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Brule River Sportsmen's Club working on watershed protection

The group formed in 1968 to promote better fishing but has expanded into much more.

Members of the Brule River Sportsmen's Club work to reposition gravel back to the best spawning areas on the upper Brule River in 2018. Every year spawning steelhead trout move the gravel a bit downstream, eventually taking it out of the best areas. (Photo by Sam Alvar courtesy of the Brule River Sportsmen's Club)

If you like to fish on Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River, or canoe on it, or just take in its scenic beauty, then the Brule River Sportsmen's Club needs you.

The club was formed in 1968 to promote fishing and fish habitat on the river but has expanded into much more.

“We aren’t just a fishing club any more, or just focusing on fish. We focus on the health of the entire Brule watershed,’’ said Dennis Pratt, club president and the former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for the area.

The club has spearheaded several habitat projects, including beaver dam removal and relocating gravel spawning beds to their intended positions. It turns out that trout, when they spawn, tend to move the gravel ever so slightly downstream each year. And with most of the river’s gravel scoured out centuries ago, there isn’t much new material to take its place.

“Every five years or so the fish move the gravel far enough that we have to go back in and put it back,’’ Pratt noted.


The club has more than 400 members, many of whom live in the Northland, but also some from far away.

“The Brule River has such regional significance that we have members in virtually every state,’’ said Pratt, who retired from the DNR a decade ago.

Pratt said the river appears to be in a generally healthy state, as is Lake Superior, where trout hatched in the river spend much of their adult life. But Lake Superior's recovery in recent decades, including the restoration of native lake trout populations, has probably led to fewer trout returning to the river.

"The river is producing more fish than it did three decades ago'' when more and larger steelhead were caught by river anglers, Pratt noted. "But the lake is healthier now, with more predators, so more of the (Brule River trout) are getting eaten in the lake."

Before COVID-19 hit, the club had regular meetings, work days and habitat projects as well as educational activities and hands-on programs for local students.

“That was all canceled last year,’’ Pratt noted.

But the club is gearing back up for an active 2021, if it’s allowed, including an annual cleanup day set for April 24. Work groups will fan out along the entire Brule River valley to clean the river’s banks, local roadsides, parking areas and more at a socially distanced separation.

The club also is responding to a rash of private property issues along the river. Apparently last summer and fall, several anglers and canoeists not only trespassed on private property along the river but also refused requests by landowners to keep out.


It was a familiar problem in wild areas across the Northland as many more people, including many newbies, sought pandemic refuge outdoors.

“We are working to educate more people that there is significant private property along the river and people need to respect that,’’ Pratt said. “We have maps available on our website and we are hoping people use the Douglas County GIS mapping system and find out, before they go on the river, where the private property is.”

The club also is promoting its annual $5,000 college scholarship for upperclassmen who are in any field of study, such as conservation, that will “better our environment,’’ Pratt noted. The deadline to apply is April 30.

For more information on the history and current programs of the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club — including a link on how to join and another on how to apply for the annual scholarship — go to bruleriversportsmensclub.com .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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