Big fish warm up cold Brule River opener
ON THE BRULE RIVER -- The annual trout fishing opener here is supposed to be a first rite of spring, but with temperatures in the river valley bottoming out at 8 degrees at sunrise Saturday, it sure felt more like winter.
ON THE BRULE RIVER - The annual trout fishing opener here is supposed to be a first rite of spring, but with temperatures in the river valley bottoming out at 8 degrees at sunrise Saturday, it sure felt more like winter.
Eyelets froze on fishing rods, and fingers froze on hands, but the cold wasn’t enough to stop the usual gang of steelhead trout anglers from hitting the river in Douglas County on the first day of the 2015 season.
“I can’t feel my fingers,” said Darrell Blaylock of Superior. “They’re too numb to be cold.”
Blaylock was fishing just upstream of the bridge at the Copper Range Campground. He had stopped fishing to tie a new lure on and was sitting on a flat-top rock in the middle of the river. From afar it looked like he was sitting in a lawn chair that was submerged in the Brule’s icy waters.
“It’s a nice dry spot to sit where you don’t freeze,” he said with a laugh.
The morning fishing had been a bit slow for Blaylock, who had landed a couple of 16-inch trout, often called skipjacks, but no big fish.
“I wanted to get out no matter the cold. But I’m not seeing many of the usual guys around here,” he said. “Maybe they were smart enough to stay inside today. You’re supposed to get smarter as you get older, but not me.”
Downstream near the Pine Tree canoe landing, Ross Hertensteiner of River Falls, Wis., and Nate Molyneux of Apple Valley, Minn., were drifting lures made from colorful yarn at a bend in the river known to produce fish. The duo have been fishing together on the Brule opener for five years after they met at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
“I guess it is a little crazy to get up at 3 a.m. so you can freeze to death,” Hertensteiner said. “We were up all night tying spawn sacks. I think we maybe got two hours of sleep.”
But about 7:30, before the sun rose high enough to warm the river valley, something happened to make all the cold and grogginess fade away. Hertensteiner tagged into a fresh, lake-run steelhead and the battle was on.
“Oh, nice fish,’’ he said quietly. “Got one here.”
The two fishing buddies didn’t need to say much to each other, and it was clear they had danced to this song before.
Molyneux immediately reeled in his line and laid his rod on shore. He grabbed his net and was ready to land Hertensteiner’s fish in seconds. The trout made a few valiant runs but eventually succumbed to the rod.
“Pretty fish,” Hertensteiner said, admiring what the storied river had given up.
“Nice,” Molyneux added.
The chrome-colored steelhead - a migratory strain of rainbow trout - measured 23 inches. It took Molyneux a few minutes with numb hands to get the lure out of the trout’s mouth, but soon the fish was swimming free again, on its way upstream to spawn after spending most of its life in Lake Superior.
“One fish like that makes the day,” Hertensteiner said.
But he wasn’t done fishing, and he quickly was back in his spot, casting a piece of green yarn upstream and letting it drift down, waiting for the tell-tale tug from a fish.
“I think he will be buying breakfast today,” Hertensteiner said of Molyneux between puffs on a celebratory cigarette. “That’s our big-fish bet. Loser buys breakfast.”
Just upstream, Mike Nichols of Duluth was fly-fishing with a fake bug on his hook with a 17-inch steelhead already caught and released. He and Jarrod Novotny of Duluth have been fishing openers together for several years, choosing to stick with traditional fly-line and wet flies rather than the fish spawn or yarn lures most Brule River anglers use.
“Mono-chuckers,” Novotny said with a derogatory tone, but a smile, referring to the monofilament fishing line most anglers use. “We’re purists. Real fly fishermen.”
It may have been cold but at least there wasn’t three feet of snow in the woods like last year, when anglers needed snowshoes to get near the river on opening day. Other than a few ice ledges along shore, the woods this year are brown and dry.
That lack of snow has the river running low and clear, unusual for early spring and often a sign the fish will be spooky. There wasn’t much snow to melt this year, and March has been mostly warm, so any runoff already is in Lake Superior. The river was typically cold - just 34 degrees before the sun got high enough to warm the water.
Still, several anglers seemed to have good luck, with several nice steelhead landed just downstream of Mays Ledges.
That included a chunky 26 ½-inch hen steelhead landed by Bill LaFerriere of St. Cloud about 10 a.m. He laid it on a patch of leftover ice a safe distance away from the river. It was just over the 26-inch minimum length to be a legal keeper - and, for once, LaFerriere said, he was going to keep one.
“It’s a beautiful fish. I feel a little bad,” he said, admiring the trout’s streaks of pink on the steel-tinted skin. “But I’ve been fishing this river for seven years and never kept one before. So I’m not going to feel that bad. A guy should get to keep one in eight years.”
And then LaFerriere, in waders, slid back into the river and started fishing again, hoping maybe for a big brown trout this time
It was the Brule opener, after all, and the sun was just getting high enough to make a difference on a cold body.
And, just maybe, more big fish were on their way upstream.