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Fly-Fishers’ club picks up on Big Otter Creek New trout-hide structures may be placed

Members of the Arrowhead Fly-Fishers’ Club volunteer their time and efforts Saturday to pick up trash along Big Otter Creek. Showing some of the garbage bags they took out of Jay Cooke State Park are (from left) club members Peder Yurista, Ted Troolin, Patricia Connolly, Laurie Arndt and Jim Arndt. Contributed Photo *****

A call went out last week that trash had accumulated along the bike path and trekking trails that run beside Big Otter Creek.

Otter is a dandy, little jewel of stream in Carlton County that originates near the tall, Puritan pines of the University of Minnesota Forestry Research Center. This trout-bearing watercourse enters the Valley of the Otters near Interstate 35 and makes its way to Jay Cooke State Park where its mouth is at the St Louis River, which is the greatest source of water for Lake Superior.

Peder Yurista, the conservation chairman of the Arrowhead Fly-Fishers’ Club, organized a collection detail to do a trash pick-up. Emails were sent out at short notice to the 100 members of the Arrowhead Club. Eight assembled for the pick-up project Saturday. They filled the better part of 12 garbage bags with plastic and glass bottles, papers and rags, even a tangle of cables and a broken chair.

Members of the Arrowhead Club took time out during that afternoon to tour the LUNKER structures that the Club had placed on the Otter in 1994. These are 4x8-foot by 10-inch cribs constructed of free elm planks donated by the city of Duluth. They were fabricated, then abutted into stream banks and set into the creek bottom with driven rebar. These LUNKERS provided underwater, covert spaces under the banks for trout of all sizes for two decades.

Covered with over 100 ton of round boulders, these LUNKERS were disheveled in the 2012 flood. Dozens of 12- and 14-inch boulders sped downstream in the torrent like bowling balls and depressions were scoured under some of the LUNKERS. This caused them to tip downward. Some filled up with sand and gravel; their efficiency was diminished.

A suggestion had been made by the Minnesota DNR’s Jeff Tillma of Grand Rapids, who oversees the state of Minnesota Legacy Funds, to place root wads, sweeper pines and 15-inch pine boles pinned along the banks over the water. These installations would act as structure for the trout. The Arrowhead Fly-Fishers’ Club would match state funds and then hire contractors to position the natural structures. A decision to OK such a project on Otter Creek is under consideration by the Arrowhead Fly-Fishers’ Board members.

Otter Creek was an old outlet of Lake Superior.

While today the stream joins the St. Louis River just east of Carlton in Jay Cooke State Park, at one time, Otter Creek flowed in the opposite direction. Then it flowed toward the southwest into an old, dry channel that even today can be traced along a line of the old Burlington Northern railroad bed that in the 1800s was built to connect St. Paul with Superior.

This ancient channel has an anastomosis with the Blackhoof Valley in Section 12, East Mahtowa Township, where Flodeen and Ellstrom (Hecker) lakes now exist. This ancient channel, running southwesterly in Mahtowa through a morainic drift, joined near Barnum with the valley of the Moose River, which flows into the Kettle river, thence into the St. Criox River, then into Mississippi River, thence to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Blackhoof River in ancient times, like Otter Creek, also flowed in the opposite direction at a higher level that it does today. This Blackhoof outlet was in all probability the oldest and the highest of the western outlets of Lake Superior. It was formed by the terminal moraine which hemmed the Superior ice lobe. This after Carlton County had been covered by a glacier that was over 5,000 feet in thickness.

Today both the Otter and the Blackhoof rivers of Carlton County need periodic attention to keep these trout waters viable and pleasant to visit.

As far as picking up trash is concerned, Brule fly-fishing guide Keith Behn has a technique to be admired. I’m sure all the other Brule guides do this as well. Whenever Keith sees a can or a bit of trash he walks over, picks it up and puts it in his pocket. If most trekkers and fishers did the same along our creeks and rivers, more people would come to love and defend these lovely resources. As a lady once said, “It’s a dirty world. Clean it up!”