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Don Zirbes holds the 42-inch lake trout he caught Thursday morning trolling on Lake Superior. Zirbes caught the lake trout in 12 feet of water. (Submitted photo / Minnesota DNR)

Baby 'loopers theory leads to a big laker on Superior

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Don Zirbes knows when it's time to catch big lake trout. It's always a few days after the little Kamloops rainbows are stocked along the North Shore.

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"As soon as they start stocking, you start catching," said Zirbes, who lives on the North Shore between Duluth and Two Harbors.

Zirbes caught his largest lake trout ever while trolling alone Thursday morning off the mouth of the French River. The laker was 42.6 inches long and weighed 36.1 pounds.

It was weighed and measured at the French River fisheries office by Steve Geving, Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist. The fish is one of the largest lake trout caught in recent years at the Duluth end of Lake Superior. Tim Jezierski of Duluth caught one last summer that was 45¾ inches long.

Zirbes took the fish there so that DNR officials could take an ear bone from the fish and have it aged.

"We're guessing it's 25 or older," Geving said.

Zirbes caught the laker about 7:30 a.m. Thursday, trolling a minnow imitation plug in 12 feet of water. Lake trout often come into shallow water to feed on forage fish, including yearling Kamloops rainbow trout that are stocked this time of year by the DNR.

"This was my biggest," Zirbes said. "I've caught a 31-pounder, a 28, a number of 18s and 20s. My best day, I got a 25, a 23 and a 19. They were all full of baby 'loopies.' "

Zirbes is a dedicated Kamloops rainbow trout angler and protective of the "baby loopies." He enjoys catching the big lake trout, but he doesn't kill them to eat them.

"The keeping part is just to preserve the loopers," he said.

He said he plans to give the fish away to someone who will smoke it.

The lake trout was a stocked fish, as noted by a clipped fin. Once they determine the age of the fish, fisheries officials will be able to determine the year it was stocked.

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