Dawn Patrol

Successful guerrilla angling requires stealth, perseverance, and an insatiable, what-the-hell willingness to hunt for fish in some damn weird places

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
When you're floating in a boat below the Edison Sault dam in the Saint Marys River, facing the United States, you can see a parking lot at the dam's east end. In the summer, ten or 20 men and boys from the nearby Chippewa reservation will be standing at the edge of the parking lot and casting large, weighted snagging hooks into the water along the dam. They give the hook a moment to sink, and then reef the rod with all they have, hoping to dig one of the hooks into the side of an Atlantic salmon. (It's illegal for non-Indians to snag.)

The salmon are trying to return to their home spawning area, which doesn't technically exist, because they were hatchery-bred inside the Lake Superior State University aquatics lab, which is in the hydroelectric plant. Under a grant, the space was given to the school, and the lab's director has been trying to introduce Atlantic salmon into the Great Lakes ecosystem. When salmon run rivers to spawn, they try to return to the place where they hatched. Atlantic salmon are so good at this that many actually return to the aquatics lab. But the fish are liable to show up anywhere around the dam, and that keeps the excitement level way up.

In order for a fishing spot to be great, it has to offer the angler the possibility of a freakish catch. Michigan is full of places like this. While fishing for northern pike through the ice in Muskegon Lake, you might just hook a sturgeon that weighs a hundred pounds. When surf-casting into Lake Michigan in November, the possibilities are endless: steelhead, coho, menominee, chinook, lake trout, almost anything can come along. At the power canal, it's Atlantic salmon.

I know a guy—he seems to be a credible, honest person—who says that he hooked an Atlantic in tunnel 14 that came out of the water in a cartwheeling jump and landed in his boat. He threw it back overboard.

I would throw mine back, too. They are one of those things that have a lot more enemies in the world than friends.

The whitefish kept hitting throughout the morning. Sometimes I'd be casting up into the tunnel, only to look down and see several fish just two feet below me. I hooked fish beneath the boat, behind the boat, and on each side of the boat. I caught a steelhead no longer than my foot, and a sculpin no longer than my finger.

Around noon, the current from the dam shut off. The whirring generators hushed. The swells and bubbles disappeared from the rapidly flowing water; it was like a glass of soda going flat in hyperspeed. "Closing time," Drost said. He explained that every Sunday the engineers in the powerhouse shut down the turbines.

That's right, I reminded myself. They can do that. The power canal is not to be confused with a river.   

Steven Rinella will earn his master's degree in nonfiction writing from the University of Montana this month. This is his first article for Outside.

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