What cold? Open-water anglers cash in on cohos at French River
FRENCH RIVER -- It didn't matter that the afternoon temperature topped out at 7 degrees. It didn't matter that the breeze from the west was creating a flip-your-hood-up wind chill. Nor did it matter that a chaos of fractured ice extended 40 yards...
FRENCH RIVER - It didn’t matter that the afternoon temperature topped out at 7 degrees. It didn’t matter that the breeze from the west was creating a flip-your-hood-up wind chill. Nor did it matter that a chaos of fractured ice extended 40 yards from shore near the mouth of the French River.
There they were on Wednesday afternoon, four diehard fishermen, well-bundled, standing at the edge of the ice. They were hurling shiny spoons into Lake Superior and watching second lines from which artificial bugs dangled beneath bobbers.
If you put this on video and showed it south of the Mason-Dixon Line, viewers just wouldn’t understand.
But Kris Olson of Cloquet understands.
“This is fun,” Olson said. “Where else can you go and have world-class rainbow fishing?”
He was talking about the hefty Kamloops rainbow trout that return to the French River this time of year, offering well-insulated anglers some off-season action. Stocked by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, these gorgeous fish return at 5, 6, 7 pounds or more. Olson had caught one of them, along with his limit of five cohos, the most delectable dinner fish that swims in Lake Superior.
But Olson had had enough.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, assembling his fishing gear with bare hands. “I’m freezing.”
Nearly every angler who braved the cold midday on Wednesday at the French had taken a limit of cohos. The fish lay in random piles top the snow near the anglers’ feet.
“My wife will be happy when I get home,” said Dick Hedberg of French River. “She loves cohos.”
Like the anglers fishing atop the ice near Duluth, these open-water anglers have caught lots of cohos. The silver fish run about 15 to 18 inches long, and their bright orange fillets are great on a grill.
On Wednesday, fishermen were getting cohos on artificial ’looper bugs fished below a bobber in Lake Superior’s light chop. The rarer rainbows were caught on spoons.
“I lost two ’loopers and missed a few more cohos,” Hedberg said. “That’s a lot of fun - if you can stand the cold.”
Duluth’s Ross Pearson, considered by many anglers the dean of the Kamloops rainbow crowd, got in on the action, too. He was standing at the edge of the congealed ice shards, watching his bobber.
“There were a lot of cohos caught today,” Pearson said.
He had caught eight cohos between the French and an ice-fishing session off Brighton Beach. He released those beyond his limit and kept fishing for a Kamloops rainbow. He had one rainbow lying on the shore behind him. Rainbows had been scarce, he said.
“This is the worst season I’ve seen - by far,” he said.
Down the shore, on another promontory of piled ice, Matt Jordan of Duluth cast for trout or salmon.
Every now and then, an angler would hook a coho, and the fish would launch out of the water, cartwheeling in protest. Several got away. Sometimes, Pearson would see a few cohos swim by just off the ice beach in the clear water. At irregular intervals, a desk-sized berglet of ice would come floating along shore. Anglers would have to bring in their lines momentarily to prevent snagging the moving ice. Sometimes an angler would have to stop fishing and tuck his hands in his parka to regain feeling in his digits.
To look eastward, up the shore, was a study in blue. The deep blue of Lake Superior. The milky blue of heaved-up ice shards. The baby blue of sky.
Even with all the coho action, it could be a long time between bites.
“Fishing is an act of hope,” Pearson said.
He reeled in his line, chipped the ice from his bobber and tossed it out again.