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Fall colors make local anglers think pink/Woods, water & worse

September 30, 2011
By Jim Junttila , The Daily Mining Gazette

"We never could find Lost Lake, so we went with Plan B," said ubiquitous WW&W wildlife correspondent and fishinista Paris Hiltunen, iPhoning in her final brookie report of the season from her canoe on the Montreal Meadows.

"The speckies are all dolled-up in their fall spawning colors," she continued, "as dark as the tannin-stained water they come from, striking with their fire-red spots, neon blue halos, that spawn-orange belly and fins with distinguished white-edges," she gushed.

She could just as well be describing the water I was standing in, but then most Yooper brookie cricks look alike on the last day. I was wading knee-deep in a glorious upstream stretch of the Falls River, wettin' a line with Ed Wetelainen. We too, were celebrating the season finale, and getting ready to head downstream in pursuit of a fish of a different color.

"Brookie season may be over," Ed said, "but don't pack your Mepps and Panther Martins away just yet, the pinks are in the river and ravaging pink-bladed spinners."

Pink or humpback salmon, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, like bright colors but are partial to hot pink. They don't call them "pinks" and "humpies" for nothing. They arrive in the river all chromed-up, but turn an ugly brownish pink and develop hideous humpbacks after they're spawned out and then die.

"The river is fulla fish, but everybody's in the bush and nobody's on the water," said Steve Koski, Indian Country Sports (524-6518), downtown L'Anse Vegas waterfront, a roll cast from the moutha the Falls River where the pinks have been playing all week.

He was right, we pretty much had the river to ourselves.

"With bear season, small game, partridge and waterfowl seasons all going full-tilt, and bow season opening tomorrow beside, the woods are fulla Yoopers, leaving the waters wide open for October anglers," he continued.

"He's right, Ed said, "all those archers are way too busy getting out their hunter orange to think pink."

All Baraga County rivers host fall salmon runs, but the Falls turns on first, followed by the Silver, Slate, Ravine and Huron during October.

"Most anglers pass on the pinks because they're not good to eat," Koski continued. "They're scrappy fighters that feel like a lot bigger fish, 10-inch minimum size, most run 12 to 16 inches; they develop humped backs and a gnarly, crooked, hooked kype, the upper lip curves down, the lower lip curls up."

"They ain't too shabby smoked or canned, but they're the lowest fish on the salmon family food chain," said Ed Wetelainen, still wettin' his line. "In Alaska they call them dog salmon because they're the only ones that eat them; fishermen grind 'em up for dog food."

"Some guys get lucky drifting spawnsacks and crawlers, but it's mostly an aggravation bite," Koski tipped, "go with bright colors, hot pink, blaze orange and chartreuse yarn flies and attractor patterns with black marabou and flashy tinsel turn 'em on."

Meanwhile in Copper Harbor, the splake are milling around the marina, taunting and tempting local splakers, but refusing to bite.

"What kinda girl do you think I am?" a pretty pre-spawn female with romance on her mind asked indignantly. "I know the Michigan DNR genetically programmed me to be easy and a willing biter, but you don't know much about girl fish if you think I fall for the first bling some Yooper throws my way. I'm in spawning mode now, not feeding mode; there'll be time for that later."

In other fishing news, late season boaters are enjoying a hot lake trout bite outa Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor, Portage Entry, Bete Gris and Big Traverse, according to Captain Fred Funkey of Fred's Charters (289-4849) in Copper Harbor, and Captain Larry Smith of Fish On II Keweenaw Guide Service (289-4481) in Lac la Belle. Both are booking fall charters for splake and lake trout.

"All our gorgeous north-flowing Lake Superior tributaries are prime fall spawning rivers for anadromous browns, steelhead, coho and king salmon, complete with a built-in Copper Country Color Cruise, said WW&W Fall correspondent Autumn Equinox. "My personal favorite two-venue foliage tour and fishing trip is the Covered Road to Redridge and the Salmon Trout, then out to Freda and the Graveraet."

Locals also swear by the moutha the Gratiot off Five Mile Point Road backa Ahmeek, Morrison's Crick, Silver River, Fanny Hooe Crick, or the moutha the Montreal, Misery, Sturgeon and Tobacco.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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