A January thaw after heavy snows and frigid temperatures before Christmas stirred some hardy anglers to ply the depths of Lake Superior once again. Despite a lake-water surface temperature near the freezing mark, it’ll be weeks before any ice forms, if it does at all.
The breakwall in Two Harbors, Minn. is always a good bet in winter for Lake Superior anglers who have the itch. Although coho salmon haven’t shown up yet, anglers have been catching a few herring on slender, heavy spoons. Shore casting near river mouths, such as the French or the Lester, could produce cohos or steelhead. Make long casts with salmon eggs or a looper bug tipped with a wax worm under a weighted looper bobber.
Some anglers are even launching boats, when the temperature is higher and winds are calm. Although boat ramps are frozen, there are always ways for the ambitious to launch small boats. Canoes, kayaks, or small “car-topper” boats can be launched wherever there is public access and the shoreline isn’t too steep.
Brighton Beach in Duluth is always a good bet because of its gently-sloping shoreline, but the road through the park is under construction, so you’ll have to portage farther than usual. Bluebird Landing between Duluth and the Knife River is a possibility that would require a short drag. A short downhill portage will get you access at the French River.
You could launch a canoe or kayak at Stony Point or the beach right next to the Knife River marina. You can get a small craft in around the boat landing in Agate Bay in Two Harbors, although the launch itself is frozen.
Brave anglers even beach-launch trailerable boats at Burlington Bay in Two Harbors if snow and ice don’t get in the way.
Sometimes getting on (and off) the water is the hardest part. If you can get out there, simple techniques can produce fish.
For cohos, try trolling purple, pink, or orange stickbaits and crankbaits from 5 to 15 feet below the surface. Fish are generally fairly close to shore, so you don’t need to go out far. Use planer boards to get your lures away from the boat and to cover more water.
Steelhead can be caught close to river mouths, especially later in the winter as the spawning season nears. Trolling stickbaits near river mouths will cover more water than will still-fishing from shore.
Herring often travel in large, suspended schools, and if your boat has electronics, you may be able to mark them. If you do, jig for them with a spoon tipped with a waxie.
Lake trout hug the bottom in winter, so keep your presentations deep. One option is to troll with downriggers and bounce bottom with spoons. Working expansive mud flats in this manner may produce trout, or try fishing just above the top of a reef. If it’s calm, you can vertically jig lakers over reefs with heavy jigs or spoons.
Lake Superior is always dangerous, but especially so in winter. Water temperatures are right at freezing, so a swim would likely be deadly. Stay near shore, pick a calm day, and keep a relentless eye on the weather. Above all, know your own abilities. If you get in trouble, rescuers may have difficulty launching a boat to save you.
Fishing Lake Superior isn’t for the faint of heart or for those with limited big-water boating skills. But for those who attempt it, catching a fish when you’ve defied the elements is a sweet reward.