Brule River anglers greeted by deep snow, clear water and a few nice trout
Opening day saw thigh-deep snow in places along the river but otherwise decent conditions.
ALONG THE BOIS BRULE RIVER, Wis. — It might have felt more like an early spring morning here, what with fairly mild temperatures and a warm sun eventually peeking over the river valley, except for the excess of winter that was still hanging on in the woods.
Thigh-deep snow in some areas greeted anglers Saturday for opening day of trout fishing season, with shelves of thick ice still clinging to the river banks.
But that didn’t keep hardy anglers from getting out for what is the Northland’s traditional first fishing rite of spring, the first soft water fishing for months for many of them.
Ben Schmokel, of Maplewood, Minnesota, managed to grab a favorite spot not far from the Pine Tree Landing where he and his buddies managed to land a few small rainbows early. Then Schmokel tied into a feisty, 24-inch steelhead just before 10 a.m.
“We really didn’t know what to expect with all this snow. But it’s been so cold that there isn’t any big runoff yet,’’ said Schmokel. “The river is actually just about perfect. Maybe even a little too clear.”
The river fishing opener is always the last Saturday in March, and the 25th is as early as it can come.
The fairly low, fairly slow, gin-clear water wasn’t a sure thing, what with millions of gallons of water locked up in the snow just waiting to be released. If a big melt does come fast it could make the river a raging, muddy mess, too fast to fish. But on Saturday morning it was just right.
Schmokel was casting a black stonefly imitation, the little bugs that live under logs and rocks in the stream and that steelhead seem to love to snack on.
Just upstream, Nick Knezevich caught a small but pretty rainbow on nearly his first drift of the season. He and fellow Moose Lake angler Luke Derungs were a little late getting to the river, waiting to tackle the walk to the water in the daylight.
Brule River State Forest and highway crews had done a good job of clearing the access roads and parking lots of snow to give anglers access to the river, where a fairly strong fall-run population of steelhead were waiting. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries crews reported 4,941 steelhead had migrated up the river last fall, down just a little from the last few years but still a good number.
It appeared those would be the only migratory rainbow trout available Saturday as word came that the river was still locked in ice near Lake Superior, preventing any new trout from swimming upstream. Another 3,230 brown trout also spawned last fall, passing over the river’s lamprey barrier and captured on video by DNR cameras.
Earlier in the morning, before the sun was high enough to cast any warmth in the valley, Brock Haugrud of Lake Nebagamon hoofed it into a distant hole that paid-off with a 24-inch steelhead. But he got cold after that and decided to make a 9 a.m. trek back to his truck to warm up.
“I underplayed it as far as clothing,’’ Haugurd said, noting he had assumed it would be warmer than the 20 degrees that greeted anglers at sunrise. “I got a chill and had to walk out to warm up.”
Still at his truck, Gabe Markworth, of Minneapolis, seemed to be struggling with his gear, retying a knot several times before proclaiming it fit. He confessed that, while has fished the Brule a few times before, he had always been with veteran angler friends. This time he was with fellow newbie Erik Goettl, of Andover, Minnesota.
“I have a feeling I’ll be getting a lot of practice with my knots by the end of the day,’’ Markworth quipped, noting the river’s rocks had a way of grabbing and holding whatever lure he was offering the fish while the alder brush along the shore was fond of grabbing back-casts.
Dave Norling of Stillwater, Minnesota, also got chilled while wading. He had been fishing not far from the Copper Range Campground and was walking down the road to loosen his stiff, wader-clad legs.
“Well, I didn’t fall in,’’ Norling said when asked how his morning was going.
Norling, too, was glad the snow hadn't started to melt much yet.
"I'm surprised by how clear it is,'' he noted.
Norling drove up to the river with his stepson, he said, but noted he wasn’t quite sure where his fishing partner was.
“I think he’s up river somewhere still,’’ Norling noted. “I haven't seen his hat float by yet so I assume he’s doing OK.”
Norling didn’t seem to mind that he hadn’t caught a fish yet. The day was still long, he noted, and he expected his luck to improve if the water warmed up a bit.
“I honestly quit caring whether I catch a fish a long time ago,’’ said Norling, 68. “A morning on the water is good enough for me.”
Rules of the Brule
Downstream from U.S. Highway 2 to Lake Superior
- The season begins on the last Saturday in March and continues through Nov. 15.
- Fishing is prohibited from one-half hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.
- The daily bag limit is five trout or salmon in total.
- Rainbow trout — minimum size 26 inches (only 1 may be kept).
- Brown trout — minimum size 10 inches (only 2 may be larger than 15 inches).
- Brook trout — minimum size 8 inches.
- Salmon — minimum size 12 inches.
- An inland trout stamp is required to fish for trout and salmon on the river and its tributaries.
- Brule River State Forest angler parking lots are for day use only; overnight camping is limited to designated campgrounds.
- While much of the land along the river is part of the Brule River State Forest and open to the public for fishing, there are many parcels of private property along the river that are not open to the public.
Minnesota North Shore steelhead
Minnesota steelhead trout season is open year-round but generally doesn't get going until North Shore streams lose their ice and the trout start moving upriver to spawn. With winter holding on tight so far, that could be a couple more weeks.
Minnesota's streams are catch-and-release only for wild rainbows with an unclipped adipose fin, mostly steelhead rainbows. The limit for hatchery-raised, clipped-fin fish, stocked steelhead or any remaining Kamloops rainbow trout, is three daily, minimum size of 16 inches.