Can you imagine hoards of salmon leaping and jumping out of the French River as they fight to swim upstream, returning to their place of birth to spawn?
No, you probably can’t, because you likely know that they don’t.
I, on the other hand, had this fantastical vision the day we set out for an afternoon where the French River flows into Lake Superior.
We had heard that anglers are drawn to this spot because loads of fish that were released from the French River Coldwater Hatchery return in the spring to reproduce after several years in the lake.
What I didn’t know was that the hatchery focuses mostly on Kamloops and some steelhead trout, not salmon. And the Kamloops that are released to the French River are not the leapin’ kind of fish, so when they home it is not much of a sight.
Finley and I were, however, fascinated with the 100s of fish in the pool at the base of the river. We could see these large fish swimming from the vantage point of the bridge while Tim and Daley fished less than 50 feet away in the lake – so close, yet so far away since no fishing is allowed in the French River below the hatchery.
This was Daley’s first fly-fishing experience in Lake Superior. He was intrigued by walking through the mouth of the river where the out-going current met the incoming waves of the big lake.
Knowing there would be a row of anglers fishing from shore, we brought extra chocolate chip bars to share (similar to our MN Nice on Ice excursion). Finley enjoyed handing them out and visiting with the anglers. We were surprised by how many graciously declined our treats due to high blood pressure and cholesterol. As Finley summarized, “We didn’t have many takers.” We hadn’t considered the demographic when we packed the treats.
There is a self-guided tour of the hatchery operation along the river with interpretive signs, leading to a visitor center. Sadly, it was just closing for the day (the DNR website, however, has an informative hatchery fact sheet).
Wanting to know more about local fish migration, I called Sam Cook, the outdoor writer for the Duluth News Tribune. He kindly answered all of my questions. Thanks, Sam, for taking the time to share your vast knowledge.
In the end, while we didn’t get to see an amazing salmon run, we enjoyed being part of the spring fishing ritual at the mouth of the French River.
Have you explored the French River? Share your experiences in the comment box below. Thanks!