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Leif Birnbaum of Duluth makes his way across the ice at the McQuade Small Craft Harbor on Lake Superior Thursday morning. Birnbaum was taking advantage of ice conditions at McQuade to see if he could catch some Kamloops rainbow trout. (Sam Cook / News Tribune)

Lake Superior anglers find last good ice at McQuade

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outdoors Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

MCQUADE SMALL CRAFT HARBOR — Leif Birnbaum gazed down through the ice at his tiny jig. He could see weeds growing from the bottom of the McQuade Small Craft Harbor through Lake Superior’s clear water.

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The Duluth angler had chipped open previously fished holes in a sheet of ice that was at least 3 feet thick, maybe more.

“It’s ridiculous how much ice is here,” Birnbaum said. “It’ll be here until May.”

A strong easterly wind buffeted Birnbaum’s fishing shelter on Thursday morning. Two other shelters dotted the harbor’s ample ice, one angler in each. Two more anglers had just left, fishless.

All of them had come to McQuade in hopes of catching a Kamloops rainbow trout. The big rainbows cruise the North Shore from fall through spring between Duluth and Two Harbors.

On this early April morning, McQuade was about the only show in town for North Shore anglers. The big ice sheet near Duluth that offered nearly a month of good lake trout, coho and herring fishing was now too unreliable for travel, though a few anglers were still fishing off 21st Avenue East. Jumbled ice had jammed the shore at the French River, making both shorecasting and ice-fishing impossible. Thin ice abutted the Two Harbors breakwall. But the ice at McQuade was solid.

This time of year, shore fishing on Lake Superior varies day by day. Ice moves in. Ice moves out. An angler can be ice-fishing one day, shorecasting the next. Steelheading in North Shore streams seems light years away with all of the streams still sealed in ice.

On Thursday, Birnbaum had just set up. Anglers who had arrived earlier hadn’t seen much so far. But at McQuade, if fish are present, anglers can see them in the lake’s clear water. That’s part of the appeal of ice-fishing on Lake Superior.

Birnbaum has been to McQuade a dozen times this spring, he said. His assessment of the Kamloops fishing echoes that of other anglers.

“I haven’t seen as many fish this year as last year,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a smaller return this year, from what everyone is saying.”

He’s picked up a few Kamloops rainbows, he said, as well as a couple of coho salmon and some whitefish.

Thorne Torgerson of Sturgeon Lake was just leaving McQuade after fishing for a couple of hours.

“I had one hit,” he said.

He hadn’t capitalized. That had been his only chance.

In a nearby shelter, a veteran angler was watching two bobbers in his elongated fishing hole. It was John McAllister of Duluth. This was his fourth trip to McQuade.

“It’s been poor,” McAllister said. “I haven’t caught anything.”

He had a piece of shrimp on one line, a bag of spawn on the other.

“I have a reputation of being the oldest fisherman on the shore,” he said.

McAllister is 85.

He would have been happy to catch a Kamloops rainbow, but that isn’t his first choice this time of year.

“I’m waiting to get out to catch crappies,” he said. “I’m much more successful at that.”

But the lake where he likes to fish for crappies has deep slush on it now, he said. He’ll wait. And, like other anglers, hope for a rainbow.

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