North Shore Streams Opening; Smelt Run Still A Few Days Away

In this 2012 file photo, smelters work together to transfer smelt from a seine to a pickle pail on the beach at Park Point. From left are Bee Yabandith, Se Yabandith, Mark Syvoraphane and Toy Carson. (News Tribune file)


Not yet.

That’s the word from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials. Although North Shore streams near Duluth broke open this weekend, it’ll be awhile before smelt enter the streams to spawn, said Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor.

“There’s a lot of snow in the woods yet,” Schreiner said Monday. “That will keep the streams cool for a while. I’m guessing we’re at least a week off.”

Stream temperatures typically must reach 40 degrees before the slender, silver fish come in to spawn. Currently, those streams are likely running at 32 to 34 degrees, Schreiner said.

The smelt run is a mere fraction of what it was in the 1960s through the early 1980s.

A changing Lake Superior, with the resurgence of lake trout, plus the presence of Chinook salmon, greatly diminished the smelt population.

But every year, some people still go out to dipnet smelt on the North Shore or seine them on Park Point. The run typically begins in Chequamegon Bay near Ashland and Bayfield, then moves along the South Shore to Park Point. After North Shore streams warm enough, smelt begin entering those streams, too.

Chequamegon Bay remained mostly ice-covered Monday, said Roger LaPenter at Anglers All in Ashland.

“It’s going to be another week at least before the ice goes,” LaPenter said.

Smelt usually start coming into the shallows of the bay a day or two after the ice goes, when water temperatures reach 40 degrees, he said.

The little forage fish are delectable when battered and fried, and a few restaurants and bars in Duluth and Superior still serve them when the run is on.

The winter run-off that blew streams out over the weekend also carved channels through the gravel bars at the mouth of many North Shore streams, Schreiner said. Those bars were formed last spring in the wake of June flooding that carried lots of gravel downstream.

“The Lester is open. The French is open. The Knife is open,” Schreiner said. “Not blown out bank-to-bank, but it’s a significant channel now, so the smelt can make it up. Same with the steelhead.”

Steelhead are Lake Superior’s rainbow trout, which enter streams this time of year to spawn. Because of the late spring, Schreiner expects the steelhead run to be shorter this spring.

For updates on the smelt and North Shore steelhead runs, go to the DNR’s North Shore Fishing Report online here. The report is usually updated Mondays and Thursdays.