Skip to main content

Northern Steel

Northern Steel

Snow clings to the shadowed northern slopes. Ice shelves build on the eddies. Winter's first caress stills the autumn wind. Song birds fled for warmer climes. Hunters, too, for the most part. Absolute silence is broken only by the restless musings of the river rising through the bare trees. I stop to listen for them.  Not far, now.

New rivers. Found them this summer, skirting Gitcheegoomie. Looking for runs of wild fish, scouting for trails and winter pools on streams that don't close. Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario are blessed with hundreds of them. Wild places. Unlikely to see people this time of year, with the wet breath of Superior piecing its way through early winter woods. The rivers I'm exploring now, mostly on the South Shore, have difficult to non-existant trails. The walking is hard.

Little rain up here this fall. Better fishing elsewhere. Steelhead came pounding up the tributaries of Lake Michigan this year, with all the rain experienced south. Big fish. A friend of mine caught and released one over 20 pounds in a Lower Peninsula stream this fall. That's a beast anywhere. We sampled it. Blogged about it last week. Always worth doing. Bigger fish. More people. Funny how irritating it can be to have a man step off the trail and slip into your pool a long cast below you. Up here, if you see another angler, he slips past like a phantom, not wanting to share the water with you any more than you want to share it with him.

Wild fish, born in the river through natural means (not native, but born here — like us pale folks). Smaller, yes. It's colder here than anywhere within the native range of steelhead on the West Coast.  Average daily temperatures are colder, anyway, than those surrounding the coastal rivers of Alaska where earth's northernmost steelhead dwell. You may believe  water can't get any colder than 32°F without freezing, but that's not always true in a river. The number of days with anchor ice, that "white death" that hugs a river's floor, determine precisely how many parr will survive until spring.

It's a harsh life up here for a steelhead. But they persist. Wild steelhead have created strong populations in many of these rivers despite the obstacles of climate, and have maintained them, now, for over 120 years. And many rivers have fall runs. Like the silver fish in the photo, they often ram upriver late in November, undaunted by the chill of 36°F water.

I've been to every state, every province, and every territory in North America. Superior country is unique. Wild. And beautiful. Like the fish. We carefully release them all. I've never harvested a steelhead from a Lake Superior trib.

This isn't farm country. And it isn't flat. Hills, high banks, and rocky bluffs to climb or skirt. After a long hike, we sit and rest. Listening to the wet noise. Watching four deer cross the river. They stop to stare at us before moving on. No hurry. The fish aren't going anywhere.  Nobody's likely to slip into our pool.

The rivers have poetic names. Firesteel. Two Hearted. Cedar. Old Woman. Montreal. Baptism. Phantom. The steelhead are beautiful. They average 5  pounds in a lot of rivers. Less in some, more in others. No fin clips. No tags. No mercy. They fly like birds, and often leave pools, forcing you to chase in colder flows than stocked fish to the south.

Can't boat these rivers. Can't canoe them. Well, not unless you want to portage the canoe all the way back to the starting point on your back. Down by the shore of the big lake, there will be no road in most cases. No place to spot a truck. Just endless miles of forest, stretching off in two directions. And 500 miles of lake in another.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120 UNBOXING

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

GENIUS Planer Board Modification Tip with Ross Robertson

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

In-Fisherman's Old Town Sportsman PDL 120 Walk-Through with Thomas Allen

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

Old Town Salty PDL 120 Kayak Walk-Through

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

NEW In-Fisherman TV River Jet Boat: Yamaha Powered SmokerCraft Pro Sportsman 1866

Why Mark Courts LOVES the NEW Minn Kota QUEST Trolling Motors

DECKED OUT 2023 Starcraft STX 2050: New In-Fisherman TV Boat

In-Fisherman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the In-Fisherman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top In-Fisherman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now