Lake Superior Steelhead

Our Lake Superior Steelhead are of the same family of fish as the Pacific Coast Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss); the names simply categorize the fish by the lifestyle. The name, rainbow trout, most likely derived from the pinkish stripe on both lateral sides, refers to a non-migratory fish which never leaves its home waters. Lake Superior steelhead on the other hand are potamodromous. They are born in upstream freshwater, then migrate downstream to Lake Superior as juveniles to grow into adults before migrating back upstream to spawn. This cycle occurs entirely in fresh water. The basic distinction – steelhead migrate and rainbow trout don’t.

Male (Top) & Female Lake Superior Steelhead

The Lake Superior steelhead of today have ancestral roots from the Pacific Coast Rivers.  The first of our transplanted steelhead came to the Canadian waters of Lake Superior in 1883.  Than have since naturalized themselves.

Later introductions were made in 1885 in the St. Louis River and in 1901 in the ever popular Lester River and Poplar River. It didn’t take long for anglers to realize the remarkable success of these fish. Though suffering in the early days, like the lake trout, of near catastrophic depredation from the Sea Lamprey, our Steelhead, with the help of lamprey control and continued stocking, continues today to arguably be the most sought after fish on the North Shore.

Today our steelhead have approximately 60 streams and rivers along Minnesota’s North Shore accessible for their spring migration; roughly 20 of these waters produce major spring runs. One can pursue these silver bullets as soon as the rivers open up from the ice cover, usually in April. At this time as the water warms, steelhead are quick to ascend the rivers (in most cases less than a mile), dig their redds, spawn, and return to the big lake in hopes to spawn another season.

Female Lake Superior Steelhead

The Steelhead of the North Shore have nearly 145 miles of rivers to run. 80 of these miles are accessible through the modification of natural falls and barriers engineered during stream improvement projects.

Fall runs on the North Shore? It is not known for certain why it happens but, some steelhead along the North Shore will also run in the late fall of the year, usually with the onset of rain storms, rising rivers and the cold November weather. These types of conditions require a patient, determined breed of angler. Though the conditions can be tough, anyone who has tied into one of these fall beauties knows that the intense fights and spectacular leaps are second to none.

PLEASE NOTE: If you catch a tagged steelhead, leave the tag in the fish and record the number. Report the tag number, along with the date, location, and if the fish was harvested or released to Lake Superior Fisheries. Unclipped steelhead cannot be harvested, even if they have a tag. Contact the MN DNR with the data you have collected, they can provide you with information on when and where the fish was tagged including the age of the fish.

Using DNR Creel Data from Minnesota Tributaries to Lake Superior to help increase steelhead angler success.

This Steelhead Poster was created by the MN DNR several years ago as a tool steelhead anglers can use to better understand conditions, timing, and presentations. It is part of an effort to increase angler catch rates as well as draw new, and keep existing anglers engaged in steelhead fishing. It contains great information regardless of how long you’ve been steelheading, check it out!

Fisheries Management Plan for Minnesota Waters of Lake Superior

This plan is a comprehensive guide on how to best manage Minnesota’s portion of the Lake Superior fishery. The plan is written for use by both the MN DNR Fisheries Management Section and citizens interested in the management of Minnesota’s Lake Superior fishery resource. This plan is based on a fish community approach to fisheries management and highlights why this approach is necessary

MN DNR Spring Creel Survey

The first spring creel survey was implemented in 1992 to monitor the rehabilitation of Rainbow Trout in Minnesota waters after the species declined in the 1960s. The survey was designed to target anglers who fished for Rainbow Trout as they migrated upstream in tributaries to spawn.

The annual spring creel survey typically begins once tributaries thaw and are fishable. The spring creel survey has provided useful information for many other species in Lake Superior. Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), one of two native sport fish to Lake Superior, are typically the second most reported species in the spring creel survey.