Anglers out of their depth on flood-changed St. Louis RiverDarrin Severance kept a close eye on his depth-finder as he eased his big Ranger through the channel of the St. Louis River. He was navigating a shallow stretch at the upstream end of Spirit Lake. The sonar device told him he had just 2.3 feet of water beneath his boat.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
ON THE ST. LOUIS RIVER — Darrin Severance kept a close eye on his depth-finder as he eased his big Ranger through the channel of the St. Louis River. He was navigating a shallow stretch at the upstream end of Spirit Lake on Tuesday afternoon. The sonar device told him he had just 2.3 feet of water beneath his boat.
Severance, of Duluth, glanced over his shoulder and looked back at his 225-horsepower Mercury outboard.
“Are we spitting up dirt back there?” he asked.
Severance, along with fellow St. Louis River anglers Charlie Nelson and Andrew Frielund, were taking a 12-mile cruise up the river to check conditions just four days before Saturday’s Minnesota fishing opener. Like a lot of other anglers, they were concerned about a couple of spots in Spirit Lake that were reported to be much shallower after last summer’s flooding on the river.
Normally, Severance would have had red and green buoys to help him navigate the river, but this spring the U.S. Coast Guard is not placing buoys above the lower end of Spirit Lake because the channel is less than the required 6 feet deep in spots.
With hundreds of anglers expected on the river starting Saturday and no buoys to mark the channel from Spirit Lake upstream another 7 miles to the Fond du Lac neighborhood, anglers will have to be careful, Frielund said.
“The casual boating days out here are over,” he said.
Severance had a mapping GPS in his boat’s electronics system, so that going slowly, he could pick his way carefully through the river’s shallow areas. There are only two or three of those spots from Spirit Lake upstream, but a boater would definitely want to know where they are. One is just above Clough (Whiteside) Island along the downstream side of Spirit Lake. On Wednesday, Severance found at least 7 feet of water there.
At another place, near the lower end of “Walleye Alley” farther upstream, he found 9 feet of water, plenty for navigating. Still, he said, running the river without buoys made him feel different than in years past.
“A little nervous,” he said. “And it would be a lot slower ride without electronics.”
Caution will be of utmost importance for anglers come Saturday, Frielund said.
“People are going to have to go slower,” he said. “Go slow or get stuck.”
With the possibility of many inland lakes remaining ice-covered on opening weekend, boating traffic could be heavier on the river, some anglers say.
“There are two schools of thought on that,” Nelson said. “One is that with no other water open, there would be more people. But some people were leery about coming out here in the first place. … Now it’s all changed.”
That could keep many anglers away, he said.
The Coast Guard buoy tender was on the water Tuesday afternoon, placing buoys downstream in the harbor area. Those buoys are needed to mark the channel for commercial vessels entering the harbor to load or unload cargo. It’s only upstream, beyond the commercial navigation zone, where buoys will not be placed this year.
At a couple of spots where the Coast Guard had found less than 6 feet of water in the channel last fall, Severance and his friends found 7-9 feet. But the river is high now, running full of spring run-off. Once it drops, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to check channel depths again.
Some have suggested that the channel be dredged in the shallow areas to ensure a deep enough channel for recreational boaters, but fisheries officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say the river probably will carve out its channel naturally over time.
Anglers who haven’t been on the river since before last June’s flooding will see some 100-foot mudslides on the Wisconsin shoreline. The clay shorelines sloughed huge amounts of soil into the river, taking whole trees down with the mud.