Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Superiority Complex Part 1:The search for Coaster Brook Trout

I had originally planned on heading to Brule early Friday morning with dad for two days of pursuing elusive Brule River Steelhead when something else piqued my interest. A friend told my about a volunteer opportunity to assist the DNR in electroshocking Coaster Brook Trout in north shore tributaries of Lake Superior. The purpose being to survey the current population of Coaster Brook trout for comparison to past and future results.
 photo cbtru1_zps07c4becc.jpg
Although genetically similar to regular Brook Trout, Coaster Brook Trout grow much larger and spend most of their adult lives in Lake Superior only returning to streams and rivers in the fall to spawn. Coaster Brook were once abundant in Lake Superior but factors like habitat loss, over-fishing and the sea lamprey invasion contributed to a massive decline in populations.

With help from various organizations the Coaster Brook Trout of Lake Superior are staging a comeback. Habitat study and restoration along with restocking efforts are being planned and put into effect all over the worlds largest freshwater resource I refer to as "Gitche Gumee".

 Upon hearing about the opportunity to help in the Coasters resurgence I was "Gung ho". Since I had already planned on spending Friday fishing the Brule with my dad I had to see if he was also interested in assisting the Coaster's cause. I was overjoyed when he came aboard.

 Friday morning we were briefed by DNR officials Josh Blankenheim and Chris Sundmark at the French River Fisheries Office. I was relieved when I found out that I met all of the requirements for volunteering. The application clearly stated that, "Volunteers must be in good physical condition". Borrowing words from the great Mohammed Ali, "I'm young, I'm pretty, I hit hard, I'm in the best shape of my life. You don't want to get in the ring with me".

There was a cool mounted Steelhead on the wall at the French River Fisheries office. It made me look forward to fishing the Brule where I would have the chance to dance with giants.
It measured 34 inches and weighed 9.2 pounds. I'm glad I came prepared with 2x tippet.

While waiting I checked out some other posters they had on display at the office.

Shortly after leaving the French River Fisheries Office we were setting up at the mouth of the Stewart River on Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior.  I was so excited that I was about to lose control and I think I liked it.

My dad and I were to follow behind the DNR guys with our nets as they would shock and temporarily disable every fish in the river. Our main goal was to see how many Coaster Brook Trout were present but we would also be finding out what other species of fish lurked in the depths of the Stewart River. I was curious to see what we would find and would not be disappointed. Here is my dad following close behind Chris Sundmark of the Minnesota DNR.

It wasn't long before Chris shocked and temporarily netted a 6 inch Northern Pike that had found a home in the Stewart River. I didn't get a photo of the Pike but I did get one of a Black Nosed Dace that Josh Blankenheim electrified and captured during it's brief time of disablement. Here is a photo of the Black Nosed Dace

Working our way upstream we would find that the Stewart River was very scenic. It was so beautiful that it reminded me of my mother who had graciously volunteered to watch Foxy during this time. The Stewart was also home to a menagerie of aquatic life.
Hey check it out it looks like a Steelhead Smolt.  He will leave the Stewart River small and if he is lucky enough to survive the rigors of the big lake he will return as a giant to spawn.
The rocks have been rounded from years of being tumbled.
Looks like this little Rainbow was in the middle of downing a Sculpin went he was shocked.  After being put back in the water he swam away to eat his meal.
Looks like a Sucker to me.
This Coho Salmon looks to be in good shape.  He must have been fresh out of the lake.
After a couple of hours of following the guys upriver I was thankful for all the conditioning work that I put in.
Salmon were found upstream of these rapids.  It takes a little more than that to stop a Coho intent on spreading his wild oats.
I didn't know if these mushrooms were edible, psychedelic or poisonous so I decided to keep walking.
You can try them if you would to like though.  Just be sure to include me in your will before you do.
Some parts of the Stewart get very deep.  I looked online and couldn't find out exactly who the Stewart was named after so I am just going to go with "Jimmy Stewart".
Here is Jimmy Stewart.

A Steelhead Smolt like an Indianapolis Colt will need Luck to accomplish his goal.
This type of Sculpin is known as the , "Blurry Sculpin".
A Creek Chub for you.  A Creek Chub for me.
This Coho Salmon has spent some time in the river.  He will soon die and his carcass will sink to the bottom of the river where it will serve as food for his young when they hatch.
Did you ever think you would find an Burbot aka Eelpout in the Stewart River.  I was shocked and so was he.
Just a little guy.
Ever nook and cranny of the Stewart was poked and prodded.  You never know where young Coaster Brook Trout may be hiding.

The backpacks the guys wore reminded me of the ones used in the movie, "Ghostbusters".  At one point I reminded them not to, "Cross the Streams".  

Upon reaching the quote un quote "Barrier Falls" of the Stewart I was tired despite my peak physical condition.  I was despondent that no Coaster Brook Trout were located but my spirits were lifted after seeing the amazing biological diversity that the Stewart River contained.

My MN DNR buddies were real troopers.  They did their best to answer my myriad of questions and I was happy with their answers.  If you ever want the scoop on what's in your favorite river it might be a good idea to volunteer when they are doing an electroshock survey.  

 This waterfall was modified with the help of explosives in hopes that Steelhead would be able to climb it on their way to prime spawning habitat.  Now that's I sight I'd like to see.
On the way back to the road we passed a sign that served as a reminder that years ago an organization existed called "T.R.O.U.T.".  I believe the letters stood for Together Reaching Out Upgrading Trout.  Although this group is no longer in existence others have risen to the task of preserving, protecting and enhancing  trout habitat and opportunities to fish for them.  On this day I helped carry that torch but hopefully someday you will join me and others dedicated to the cause.

Somewhere out there swims Brook Trout ranging in lengths between 20 and 30 inches.
Somewhere out there.

If would like to help the cause of Coaster Brook Trout and get a cool, "Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Bumper Sticker" at the same time contact The Greater Lake Superior Foundation.  The stickers are 6.00 plus 1.00 shipping and handling.     

The End

Eddie Rivard Fly Fishing is now on Facebook


Dan B said...

Right on! I would love to go on one of this shocking adventures!

Ninemile Fishing Co. said...

Great stuff Eddie! Your friends at www.minnesotasteelheader.com are grateful for your help with the DNR Coaster Brook Trout Project.

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