, light houses, massive barges exceeding 1,000 ft in length and “rust colored” rivers cutting through the rocky terrain.

The North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota is probably one of my favorite places in the world… granted, I’ve haven’t traveled much outside of the U.S. at this point in my life, but a lot of people don’t know how amazing this place is.

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Fall is my favorite time to head up, and for the past 7 years or so, I’ve usually tried to make a couple trips per year to get in some hiking and waterfall sight-seeing. Every time I usually find out about another trail that leads to another beautiful waterfall, and the fishing trips up there have allowed me to discover even more trails and streams—the options are endless, really.

While I’m still getting the hang of the fishing and reading the streams, I love visiting this area. Thanks to Drew for always being a great “guide” and the Mooers for sharing their chill little cabin right on the lake shore.

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