A cold trout fishing opener on Wisconsin's Brule River
Plenty of anglers and a few fish were seen on opening day of trout fishing.
ALONG THE BOIS BRULE RIVER, Wis. — There’s one word that sums up opening morning of trout fishing on Wisconsin’s most storied northern stream on Saturday.
Feel free to throw in a few extra "r’s" if you have them.
Maybe it was the temperature, sitting at 14 degrees on the truck thermometer at first light. Maybe it was the wind, howling out of the north and even finding its way down into the river valley. Maybe it was the ample crusted snow and ice that still frame the running river.
It was cold for wading or tying knots or just hanging out. But it was especially cold if you happened to fall in, which is what happened to Rob Iversrud, of Chaska, Minnesota, as he first waded out before dawn.
“I had a hold of him, I was trying to help, but he said he was fine. ... So the second I let go of him he went down," said Rob’s brother, Steve Iversrud.
The brothers watched as their bundle of what had been store-bought dry firewood that Rob was carrying floated down the river and out of sight. Then Rob broke his fishing rod. So the two were taking turns, sharing Steven’s rod.
“I’ve had some bad luck today, so maybe it will get better," said Rob, who was still fishless at mid-morning.
“I managed to find some dry wood in the woods and get a fire going for him," Steven said.
Hours after the plunge, Rob was still fishing, and still damp on the inside of his waders.
“I came all the way up here to fish. I’m not going back to the cabin. ... I've got two kids under 2 at home and my wife said I could go fishing, so there’s no way I’m not going to fish as long as I can," Rob Iversrud said.
The Brule River trout opener, downstream of U.S. Highway 2, is always held the last Saturday in March. The primary target are the steelhead rainbow trout that migrate out of Lake Superior to spawn up river. Some years, the opener already feels like spring, with snow and ice all melted and birds singing.
This year, it had more of a February feel, with deep, crusted snow in the woods and ice shelves clinging to the riverbanks. Still, Jeremy Gordon, of Iron River, and his dad, Dan Gordon, of Lake Nebagamon, wouldn’t have missed opening day. Or at least opening 20 minutes.
``We're just dumb enough to be out here when it’s this cold," Dan said as he waddled up onto an ice shelf after just 20 minutes wading in the river.
“We just wanted to say we did another opener, and we did, now let’s go home," Dan said. “I’ve done 45 of these now. ... I’ll come back on a warmer day when there are fewer people around. You can do that when you only live a few minutes away.”
“I think it’s too cold for the fish to bite," Jeremy noted.
But not all of the fish. Cory Wehrman, of Iron River, had some luck, landing a 25-inch steelhead trout early Saturday that he quickly released. He landed a smaller skipjack, a small rainbow trout, a few hours later and then a small brown trout after that.
“There’s a few fish around," Wehrman said. “But when the water is this cold, you have to bump them on the nose to get them to bite.”
By late morning, the sun was out from behind clouds, and it should have been high enough to warm up the river valley. It just didn’t seem to be happening, though.
“The key is to find the spring pockets, that’s where the warmer water is ... Just a couple degrees makes a difference,” Wehrman said as he cast a spawn-bag bag out for another drift.
Wehrman was running and gunning, trying different spots for a few casts then moving off to find new water.
“It’s cold," Wehrman said with his hand in the icy river as he released a small but spunky brown trout. “But it’s still a good morning.”
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .