ELY (AP) - Doug Ellis and I are trying to have a conversation, but we keep getting rudely interrupted by rainbow trout.
"There's one," says Ellis.
He springs from the driver's seat of his Crestliner and snatches a fishing rod from its rod holder. He pops the line free of his downrigger weight and reels in another rainbow. It fights with frenzy until Ellis, of Forbes, swings it up and into the boat.
It isn't a large fish by any means, just a foot long. But it's gorgeous on a small scale with its iridescent flanks, flecks of black and a wash of soft pink down the length of its body. Someone named these fish right.
In a few hours of fishing, we'll catch 20 of these frisky rainbows and put all but six of them back. We're fishing Miner's Lake, within the city limits of Ely, the town's water tower visible above the tree line at the west end of the lake.
Miner's Lake is one of some 20 "pit" lakes across northeastern Minnesota's Iron Range. All of them once were iron mines, most of them open-pit mines. Now filled with water, they've been stocked with trout.
A rainbow trout flopped through the water on the way to the boat on Miner's Lake in Ely last month. Miner's Lake is one of some 20 "pit" lakes across northeastern Minnesota's Iron Range. All were once iron mines, most of them open-pit mines. Now filled with water, they've been stocked with trout. Associated Press
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the program, now a cooperative effort of Iron Range Resources and the DNR. Iron Range Resources stocks six of the lakes each year, and the DNR stocks the remainder.
The program started in 1983 as part of the IRR's (then the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board) mineland reclamation effort.
"It was at the time when a lot of these pits had just filled with water. It seemed like a tremendous resource for someone to use," said Ray Svatos of Iron, who retired in 2006 as mineland reclamation director for Iron Range Resources.
Initially, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board stocked all the pit lakes. But the agency was stocking large fish, and it proved too costly, Svatos said. Now the agency and the DNR both stock fish at about one-third pound each.
The DNR also stocks many non-pit lakes with rainbows, brook trout and brown trout, but Ellis prefers fishing the pit lakes.
"The scenery is way better," Ellis said. "It's like fishing in a canyon. And there's more structure, more (submerged) trees. I think it's a little more challenging."
And the lakes are close to home.
"With fuel prices on the rise, it provides trout anglers with a local, easily accessible resource," said Brian Hiti, Iron Range Resources deputy commissioner.
Pit lakes, because they're deep and bordered by almost solid rock, don't offer as much forage for trout as other trout lakes, said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids.
"They tend to be very sterile," he said. "Typically, our stocking is with catchable size yearlings."
The lack of forage makes the lake more popular with anglers, he said.
"The fish are hungry so they're easy to catch," Kavanaugh said.
Which, according to Ellis, helps make the pits very kid-friendly.
"They're awesome lakes to take kids into," he says. "They're so much fun. Trout are really cool to look at. They jump. They wiggle. They do everything a fish is supposed to do. And they aren't prickly."
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