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St. Louis River a last spot to find walleye runs

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Ted Peck
June 29, 2014

Most Wisconsin anglers have never heard of the St. Louis River, let alone fished it.

But thousands of Cheeseland fishers pass over these perpetually turbid waters every year en route to potentially greener pastures in Canada.

The St. Louis is a boundary river, separating the city of Superior from Duluth, Minnesota, before dumping into the frigid freshwater sea that is Lake Superior.

The St. Louis is the last river in Wisconsin to see a “walleye run” in the spring. Walleye fishing not allowed until after the state's general season opener the first Saturday in May.

This might be one reason the St. Louis gets overlooked. Another reason might be status as a boundary river. The Menominee and St. Croix are Boundary Rivers, too. All three are spectacular fisheries.

For some reason, anglers from bordering states on both sides stay away in droves.

The St. Louis has much more color in the water than the other two overlooked, flowing gems. Most of its flow is like chocolate milk—with extra chocolate added.

Walleyes don't seem to mind.

Trolling is the best way to attack these fish right now, in a catching pattern that should last another month—and then get even better.

The change in air temperature from five miles inland on Route 2 down into the valley where the St. Louis flows is remarkable, often dropping as much as 10 degrees.

Water-temperature changes at points where the river's flow merge with the deep blue waters of Lake Superior are equally abrupt and a major key to walleye location.

Captain Josh Teigen said the last ice floe on the south side of Lake Superior finally melted just one week ago. On Father's Day, it was still the size of several football fields.

This is one reason why water temperatures out in the big lake are still in the low 40s. Water temperatures in the St. Louis have yet to top 60 degrees.

Thousands of walleyes that just finished spawning three weeks ago find the warmer water more appealing, even when forced to search for food in essentially zero visibility.

This may be one reason why they smack Berkley Flicker Shads and Cordell Wally Divers so aggressively as they cruise 5- to 7-foot deep flats off of the deep main shipping channel looking for food.

In a couple of weeks, Teigen will switch over to Uncle Josh Meat nightcrawlers pulled behind spinner rigs with No. 5 Colorado blades as water temperatures in both the St. Louis and southern reaches of Lake Superior continue to warm.

By mid-July, this savvy guide says the fish will move just out from the river mouth where they will stay throughout the summer. Until then, Teigen's big Frabill net will get a workout from walleyes that eat crankbaits trolled less than 20 feet behind the boat.

Teigen's major passion is chasing muskies. But this isn't the only reason he packs a big net. Walleyes swimming in the St. Louis, and soon just offshore, can be in excess of 30 inches long.

The biggest fish we managed recently was a few inches short of that magic mark. But we only fished a couple of hours as both weather and darkness were closing in. This was more than enough time to boat a limit.

Teigen says he doesn't use planer boards in this trolling presentation because the action is usually “too fast to spend the time rigging up with these fishing aids.”

One advantage of planer boards is keeping lures away from the commotion and large footprint of a boat that might cause walleyes to re-think dining options.

Is trolling a crankbait 15 feet behind the boat effective here because the water is muddy or because there are so many walleyes begging to be caught?

From the quotable Hillary Clinton, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.



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