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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

The sap, smelt and steelhead are running

March 26, 2010
By Jim Junttila

If you've ever wondered where expressions like "Spring fling," "Spring break-up" and "Spring in your step" come from, wonder no longer. I've experienced and felt them all deeply, and they put enough lead in my pencil to write a column on the topic.

I know they all have to do with our recent Equinox, so I went fishing with the recognized authority on all things Spring, WW&W seasonal correspondent Verna Equinox.

"Sap, smelt and steelhead start running about the same time," Verna splained as we tested our waders together at the mouth of the Tobacco on the first day of Spring. I always enjoy getting my feet wet metaphorically, but not from leaky waders, especially when the water's about 40 degrees.

I'm a big fan of Spring melt-down and run-off, the sooner the better. Especially when it brings the steelhead, whitefish and smelt running. It's a time of natural and human renewal, transition and predation.

Spring is in the air with the kinda warmth and sunshine that coaxes you outside to take a walk on the beach and shoot a sunset, or drift a spawnbag, crawler or spinner in a rushing river, running wild after a long winter snooze under ice and snow. The sound of running water is music to my ears and a magnet to fish. Good things come to those who wade.

"When winter loses its grip, so does cabin fever," Verna continued. "There's a lot more going on in the woods then most people notice. It's my busy time and I've got my hands full, what with eggs hatching, fawns being born, morels sprouting, trees budding and sap running, I don't spend much time with the fish. They spawn their brains out without no help from nobody.

"Before you know it, my crocuses, cowslips, trilliums and trout lilies will be showing," she blushed demurely.

Now's when even the smallest brookie streams like Woodtick Crick are feeling their oats. Pumped by melt-down and run-off, they run as fast as they can, rushing toward the bigger rivers they feed; the Montreal, Gratiot, Silver, Salmon Trout, Graveraet, Fanny Hooe, Traverse, Tobacco, Betsy, McGunn's and Morrison's Crick, all flowing into Lake Superior, inviting fish to run up them.

If you're feeling adventurous, try the wild and wooly wilderness rivers of the Porkies; the Big Carp, Little Carp, Pinkerton Crick, and beyond to the mouths of the Big Presque and Black River Harbor.

Over in Baraga County, the Falls, Silver, Slate and Huron Rivers all flow into Keweenaw Bay and Huron Bay, luring fish upstream.

All host Spring rainbow runs. Best bet baits are spawn bags, single eggs, yarnflies and crawlers. I'm a big believer in scent as an attractant and rub Dr. Juice on everything, with just a dab behind my ears for the girls at the bars where the rivers run, Gay Bar, Maple Leaf, Mosquito Inn, Bella Vista and Billy the Finn's.

"Run-off is low and slow, but they've been catching nice steelhead in all our rivers," said Steve Koski of Indian Country Sports on the downtown L'Anse Vegas waterfront next door to the moutha the Falls River.

"The snow's pretty much gone, there's none left to melt down and run-off, but the fish keep coming," he added. "They had a hot bite going off the edge of the shoreline ice sheet earlier in the week. The ice is gone but the fish are still there."

Spring has indeed sprung, and spectacularly so, but it's not too late to get hammered by a post-Equinox storm. A WW&W Opinion Dynamics Poll revealed that many of you have already dropped your plows and put away your scoops and shovels. You know who you are.

"We need a good rain or one last blast, another snowstorm to charge the rivers," said WW&W fishing correspondent Ed Wetalainen, reporting that all Keweenaw rivers are up and running with steelhead either staging offshore or already in them.

Early bird anglers report splake and Menominee whitefish showing up for their annual spawn-o-rama at the mouths of popular north shore rivers.

The MDNRE reminds anglers that the deadline for removing ice fishing shanties from area waters is March 31 if it's not already too late, and the new license season begins April 1. Licenses are available at all vendors or online at dnre.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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