The Bois Brule, river of Presidents, has always had a certain mystique. Deep in the balsam-shrouded boglands of northern Wisconsin, the Brule is fed by strong spring flows. Once home to massive runs of coaster brook trout, the river is now full of exotic salmonids. The most prevalent of these is the anadramous rainbow trout, or steelhead. They spend their lives in the frigid waters of Lake Superior. In the fall, they begin moving into the Brule. As they live in the river, they get darker and redder in color. Then, in the spring, they spawn. Aggressive males fight and tear each other to gain access to the large females. Sometimes, when the mood strikes them, they will take a fly. April 14, 2004, we set out with our flyrods to put them in the mood. Someday, we hope, coasters will return to the Brule. In the meantime, we're saving the Brule for the coasters, one 26 inch rainbow at a time.
We got to the campground around noon, set up camp, and jumped into the roiling waters of the Bois Brule. The water was low and clear, and the trout were digging redds and spawning! This particular pair refused everything that we threw at them. We actually got to witness them gaping and releasing eggs, while smaller steelhead swarmed around the eggs downstream, gulping them down. Just after I snapped this photo, my radio crackled to life. "Fish on!" Andy yelled into his radio, accompanied by the sound of trees and brush cracking. I grabbed a net and ran upstream.
Andy was fighting a big steelhead while standing in the middle of a mass of downed balsam trees. He spotted fish about ten feet from the very steep bank. Somehow he had managed to crawl out onto one of the balsam snags to flip a Spook, and twitched it across-stream in front of them. The big buck steelhead charged forward and crushed it. Ten minutes later I had him in the net - a big dark buck whose tail had been chewed on by other steelhead. A rough fish in a rough location! The traditional shot of Hennessy Cognac was administered to the lucky angler, and the fish was killed for the evening meal. I headed back down to find my own fish to harass ...
When the next call came, it was Andy again. This time, he had a brighter fish hooked in the tail of a big pool. He had stalked up to the agitated male steelhead and presented a spook. The battle was epic, with the fish dunking both Andy and my dad in the river! It tangled itself in a log well below the pool in the fast water, and had to be extricated by a friendly downstream angler. This fish measured 28 inches, and was the biggest fish of the trip! It's not often you get a chance to battle a trout over 27 inches, and Andy did it twice in one day!
Damn that's a beautiful fish...
That night, we cooked fresh trout over an open fire. Every ounce of it was eagerly devoured.
Thursday was a pretty slow day, but my dad landed the first steelhead of his life! A beautiful 24 inch male took his purple spey fly. Congrats on your fish dad! Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of it. Later in the day, he had another epic battle with a larger steelhead that inhaled his scruffy stonefly, but shook the hook late in the battle. I caught nothing but 12 inch babies, but did manage to get hooks into an enraged hen that was as silver as a plate-glass mirror. Her and I had a brief disagreement about where exactly she would be spending the next few hours, and I lost the argument quickly. Here, Andy fishes a dynamite hole on the west bank of the Brule.
I finally connected with a fish Friday afternoon. This 24-inch trout was a terror. It was charging around the gravel flat, chasing away the smaller brown trout and biting them, when my four-inch leech pattern swung into view. In the blink of an eye, it engulfed the fly and immediately raced downstream. Once it was thirty yards downstream, it suddenly erupted from the water twenty feet from where my line was! Now that's a fast fish! After two more spectacular leaps and several long, blistering runs, Andy expertly netted it for me.
This 24 incher was just beginning to change color.
30 minutes later, all hell broke loose. A big, bright buck grabbed my pulsating leech pattern out of pure annoyance. I set the hook - hard. He shook his massive head several times and moved off the gravel. My rod was bent double. Then, amazingly, he slowly went back up onto the gravel bar to rejoin his fellows! Incredibly, my straining 8-weight rod wielded by a six foot two human was only a minor annoyance for him; not enough to keep him away from the hen steelhead up on the gravel. I decided to take it easy, and several minutes later he bulldogged it off the gravel and into the deep water. Finally I was able to coax him into the net. This fish went 27.5 inches. I killed him for a baked steelhead dinner.
By the way, this was my biggest trout to date.
Saturday we had high hopes for fishing a good spot in the morning. But even though it had produced plenty of fish in the previous few days, it was now dead. Andy managed to finagle only one little 22 incher on Saturday. So dad and I packed up and went home, leaving Andy to fish with the hordes of anglers who showed up in typical fashion on Saturday morning. He's probably still there as I write this. Good luck Andy!
Well that's it. Another highly successful spring steelhead trip. Now bring on the carp and turkeys!