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New Safe Harbor at McQuade Road Has Become Popular Place for Anglers

February 17, 2008

By Sam Cook, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Feb. 17–Most of the ice on Lake Superior this winter is unreliable. It’s there one day, blown out the next. Or it’s there one day, then piled up in crinkly windrows along shore the next.

It isn’t the kind of ice a trout angler can count on.

But inside the protective breakwalls of the nearly completed McQuade Public Boat Access, anglers have discovered thick, smooth ice that the big lake cannot tamper with. On Tuesday afternoon, four or five temporary fishing shelters had sprouted from the ice like winter mushrooms. Inside them, anglers such as Justin Hocevar of Caribou Lake jigged waxworms and other offerings for Kamloops rainbow trout and coho salmon.

“This is what I live for,” said Hocevar, 19, who had already pulled a 5- or 6-pound Kamloops rainbow from the 9-foot depths.

The public access at McQuade Road is being built to offer a safe harbor for boaters using Lake Superior during months when ice is only a memory. It’s scheduled for completion June 10. Work is continuing at the site on a restroom building well away from the lake. The ramp is not officially open, but anglers are using the site as long as their presence doesn’t interfere with construction.

North Shore anglers discovered the man-made fishing spot almost as soon as the breakwall rocks were plunked in the lake, sometime in 2006. The two breakwalls encircle the harbor like a pair of arms. The enclosed area is somewhat larger than a football field, and on Tuesday, it was covered with about 14 inches of ice. The only area of concern was at the mouth of the harbor, where a west wind had small wavelets chewing away the edge of the ice.

Hocevar and his fishing partner, Brett Capra of Pike Lake, each had augered three connected holes in the ice. The resulting cloverleaf-pattern holes offered a wide view of the water, the jigs they were dangling and the lake bottom.

To say the water is clear is an understatement. Looking into the depths is like looking through a windowpane. Every detail of the rock and silt bottom 9 feet below is visible. Everyone fishing the harbor Tuesday afternoon had seen fish coming and going down below. Most of them were Kamloops rainbows.

“I’ve seen three ‘loopers,” Capra said early in the afternoon.

Bruce Berggren of Duluth, fishing in a nearby shelter, had just missed a rainbow.

“He spit it out,” Berggren said.

“I’ve seen four,” said Jim Ferriera of Duluth, fishing in a shelter on about the 30 yard line. “You see ‘em coming in. It seems first light is the best time for them to come in and bite.”

Several anglers had punched the cloverleaf holes to better see incoming trout or salmon. The fishermen offered an array of baits — artificial “‘looper bugs” tipped with wax worms, small white jigs tipped with waxworms, small jigs tipped with shiner minnows, or waxworms on plain hooks. Most anglers used 4-pound and 6-pound-test line because the water was so clear.

The Kamloops rainbows they were seeing are the typical size. Nice fish, as they say.

“Most are 4 to 5 [pounds],” Ferriera said. “A couple were 7 or 8.”

It is something to see fish of that size, mere feet below you, patrolling the clear waters. Some would simply stop and eye a waxworm, then turn away. Even if one inhaled a bait, hooking it was not automatic. In the clear water, watching the action, an angler must resist the urge to set the hook too soon.

“When you see ‘em take it, you have to wait until you see the bug disappear,” Hocevar said.

Tom Lemon of Duluth, fishing in a shelter with Ferriera, saw his bait disappear into a rainbow’s jaws, so he set the hook. Too soon.

“He hadn’t closed his mouth yet,” Lemon said.

But Lemon had a small whitefish on the ice as a consolation prize.

All of the anglers were toasty warm inside their shelters Tuesday afternoon, warmed by propane heaters. And that’s the beauty of ice on Lake Superior. Without ice, anglers must hope for temperatures near or above freezing so they can cast from shore into open water.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

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