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Boreal Community Media

The joys of fishing “The Gitch”

May 31, 2019 02:47PM ● By Editor

Pollock holds up a 27-pound lake trout he reeled in on Lake Superior near Lutsen, MN. Submitted photos.

By Paul Pollock - HTF Contributor from hometown - May 31, 2019

Lake Superior. The Big Lake. Gitchigumee. Its beauty transcends its name. From the caves and beaches of the Apostle Islands to Black Beach and the cliffs of Palisade Head near Silver Bay. From the rugged Sawtooths and ski slopes of Lutsen to the quaint fishing village of Grand Marais. From the Pigeon River Falls bear Grand Portage to the rugged beauty of Isle Royale. Gitchigumee has it all.

From a fisherman’s standpoint, Lake Superior is a veritable cornucopia of fishing opportunities. My season starts out fishing for coho salmon on the North Shore once the boat landings are ice-free. This is primarily a surface gig, with most of the cohos, along with lake trout and steelhead rainbows, frequenting the upper part of the water column.

Part of the allure of “The Gitch” is the dichotomy of tactics which catch fish. Trolling stick baits such as shallow diving Rapalas on planet board mast lines near the surface is the staple, as well pulling Dipsy Divers in the middle depths and downriggers near the bottom.

Pollock holds up a 27-pound lake trout he reeled in on Lake Superior near Lutsen MN Submitted photos

Early in the season (March and April) we run two to four lines on each board mast line, one or two Dipsy Divers, and one downrigger depending on whether we’re fishing the Wisconsin or Minnesota side. On the Minnesota side, we’re allowed two lines per person, whereas on the Wisconsin side, it’s three lines per person.

In layman’s terms, a board mast is a heavy test line run from a mast mounted on the bow or sides of the boat out to a large board. The lines are let out to the desired distance (100-300 feet) and an alligator clip is attached to the line and the fishing line is slid over the mast line. The line then slides done the mast line to our desired location and stopped. When a fish hits the lure, the fishing line trips from the board mast line.

In-line planet boards are also popular. The line is clipped to the smaller board with a two-clip system with a release. When the fish hits, it either trips the release and the board slides down to the swivel and stops, or it stays hooked to the board and the board is taken off the line when it gets to the boat.

Paul Pollock middle friend Glenn Moore and trusty companion Hank with their early-April catch on Lake Superior

Paul Pollock, middle, friend Glenn Moore and trusty companion Hank with their early-April catch on Lake Superior.

A Dipsy Diver is a disc with settings from zero to three that allows you to spread your baits out to the side and down as deep as 70 feet or so. They are often used with shiny flashers and dodgers and a myriad of colored spoons and flies.

Downriggers are a cable and pulley apparatus with a lead ball and a release on the end. They allow you to achieve the maximum depth of any of the tools of our trade.

The earliest outings of the season will find my partners and I launching from McQuade Landing, Knife River, or Two Harbors and working our way down to the South Shore as the landings at Rice Point, Superior, and Port Wing, and in the Apostles lose their ice.

The Wisconsin side of the lake affords the angler more opportunities than the Minnesota side for several reasons. For starters, fishermen are allowed three lines a person, as opposed to two lines on the Minnesota side. Wisconsin also offers a much better opportunity for brown trout, which are stocked, as well as good king salmon, lake trout, steelhead, and coho salmon opportunities, which brings me back to one of my best days ever on the big lake.

The morning dawned slate grey and foggy as we rolled out of the Superior Entry and headed out into a heavy mist. The residual swells of the strong east wind of the past few days rocked the boat as my friends Dan, Glenn, and I set the lines.

The first stick bait (Rapala) was almost to our agreed upon distance out, when the reel began jumping in Dan’s hand. Reeling quickly and keeping the fish “pinned” are of paramount importance with coho salmon, as they are slippery silver magicians at extricating themselves from the hooks.

After a short fight, the little silver ’ho, as we affectionately call them, slid into the net, and our first fish of the day was welcomed aboard. The “Welcome Aboard” holds special meaning for anyone who has been in our boats.

This scenario was to repeat itself many times over the course of the day, as we went 47 for 53 (caught 47 fish on 53 releases). Our bag consisted of cohos, lake trout, and one bonus 12-pound king salmon. Most of the fish came on the board lines up high, but the king came on a downrigger running deep.

