Steelhead opener a spring rite on the Brule RiverDark hung on for a while Saturday morning on opening day of fishing, with clouds hanging low and stubborn over the valley and the steelhead trout here apparently of the same mood.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
ON THE BRULE RIVER — Dark hung on for a while Saturday morning on opening day of fishing, with clouds hanging low and stubborn over the valley and the steelhead trout here apparently of the same mood.
Up and down the river it was the same report.
“No fish. I haven’t seen one,’’ said Bill Fleischman of Duluth.
Fleischman sat down on shore to take a break from fishing, with his rod propped up against a tree and a cigar between two fingers.
But as with nearly everyone else who had been skunked so far, Fleischman didn’t seem to mind. Being on the Brule for the opener every year, some anglers for decades on end, is a rite of spring that wouldn’t be right to miss.
“Spring is officially started,’’ Fleischman declared between puffs. “I’ve had ducks fly over. A pileated woodpecker. Canada geese. And now an eagle… It’s a very good morning.”
Chuck Johnson of Duluth came with his dad, David, and son, Reid. Three generations of Johnson were fishing a bend where the Brule deepens and slows down a bit and where steelhead often hang out on their way upstream to spawn.
But not Saturday morning. Or, if the fish were there, they weren’t biting.
Chuck Johnson cast his colorful bit of yarn upstream and watched it drift down, watching his line for any sign a fish had taken the bait. He waited for the telltale pull of a chrome-silver steelhead, a pull that signals an ensuing battle so epic that it draws anglers back for these hard to catch fish season after season.
But, cast after cast, that pull never came.
Johnson pointed his rod tip toward his dad just downstream.
“When even he’s not catching fish, I get nervous, because that means there aren’t any around," Chuck said.
No one had an agreed upon explanation of why the fishing was so slow. But everyone did agree the weather was pretty good for a Brule opener – thick clouds but temperatures hovering around 40, light wind and no rain or snow.
“A lot better than last year when it never got past 25 degrees,’’ said Jerry Noonan of Poplar. “I didn’t even go out last year. When it’s below 28 degrees, you can't keep the ice out of the eyelets on the rod.’’
On Saturday Noonan, the caretaker at the 1937 vintage Lenfestey cabin on the Brule, was heading down to the river to fish when he ran into two newspaper people. In no hurry to do much, Noonan lit a cigarette and talked about years past and the brotherhood of Brule River anglers who gather each year to waylay the trout migrating out of Lake Superior.
“My initials are in the concrete on the path to the outhouse from 1965. I think I was 12 then… I don’t miss many openers," Noonan said. “But this is more of a social thing for us. We see people on opening weekend we probably won’t see again until the fall run. It’s that way every year.’’
Water levels were just about average for an opening day, anglers declared. But water temperatures were warmer than usual, and some anglers speculated that the trout had already moved farther upstream to spawn, before fishing season opened, thanks to the record warm spring.
Dave Simon of International Falls brought his son, Zach, 15, along on what has become an annual trip. He left behind crowds of anglers fishing walleyes on the Rainy River in front of his house to try for steelhead in the Brule, because, he said, steelhead are so special.
“I drove by Wisconsin guys going up to fish walleyes where I live and I’m in Wisconsin fishing their trout,’’ Simon said with a grin. “Don’t get me wrong, I like walleyes and musky. But these (steelhead) are tough. I’m still trying to figure them out. This is a real challenge, and that’s what makes it so fun.”
Simon was on shore working on tying a new lure on his line but stopped to watch his son, out in the middle of the river, make another cast. Dave smiled as the bobber on Zach’s line landed in what looked like a perfect riffle in the river where a big steelhead might be lurking. And both anglers watched, waiting, hoping for that telltale pull on the line.
It was a very good morning, indeed.