"It's almost like the good old days!" exclaimed Steve Koski over at Indian Country Sports on the downtown L'Anse Vegas waterfront, casting distance from the mouth of the Falls River where the smelt are running even as we speak.
"And are they thick!" he added excitedly.
Usually all I've got to report is the hushed, whispered rumors I've heard of steelhead and smelt running in bars, but this time they're actually running in cricks, showing up in the bars later in the form of fish fries.
"The smelt have been running wild in the Falls, Slate and Ravine Rivers since the middle of April," Koski continued, "then just when you think it's over, boom, the Falls was chock fulla smelt again on Wednesday. It's one of the best runs in years."
Fish are fickle creatures, and smelt are no exception. Like steelhead, they keep coming after you think the run is over.
The fish are so happy the ice is off the lake, boaters are enjoying a hot bite even though the water's still colder than a mother-in-law's love, in the high 30s. We're barely beyond ice-out on inland lakes; Boston Pond, Bjorn Pond and Lac la Belle went ice-free on April 30, just in time for the Brookie opener; Gratiot Lake is still slush covered and Lake Medora remains frozen over to this day.
"They're catching lotsa nice coho with a smattering of kings (chinook) and browns," in less than forty feeta water from Baraga around the bottom of K-Bay to downtown L'Anse," Koski tipped.
"It's one of the steadiest steelhead runs in years," Koski added. "They've been in the rivers since early April, slowed down, then we got hit with the late snows and rain, and the rivers are re-charged, up and running with new fish."
It's a sportfish smorgasbord out there. Menominee whitefish at the mouths of rivers and cricks, and a spawn-o-rama in full swing. While steelhead will be in the rivers through May and into June, late-run fish share the rivers with schools of redhorse suckers that are fun to catch and smoke, except they're hard to keep lit.
When I say fishermen are fickle, I'm speaking for myself. Where some guys specialize in a single species like lake trout, salmon, walleye, northern, brookies or crappie, I fish 'em all, largemouth and small, including saltwater. Yet I am a fishcal conservative who is somewhat fishcally responsible.
Yooper fishing seasons feed off one another; Rivers are crowded during April when steelheading is the only game in town, but with the Brookie season opener statewide last Saturday, and the Yooper walleye and northern season opener May 15, anglers spread themselves thinner.
Most Keweenaw, Houghton, Baraga, Ontonagon, Gogebic and Marquette County rivers are at near-perfect steelhead flow, with meltdown and run-off just about over. Chrome-bright, fresh-from-the-lake fish can be found in the Falls. Silver, Slate, Huron, Tobacco, Traverse, Salmon Trout and Gravereat rivers, mostly on single eggs, yarnflies, crawlers, spinners, spoons and spawnsacks anytime between now and Memorial Day.
Call Indian Country Sports, L'Anse (524-6518), Harter Mountain, Calumet (337-0913), Northwoods Sporting Goods, Hancock (482-5210), or Gas Lite General Store, Copper Harbor (289-4652) for fishing reports.
Spring is also for the birds. Don't miss the Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival, now airing over Brockway Mountain and Copper Harbor. For information and activities, visit copperharborbirding.org or call Karen Karl, 289-4588. For dramatic, close-up, eye-level views of hawks, eagles and vultures, visit Keweenaw Audubon's splendid website, keweenawraptorsurvey.org
May 11, Ducks Unlimited Banquet
May 13, Copper Country Chapter Trout Unlimited Conservation Banquet, Tom Rozich, 482-2422
May 14, Sawmill Creek Bobber Race, Maple Leaf Inn, Bootjack, 296-9125
May 15, Opening Day Walleye Season
May 20-22, Northland Electric Ontonagon Lake Trout Classic, Larry Greig, 906-884-2770, greigstackleshop.com
Jim can be reached at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.