Anglers finding good fishing on Duluth-Superior Harbor ice

ST. LOUIS RIVER, SUPERIOR BAY -- Matt Buttrick and Wes Paulson might as well have been in their living rooms at home. That's how comfortable they looked, kicked back in their spacious Eskimo ice fishing shelter on Superior Bay in the Duluth-Super...

Vibrant sunset over harbor
A vibrant western sky just after sunset Wednesday night serves as a handsome backdrop for anglers fishing Superior Bay in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. (Clint Austin /

ST. LOUIS RIVER, SUPERIOR BAY -- Matt Buttrick and Wes Paulson might as well have been in their living rooms at home.

That's how comfortable they looked, kicked back in their spacious Eskimo ice fishing shelter on Superior Bay in the Duluth-Superior Harbor on Wednesday evening. A sunflower heater poured warmth into the shelter as the two men jigged for walleyes.

"Yesterday was good," Buttrick said. "We got a 17 (-incher), an 18 and a 23."

But Wednesday evening about supper time, they were still looking for their first keeper. They had caught and released two 14-inchers. Buttrick is from Superior, Paulson from Foxboro.

Their fishing shelter was one of about 30 that had popped up on the ice of the bay like mushrooms Wednesday evening. They were a couple hundred yards offshore from Minnesota Point, and most anglers were fishing in 7 to 9 feet of water.


It was an idyllic scene just after sunset. The well-insulated silhouettes of ice anglers came and went on the ice. Venus hung suspended like a gold nugget in the southwest. The amber lights of Superior and the Duluth hillside shone in the distance.

And fishing has been good on the bay in recent days, according to anglers' reports.

Jason Bleskan of Superior was just leaving the ice after a quiet afternoon. He and a partner had caught just one fish -- a sturgeon.

"Otherwise, it's been pretty good," Bleskan said. "There seems to be a lot of fish around."

Rob Lunn of Superior was set up on the ice, talking to a buddy on his cell phone, getting a fishing report. He signed off and prepared to move his shelter. He was in about 8 feet of water and needed to go shallower, he said.

"Six feet seems to be the magic depth," Lunn said.

Not far from Lunn, Derek Christman of Superior worked a couple of holes in a small teepee shelter over 8 feet of water. He was jigging a Buckshot spoon with a fathead minnow. This was his first time on the bay this winter. He hadn't caught a fish yet.

An hour's canvass of a number of shelters turned up no walleyes on the ice Wednesday. But Tim Stahnke of Superior had seen some action.


"I got a couple little ones, about 14 inches," he said. "Then something monstrous took my line. I couldn't stop it. It just kept going."

He had been using a Jigging Rapala, but he

didn't own the lure any more. The fish had it.

"I looked at my spool, and my line was almost gone," Stahnke said, still excited about the encounter. "So I tried to stop it with my hand. My heart is still pounding."

Stahnke managed to stop the line, but it broke.

A few yards away, Brandan Peterson and his roommate, Bre Warneke, both of Duluth, were fishing in Peterson's roomy Clam pop-up. They were jigging Rattl'n Flyer Spoons with fatheads. This was Warneke's first ice-fishing outing ever.

"It's pretty cool," she said. "It was on my bucket list."

Lunn had made his move and was now fishing in a shelter with Duluth's Kyle Berg. Lunn had just stopped in to visit with Berg and dropped a VMC Tingler spoon down Berg's extra hole. Now Lunn was fast to a powerful sturgeon. His little walleye rod was doubled over as the big fish swam in circles in 7 feet of water.


Every now and then, a gray shadow would pass beneath the hole. That was the sturgeon cruising by. Lunn kept applying pressure, but he could see his problem.

"His head is too big to get in the hole," he said.

Finally, though, the sturgeon tired enough that Lunn could get its triangular snout into the cylinder of his hole. Gently, Lunn reached for the soft mouth on the bottom of the fish and eased it up, up, up and out.

It was a beautiful specimen, if a sturgeon can be called beautiful. It was one of the St. Louis River's healthy sturgeon, the product of stocking that dates to the 1980s. This one was 45 inches long on Lunn's tape. He claimed his spoon, held the fish for a quick photo and gave it back to the river.

This was Berg's fifth time on the bay's ice this winter. He's a regular St. Louis River angler in all seasons. Ice fishing for walleyes has been "excellent to moderate," he said.

"One day, I got nine, from 20 inches to 12 inches," said Berg, 22. "Another day, I got two. If they bite, it's been good."

Like many anglers in the Duluth-Superior area, he's high on the bay's winter walleye fishery.

"I absolutely love it," he said. "It's a great fishery. I don't leave far from it."

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