Fishing the Lester River

BY ERIC JOHNSON | The Statesman The Lake Superior waves crash into the North Shore, where they feed into the Lester River. The sky is grey and gloomy. The temperature reads just below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A cool breeze chills his body, but Jack Wilson is in his element.

"I came here at about 4:30 this morning," Wilson said. "So I've been fishing here all day."

Spring in Duluth marks the start of the trout fishing season. Fishermen from all over Minnesota begin fishing rivers and tributaries in hopes of catching Steelheads.

For the Steelheads, more commonly known as Rainbow Trout, it is the spawning season. They must leave the Great Lakes and return to their breeding grounds. The Steelheads swim inland when the water temperature reaches around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually happens in late March or early April.

Wilson waits patiently for the fish to come to him. He sits in his bright blue camping chair wearing jeans, a fishing hat and a windbreaker. He is accompanied by his tackle box, cooler and the two Steelheads that he caught earlier in the day.

"I started fishing when I was a kid," Wilson said. "I started off fishing little streams in Wisconsin. Then I started fishing here when I was in high school. So I've been doing this for over 50 years."

Wilson lives about an hour away near Hinckley, Minnesota. This is his third fishing trip to Duluth this spring. He made his first trip back in March.

"And I didn't catch any fish," Wilson said. "These are the only two I've gotten this year, but I had one on earlier for two minutes before he swam back into the lake and broke my line."

Experienced anglers will tell you that they use a variety of techniques to catch the spawning trout. Some fishermen will wade into the river and use fly rods, while other fishermen will cast from the shore with spinning rods. Fishermen will use flies, nightcrawlers, mealworms, waxworms and spawn bags to try to catch the fish. Spawn bags are little bags of salmon eggs that are commonly used to catch Steelheads. The eggs secrete a smell that the Steelheads can find in murky areas.

Fisherman take in the sunrise at the Lester River. ALOYSIA POWER/SUBMITTED
Fisherman take in the sunrise at the Lester River. ALOYSIA POWER/SUBMITTED

"I was fishing with spawn bags earlier," Wilson said. "I just let them sit towards the bottom and drift with the current. Now I'm going to try mealworms."

The Lester River is a popular spot for fishing Steelhead.

"It gets hammered," John Fehnel, the manager of the Great Lakes Fly Shop in East Duluth, said.

On a recent afternoon, Fehnel was tying flies at his workbench in the shop and talking about local fishing hotspots. He said one reason Lester is popular is because it is right in town.

"And there are lots of fish," Fehnel said. "When it comes to quantity, you can't beat the Lester River."

According to Fehnel, there are also a few drawbacks to fishing the Lester River.

"You will lose fishing gear in the Lester River," Fehnel said. "If you like crowds, fish it; if you don't, then don't fish it."

The Lester River provides anglers with a North Shore experience that can't be found anywhere else, but it is just one of the local fishing hotspots.

"I mainly like fishing the Lester River," Wilson said. "But I did catch my first fish on the Cascade. So I might fish there on my next trip."

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