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Brule River trout opener just a week away

Snow and ice melting fast, but could stlll prove a barrier to some fishing spots.

Ross Hertensteiner, of River Falls, Wis., displays a 23-inch-long steelhead he caught opening day on Wisconsin's Brule River in 2015.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Wis. — There will be plenty of steelhead rainbow trout in the Brule River on Saturday, probably some brown trout, too. And, unless there's a last-minute snowstorm, the parking lot access points along the river will be plowed open.

After that it’s up to you.

Whether you can get through lingering snow to your favorite fishing hole Saturday, March 26, may be the problem, although warmer weather and even some rain were doing a number on the snowpack.

“We still have a lot of snow in the woods over here,” Mitch Pauly, visitor services associate for the Brule River State Forest, said earlier this week.

Pauly said crews have been blowing and plowing snow from the parking lots and have even opened up some spots in the forest’s two campgrounds in anticipation of the usual crowds for the Northland's first opening day of open-water fishing for 2021. That will come a half-hour before sunrise on the last Saturday in March, as always, when trout and salmon become legal game on Wisconsin's Bois Brule River downstream of U.S. Highway 2.


Deeply drifted snow along parts of the river valley could make walking along the river very tough, as has occurred after recent deep snow winters. Snow may crust over during colder overnight temperatures, allowing walking on top, but then soften up as daytime high temperatures rise well above freezing. Snowshoes might be a necessary option to reach some areas.

“This is about the earliest (calendar date) we can have an opener. It’s still winter here,” Pauly noted.

Unsafe ice shelves along the river banks also may be an issue. The river was slowly opening up around U.S. Highway 2 this past week, Pauly noted, and should be open most, if not all of the way to Lake Superior by next Saturday if forecast high temperatures in the upper 40s are accurate.

Anglers are hoping the snow doesn’t melt too fast for any length of time, sending the river into a muddied, rushing frenzy that makes it too fast and too cloudy to fish successfully.

Fall fish count: Here are the new numbers

Department of Natural Resources fisheries crews were still tabulating the fall 2021 spawning run on the Brule. But Paul Piszczek, senior Lake Superior area fisheries biologist for the DNR, said preliminary results showed the 2021 fall fish survey with continued stable populations.

The DNR uses video taken through a window in the lamprey barrier on the lower river — essentially a dam that blocks parasitic lamprey from spawning but allows fish to move upstream — and then reviews the video over winter. The system has been in place since 1990, offering a rare, accurate survey of how many fish are using a specific river.

Last fall's run of migratory steelhead rainbow trout hit 5,144 fish, down a bit from the long-term average of 5,400 and from the 6,144 fish in fall 2020. Many of those fall-run fish will still be in the river this spring for anglers to catch.

Recent runs have been considerably higher than the 2011-15 period, when annual runs were below 3,000 in some cases. The current period of stability is still below the 2002-10 period, which saw runs above 8,000 and even 9,000 fish per year.


The fall 2021 count also showed 3,311 brown trout, down from 4,545 in 2021; 2,259 coho salmon, up from 1,614 in 2020; and 310 Chinook salmon, nearly the same as 305 in 2020.

Piszczek said last summer’s drought may have played a role in the lower fall spawning run.

“Recall last summer’s warm Lake Superior temperatures and regional drought. These likely influenced fish distribution in the lake and the migration timing in the river,” Piszczek told the News Tribune. “These lake-run trout and salmon species sustain themselves through natural reproduction, and the counts from fall 2021 reflect typical variability within these populations.”

Piszczek said the drought did not seem to impact the size of the fish making the fall spawning run.

A migratory steelhead rainbow trout.
Sam Cook / File / Duluth News Tribune

Rules of the Brule

Downstream from U.S. Highway 2 to Lake Superior.

The season begins on the last Saturday in March and continues through November 15. Fishing is prohibited from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.

The daily bag limit is five trout or salmon in total:


  • Rainbow — minimum size 26" (only 1 may be kept)
  • Brown — minimum size 10" (only 2 may be larger than 15")
  • Brook — minimum size 8"
  • Salmon — minimum size 12"

An inland trout stamp is required to fish for trout and salmon on the river and its tributaries. Brule River State Forest angler parking lots are for day use only; overnight camping is limited to designated campgrounds.

Minnesota North Shore steelhead

Minnesota steel-head trout season is open year-round but generally doesn't get going until North Shore streams lose their ice and the trout start moving upriver to spawn. Minnesota's streams are catch-and-release only for wild rainbows with an unclipped adipose fin, mostly steelhead rainbows. The limit for hatchery-raised clipped-fin fish, stocked steelhead or any remaining Kamloops rainbow trout, is three daily, minimum size of 16 inches.


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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