ALONG WISCONSIN'S BRULE RIVER - Jacob Stover was getting razzed pretty hard by his friends.
Stover, of Duluth, lost two nice steelhead rainbow trout back-to-back, that were almost, but not quite, to the net.
"Jacob, you had one job!'' joked his buddy, Connor Suliin of Duluth.
"Third time will be the charm,'' Jacob replied.
And indeed it was. Not a half hour later Stover tagged into a silvery, 20-inch steelhead. This time he kept it on, and Suliin netted it for him.
"That made it worth it,'' Stover said with a big grin. He meant both the razzing and getting up before dawn for the annual opening day of Brule River fishing.
The fish, not near the 26-inch legal minimum size to keep, was released back into the river to continue its migration out of Lake Superior upstream to spawn.
March 30 started cold, breezy and clear on the River of Presidents, with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees. That was plenty cold enough to freeze eyelets of fishing rods and numb fingers and toes.
Stil, there's something about the rushing sound of an open river and the sun glistening on ice-free water that made it seem, finally, like spring. The river was a little higher than normal, but most folks agreed fishing conditions were good. The flow was fast but the water wasn't too muddy.
The Suliin family had a campfire going and were taking turns stoking the fire and fishing at a big bend downstream from Highway FF.
It was a good spot. Nearly everyone in the group was catching fish - nothing big, but nice trout, between 18-24 inches. The group had been there since well before sunrise to make sure they got their favorite fishing hole before the competition showed up. There was evidence of copious caffeine use strewn among the camp chairs circling the fire - Rockstar energy drinks, Diet Coke and Mountain Dew galore - next to half-empty packs of Johnsonville Polish sausage.
"Breakfast on a stick," said Bill Molyneux of Duluth.
There were three generations of Suliins on hand - Connor; his dad, Dave, and Dave's dad, Jack, who has been making Brule River opening days for about 65 years
"I'm 81 and I've been doing this (fishing the Brule) since high school, so you do the math,'' said Jack, who showed up at the river a little later, about 10 a.m. after the sun had started to warm the river valley a little. "I'm too old for that crack-of-dawn stuff any more."
Just after Jack arrived Dave Suliin - fishing in what he figured was his 40th straight Brule opener - tied into the nicest fish we would see on opening morning, a silvery, 24-inch steelhead that wasn't happy about being hooked.
Stover netted the fish for him.
"Pink yarn," Dave said, noting what the fish had bitten on. The group also was using small jigs tipped with wax worms, drifted under a bobber that would pop into the river when a fish was on.
"We come to this spot every year," Dave said as the fish was released. "So don't tell anyone where we are."
Downstream a bit, Glen Hill of Maple landed one steelhead, not quite a keeper, and lost another, bigger fish, before going back to his pickup to warm up just after 10 a.m.
"I know the one I lost would have been a keeper, but I guess he was more hungry to get away than I was to eat fish,'' Hill said. "I should have bought a net. I had him just about to my hand when he got off."
Just upstream, Chris Johnson of Duluth and his daughter-in-law, Bri Loeks-Johson of Minneapolis, were still fishless at mid-morning. Fishless and cold. But they were hanging in there, casting upstream and watching their bobbers drift downstream and hoping for the telltale sign of a strike.
"I can't feel my fingers,'' Bri said and she tried to warm her hands in her jacket pockets.
"Like they say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it,'' Chris said between casts.
Brule River fishing regulations
The river is open to fishing from U.S. Highway 2 downstream to Lake Superior.
The season runs through Nov. 15.
Fishing is prohibited from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.
Fishing upstream of U.S. Highway 2 begins May 4.
The daily bag limit is five trout or salmon in total.
Rainbow (steelhead) - minimum size 26;" only one may be kept
Brown trout - minimum size 10;" only two may be larger than 15"
Brook trout - minimum size 8"
Salmon - minimum size 12"