SUPERIOR, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Brule River took a run of 5,544 steelhead last fall, very close to the 5,660 counted in the fall of 2015, said Paul Piszczek, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist in Superior.
The upstream migration of steelhead, brown trout, coho salmon and other species is monitored by video at the Brule River lamprey barrier. The 2016 fall run of steelhead was near the long-term average since video monitors began tracking migrating fish in 1990.
Anglers will be looking for some of those steelhead when the fishing season on the Brule opens March 25 from U.S. Highway 2 to Lake Superior. But recent warm weather may make this an unusual steelhead season on the Brule. The ice went out Monday, Feb. 20, at Wisconsin Highway 13, Piszczek said. That’s the second earliest ice-out since records have been kept, he said. The earliest was Feb. 13 in 1998. This year’s ice-out date tied the ice-out date from 1984.
If stream temperatures are warm enough, steelhead that have been in the river since last fall may begin moving upstream sooner than in most years, Piszczek said.
“They’ll more than likely come early unless the river stays cold,” he said. “There’s three and a half weeks of potential fish movement. The timing could be askew for fishermen.”
The bulk of the steelhead run last fall occurred in the first week of October, Piszczek said. Nearly half of all steelhead ranged from 20 to 25 inches long, and 20 percent were 12 to 17 inches long.
On the Brule River, a large portion of the steelhead run occurs in the fall, and a smaller portion of the run occurs the following spring. The fish that enter the river in the fall usually spend the winter in the river, then move farther upstream to spawn in the spring.
In addition to last fall’s steelhead run on the Brule, a total of 4,079 brown trout, 2,323 coho salmon and 447 chinook (king) salmon also entered the river to spawn, DNR officials said. Of the browns, 74 percent ranged in size from 18 to 24 inches, and 41 percent of the coho salmon were from 23 to 28 inches long. Those are relatively large cohos, Piszczek said.
“They’ve been having some good growth years,” he said.