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An 8- or 9-pound Kamloops rainbow trout comes sliding onto the shoreline after being caught by Tom Hultquist of Duluth. (Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com)

Kamloops attract anglers to the North Shore

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ON LAKE SUPERIOR, NEAR THE FRENCH RIVER -- The big rainbow had put up a strong fight, but now Tom Hultquist thought maybe he had lost it.

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Duluth's Hultquist, fishing from shore on Lake Superior near the French River on Wednesday, was dealing with a shore-fishing hazard. Skim ice extended about 15 feet offshore from where Hultquist was standing.

He had already landed one of Lake Superior's chunky Kamloops rainbow trout, about a 6-pounder, using a piece of driftwood to whack the ice and create a channel through which he guided the fish to shore.

But this one hadn't found the channel, and Hultquist's line was hung up on the edge of the skim ice. The fish swam somewhere below that in the clear water. All Hultquist could do was give it some slack.

It worked. The fish swam away from the ice. Hultquist reeled up his slack. The husky rainbow was still there. Hultquist guided it through his chopped channel and slid it onto the ice-glazed rocks.

"That's a pig," he said.

Most of these stocked Kamloops rainbows run 5, 6, 7 pounds or more. But this female was deep and thick and long. Hultquist guessed it at 8 to 9 pounds. And it looked as if it had been infused with the first blush of a Lake Superior sunrise.

"That's as big as I've ever gotten here," said Hultquist, a veteran Kamloops rainbow angler. "And fun."

He killed it and lay it alongside his 6-pounder, which now looked rather modest. He stared down at both fish.

"They're all a gift," said Hultquist, 55.

Action picking up

Last week marked the beginning of some decent, if modest, Kamloops fishing along the shore from Duluth's Lester River to the French and the Sucker rivers. The fish are still staging offshore, not entering the streams -- at least as of Thursday, said Matt Ward, Department of Natural Resources anadromous fisheries specialist for Lake Superior.

"We've heard reports of from six to 10 Kamloops per day," Ward said Thursday. "Everything is in the lake. The stream water temps the past two days are only up to 35 degrees between the French and the Knife."

Kamloops rainbows and Lake Superior's wild steelhead rainbow trout typically need temperatures approaching 40 degrees before they'll swim upstream to spawn, Ward said.

Anglers also are reporting the occasional coho salmon being caught offshore.

Varying tactics

While Hultquist and about eight other anglers fished from shore Wednesday morning near the French, Mike Howell of Duluth had waded about 20 yards offshore, up to his waist in the water. Most shore anglers used spawn bags, night crawlers or artificial "'Looper bugs." But Howell was throwing and slowly retrieving a plug of undisclosed make and model.

It was working.

"He consistently outfishes everyone," Hultquist said.

We had watched Howell land at least four fish. When asked how his morning was going, Howell gave this accounting: "I've gotten six Kamloops, one steelhead and three cohos."

Within two more casts, he had hooked what appeared to be another Kamloops rainbow.

Unlike most other anglers, who enjoy keeping Kamloops rainbows and cohos (wild steelhead must be released), Howell was releasing his fish.

Mike Clark of Carlton, another regular on the 'Looper circuit, also had found success early Wednesday near the French. He had finessed a 5-pounder to shore shortly before 7 a.m. Skim ice had posed a minor problem for him, too.

Clark handed off his rod to someone else momentarily, then tossed a few stones into the water to break up the ice. Then he took his rod back and eased the fish to shore.

A 'looper angler is nothing if not resourceful.

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