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St. Marys River Provides Bargain World-Class Fishing

July 10, 2008

By Eric Sharp, Detroit Free Press

Jul. 10–SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario — Ted Williams, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, was also one of the world’s best light-tackle anglers. And his picks for the top light-tackle fish were the tarpon, bonefish and Atlantic salmon.

You’d have to travel 1,000 miles and spend a chunk of money to catch the first two. But for the next month or so, a tank of gasoline will take Michigan anglers to one of the best places in the world to tangle with a fish that’s usually beyond the price range of the average working stiff.

On a sparkling day on the St. Marys River, which forms the border between Michigan and Ontario. Jason Paul from Houston had already boated six Atlantics by 10 a.m., releasing five from 8 to 13 pounds, and keeping a 7-pounder for dinner.

“I’ve chased Atlantic salmon all over the place, and this is one of the best Atlantic fisheries in the world,” Paul said.

He had recently made a trip to New Brunswick in pursuit of this most elite of sport fish, and he said that catching Atlantic salmon in most places required thousands of dollars for airplane tickets, elite lodges and access to private waters.

“A couple of friends just came back from (fishing Atlantics) overseas, and it cost them a bundle. But here, you just drive up and buy an Ontario license,” he said.

The Atlantics normally arrive in early June, trying to swim back into the old electric generating plant where they were hatched, reared and released by fisheries scientists at Lake Superior State, who created this fantastic Atlantic run (you can see the salmon on the underwater fish camera at the LSSU Web site, www.lssu.edu/arl/fishcamelive/php.)

After a few weeks of hanging around and chasing smelt in the deep water, the fish move into the rapids, mostly on the Canadian side, in preparation for spawning later in the fall. But as with most things natural in this unusually cool spring, the salmon ran late.

“They only showed up about a week ago,” said guide John Giuliani, who has done so much to provide research data to LSSU that the 2-year-olds coming back to spawn this season were named the “Giuliani Class” in his honor.

Unlike Pacific salmon, which all die after spawning, some Atlantics survive to spawn the next year. That number gets whittled down each season, but maybe 5% reach ages 4 or 5 and become 20-25 pound giants (Atlantics that feed in salt water can exceed 40 pounds.)

“I think this year we’ll be targeting Atlantics right into August, when the Chinooks arrive,” said Giuliani, who draws clients from Europe as well as from across North America. “They’re really fat this year. The 2-year-olds are 5-10 pounds, the 3-year olds are 13-20, and we’ve seen 4- or 5-year-old fish that were just huge.”

Michiganders Dan Manial of Olivet and Calvin Papple of the Soo were fishing for Atlantics recently. Fishing from a 14-foot johnboat, they used their small outboard engine to hold the boat stationary in the current as they streamed flies at the surface 50 feet behind the boat, lifting and dropping the rods to imitate an injured smelt dropping down current.

If they saw a salmon feed, they moved the boat to get the flies over it. After a few minutes, Manial’s fly rod bent hard under a strike and he brought a 6-pound Giuliani fish to the boat.

Not 20 minutes later, Giuliani and I were drifting downstream when something solid stopped the lure on the end of my fly rod. I lifted hard, and for a couple of seconds, nothing happened. Then deep in the clear water we saw what looked like a big mirror, as a silver fish rolled on its side and headed downstream. It turned and rocketed toward the surface as I tried desperately to strip in slack fly line. Then it shot into the air like a submarine missile, did a somersault four feet above the water and sent the fly back to wrap around my neck.

“Wow, that was a big fish, a 20-pounder,” Giuliani said.

A few minutes later it was his turn, as something put a bend in his spinning rod. He got it under control and we soon boated a 13- to 15-pound, silver-bright Atlantic that we quickly got back into the river.

He looked at me sadly and said, “This is a nice fish, but that one you lost was really big.”

Thanks, John.

Giuliani can be reached at 705-942-5473.

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