We iced our limits of cohos and lake trout, and released one lake trout after another, all in the 6-to-12-pound range. This day lent further credence to the fact that the fish of the big lake love the fog, and still goes down as one of my most memorable and the productive days fishing days on Lake Superior.

From a scenery standpoint, the red cliffs and caves of the Apostle Islands offer a striking contrast to the endless sand and gravel beaches heading east out of the aforementioned Superior Entry.

The fishing can be very good in the Bayfield and Red Cliff areas as well as around Madeline, Long, Basswood, Oak, and Stockton Islands. Fishing the abyss off of Outer Island is a unique and rewarding experience, affording anglers a long boat ride between the islands out onto the big water, as well as a shot at trophy lake trout.

One of the highlights of my season is fishing the Psychobilly Derby in May out of Legendary Waters at Red Cliff. It’s a Wyatt Hanna Memorial Derby, and a fun event for a great cause.

As spring changes to summer, my partners and I rotate back up the Minnesota side along the North Shore toward Silver Bay. This is primarily a lake trout, coho, king, and steelhead gig, with few brown trout being taken along the steep breaks and sheer rock cliffs common to this area.

The scenery is, once again, top-notch with the panorama of rocky beaches, the endless expanse of water, and the distant Sawtooth Range serving as constant eye candy.

The fish can be caught anywhere from very close to shore on precipitous break lines (drop-offs) to several miles out, depending on wind direction and water temperature. It is predicated on the thermocline (temperature break between layers of colder and warmer water.)

As the nights grow cooler, the days shorter, and the seasonal transition to fall begins, I’ll focus my attention further up the shore toward Taconite Harbor, Lutsen, and Grand Marais.

This is primarily a lake trout gig, as the lakers are staging adjacent to spawning areas they will use as fall progresses. The bite can be very good with good size and numbers of lake trout, along with the added bonus of pink and coho salmon. This is the area and season that produced one of the most memorable lake trout days of my life. 

It was late September as my friend Justin and I launched my boat from Taconite Harbor, and headed out into the Superior chop.

After a bumpy boat ride amidst the spectacular backdrop of fall in the Sawtooth Mountains, we deployed our four-line spread of two downriggers running deep and two board mast lines running up higher near the surface.

In short order, a downrigger released and the rod bent immediately downward, a surefire sign of a nice fish. Being the guest on the boat, Justin had first dibs and battled a nice 10-pound lake trout to the net. The immediate success was a harbinger if things to come.

Shortly after we settled into my turn, the other downrigger rod again took a deep bend. As I grabbed the rod, innately I knew it was a big fish. The question was: How big? Fifteen-pounds big? Twenty-plus-pounds big?

I battled the big fish toe to toe, marking progress in inches not feet, as the old fish tried to hold bottom. It felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest each time I felt it’s rhythmic head shakes.

My mind raced with thoughts of how big it was, and how to keep the trout pinned all the way to the net. As the battle ensued, a crowd of several boats gathered, waiting for the outcome. After a 25-minute battle, Justin was able to slide the big lake trout into the net.

She stretched the tape to 39.5 inches with a 24.5-inch girth, putting her in the 27-to-28- lb. range, easily my personal best lake trout. I looked on in awe while thinking she was probably as old as me, somewhere in the 50-year-plus range.

Aside from the great fishing, the visage of fall colors and their stark contrast to the indigo blue water is something that must be seen to be understood and appreciated.

Some of my formative memories are of trips to Duluth and up the North Shore to Grand Portage and Thunder Bay. I’ve always been drawn to the scenery and sheer energy of Lake Superior and return home refreshed and renewed. We are blessed to have a one-of-a-kind gem for fishing, tourism, and sightseeing right here in our back yard. 

Paul Pollock is a fisherman and guide who lives on Lake Vermilion near Tower, MN. He has fished on Lake Vermilion for 42 years in addition to Lake Burntside, Trout Lake, Snowbank Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Ouachita, Alaska, and many others. His articles have appeared in The Next Bite/Esox Angler Magazine and Hometown Focus, and he has been featured in Muskie Magazine and New West Magazine.

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