My friends and I just got back from the Brule. We fished from Saturday the 11th through Wednesday the 15th and had exactly one steelhead on the line for approximately 10 seconds before it broke off on Monday afternoon.
We were expecting a good bit of rain Monday into Tuesday but it never happened. The weather system went to the east and completely missed the Brule. I’m not sure if this rain would have been a difference-maker but it would have at least given us some hope after completely striking out on Saturday and Sunday.
We talked to many fishermen using every rig along every bit of the river and far and away the story was that the fishing was spotty. There was one peach of a man who called us “buggy whippers”. He said “I’ve got to show you guys something” which turned out to be his centerpin rig with a crappie jig head loaded with a red worm. He had claimed to have brought four steelhead to hand that day using this method and was certain that our “buggy whipping” would not yield a damn thing. I guess we proved him right. Oh well.
We also met a very nice man out walking near Mays Ledges with his wife and dog. He said the key to steelheading when the fishing is spotty is to “hunt” for them. If there’s no action in a particular spot, move along and hunt for them.
Perhaps the funniest part of the trip was a conspiracy theory in the Kro-Bar that the Lamprey Weir gate was completely closed, preventing fish from moving upstream. We posited this question to many people we met and they all shrugged their shoulders as to whether or not it could be true. We went to McNeil’s and walked upstream to the weir to confirm with our own eyes that the fish passage was indeed open. We didn’t see any fish pushing upriver there though.
In the same stretch of river where I had our one fish on for ten seconds we saw big fish slapping the surface every 10 or 20 minutes, sometimes just a rod length away from where we stood in the water. They were in there, but not interested in feeding. And this was a prime spot at a prime time of the day (at dusk) with the sky cloudy and drizzling. Beautiful dead drifts right through the heart of the run did not entice them in the least. On one drift I felt a tug and set the hook but came up with nothing but a single silver fish scale about a quarter-inch in diameter.
We had a great time camping, watching playoff baseball in the evenings with Amy at the Kro-Bar, shooting our bows at a target 30 yards out at Rush Lake, and enjoying the beautiful colors and weather. We also fished during prime periods of the day and put in a lot of time on the water in ideal spots. Our Spey casting session at the mouth was perhaps a highlight of the trip, even though we didn’t sniff a fish there.
Better luck to all you guys out there fishing now or planning to fish this fall!
Sunrise on the Brule River
Gregg drifting a fly through the Brule
Hunting for Steelhead on the Brule
Wringing out after a long morning on the Brule
Warming by the fire along the Brule
Stephen Rose and I visited the Milwaukee River yesterday afternoon. Look at that picture down there. Isn’t that a beautiful place? That could just a well be the West Fork of the Chippewa River in Vilas County. But it’s not. It’s in Milwaukee.
Stephen and I have talked frequently about what it means to have “non-invasive” non-native fish in our water system. I found out that the village of Grafton, which had a referendum on what to do with the dam in their community, voted to keep the dam in place, but to put in a fish way to allow fish passage up and down the river. The DNR, later on, determined that it would be a bad idea to allow fish to migrate upstream of Grafton because of the risk of invasive species like Asian Carp invading the upper Milwaukee River system. At some level I agree that it would be good, if Asian Carp were to make their way into the Great Lakes, for them to be prevented from invading the upper Milwaukee River. But I also think it would be a good thing for Brook Trout to be able to migrate from spawning areas in the Northern Kettle Moraine creeks all the way out to Lake Michigan and back. We’re not going to get anywhere in reintroducing native Coaster Brook Trout into the Lake Michigan Tribs if they can’t get from the lake up to the creeks at the upper reaches of watersheds like the Milwaukee River.
So, how do we all determine what’s best? How is the presence of large, non-native predatory salmonids in the Great Lakes appropriate? Salmon and Steelhead are certainly admirable creatures. Their migrations are awe-inspiring and spectacular. But how does their presence negatively affect the native Bass, Pike, Suckers, and Whitefish, not to mention Brook Trout and Lake Trout, both of which are also native?
These questions are larger than me. Many people don’t even care, or don’t even know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we humans are programmed to reshape our world to our liking, and introducing Salmon and Steelhead into the Great Lakes is just part of our role in the world.
Anyway, a couple of boys were fishing along the bank and were slinging lures at Salmon. They didn’t know what they were doing. They weren’t having any luck. One ended up snagging one in front if its tail and was having trouble getting it to hand. I asked if I could lend a hand, and waded over to collect the fish, pull the hook out, and give it to the boy for his buddy to take a picture. He was genuinely in awe of the creature, a large, toothy fish half his height in length.
He asked if I’d caught any and I said no, I hadn’t. He wished me luck and as I left he expressed his love for the Milwaukee River. So, did that Salmon get him to fall in love with the river? It probably had a lot to do with it. And that, to me, seems like a good thing. If people care about a place because of their experiences there, it makes sense to provide them with cool things to experience in that place. It’s hard to fall in love with a polluted and fishless river. But a clean, swift moving river full of big fish will draw a lot of visitors to it. Those visitors will want to see that the river is taken care of. So maybe introducing Salmon and Steelhead is overall a positive. It’s hard for me to say. Perhaps you have some ideas? I’d love to hear what you all have to say.
Milwaukee River, October 25, 2013