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Minnesota DNR trucks Knife River steelhead past waterfalls

File photo.

In an unprecedented move because of low water levels, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials on Friday began transporting steelhead from the Knife River fish trap upstream past the Second Falls on the Knife River to assist the fish on their spawning migrations. The fish are being transported about 5½ miles in tanks on trucks.

As of Friday, six steelhead had been moved by truck.

"We were urged strongly to do this by the Lake Superior Steelhead Association," said Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor at French River.

The steelhead association advocates for steelhead, or rainbow trout, that live in Lake Superior and migrate up North Shore streams each spring to spawn. With low water flows this year, it's more difficult for fish to clear the falls as they move upstream.

The DNR would continue to move steelhead only if flows remain low, Schreiner said.

"As soon as we get some rain, we'll let the fish do it themselves," he said.

The DNR traps upstream-bound steelhead and Kamloops rainbow trout on the Knife River and the French River. The fish are stripped of eggs, and the eggs are used for future stocking efforts.

So far this spring, the agency has trapped 113 unclipped (wild) steelhead at the Knife River and 23 clipped (stocked) steelhead, Schreiner said. Stream flows have been low, and migration usually increases after rain raises river levels.

"With steelhead, I think we're still on the upswing," Schreiner said.

At the French River as of Friday, the DNR had trapped 1,022 Kamloops (stocked) rainbow trout, up from 850 total last spring and more than in any of the past six years. The long-term average is 868 per year. In addition, 59 unclipped steelhead have been caught a the French River trap.

Schreiner believes the Kamloops rainbow run may already have peaked.

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing has been somewhat slow on the North Shore, where streams remained low and clear the past week, said Kipp Duncan, DNR conservation officer in Duluth.

"The water temps are OK," he said. "We need rain."