Published March 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Cool Brule, hot steelhead fishing

ON WISCONSIN’S BRULE RIVER — Bruce Sederberg’s fly rod bent in a continuous arc and pulsed under the weight at the end of his line. Sederberg, of Duluth Township, had tied into several pounds of feisty steelhead at a slow bend in the Brule River somewhere downstream from Mays Ledges on Saturday morning.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

ON WISCONSIN’S BRULE RIVER — Bruce Sederberg’s fly rod bent in a continuous arc and pulsed under the weight at the end of his line. Sederberg, of Duluth Township, had tied into several pounds of feisty steelhead at a slow bend in the Brule River somewhere downstream from Mays Ledges on Saturday morning.

Like the big Lake Superior rainbow trout that return to spawn in the Brule each spring, Sederberg and a few hundred other anglers had been drawn back to this storied trout stream again. Saturday marked the early steelhead fishing opener on the river from U.S. Highway 2 to Lake Superior.

Dan Hendershot of Duluth knows why he makes this annual pilgrimage.

“It’s pretty good fishing,” Hendershot said, fishing just upstream from Sederberg on Saturday. “And the long winter is another reason.”

Yes, it was an ice-in-the-guides morning early on. Twenty-one degrees just before dawn. And, yes, there had been the question of whether the river would even be fishable, given high water earlier in the week.

But the cold was manageable and the river was in excellent shape, and now Sederberg was doing battle with his 10th fish of the day. He eventually subdued the brute, a chunky female rainbow with a watercolor wash of crimson along her silvery flanks. She was well over the 26-inch minimum size limit, but Sederberg quickly removed his hook from her jaw and slipped her back into the river.

“Usually, I never kill a fish on the Brule,” he said.

Up and down the river Saturday, anglers had varying success. Many said they had caught no steelhead, and they attributed that to the cold water, in which fish tend to be less active.

Some anglers must have stayed home. The annual count of vehicles at parking lots was 177 on Saturday, said Dave Schulz, superintendent of the Brule River State Forest. The opening-day count averages about 250 vehicles, he said.

The river had been flowing at more than 350 cubic feet per second — high and turbid — on Wednesday, according to a U.S. Geological Survey water monitoring site. But it had dropped below 250 cfs on Saturday. Anglers had lots of ways to describe the river’s condition and color.

“This is ideal,” Hendershot said.

“The water is beautiful,” said Duluth’s Bill Fleischman.

At midmorning, Josh Teigen’s line went tight, and the 16-year-old from Iron River masterfully played a big brown trout to his father’s waiting net. He’s been steelhead fishing since he was 7 and had already landed and released a 25-incher earlier in the day.

“It’s fun,” Teigen said. “They sure like to run and jump.”

His dad, Gary Teigen, had already kept a nice brown, so Josh released his.

Like Sederberg, the Teigens were using spawn sacks drifted under bobbers in a slower bend of the Brule. John Maher, just upstream, had released a steelhead he caught on a stonefly imitation. And just downstream from the Teigens, Cory Klopp of Farmington, Minn., had hooked up with a 23- or

24-inch steelhead. Former Duluthian Brian Allie of North Oaks, Minn., netted it for him when it was ready.

“We’re quite the team,” Klopp said.

The river wore jewelry for the opener. Ice beads clung to a red osier dogwood over the water. Ice earrings dangled from low-hanging ash branches. Ice pendants hung from midriver snags.

Woodsmoke drifted from an ice shelf where Dave Ronchi of Wentworth, Bryan Hannula of Wentworth and Steve Witt of Brule sought heat from a small warming fire.

At midmorning, Fleischman and his friend Jeff Maahs of Duluth had hauled out of the river and were sitting on an ice shelf eating peanut-butter sandwiches.

“We haven’t seen the eagle yet,” Maahs said.

“No, but there was an osprey,” Fleischman said.

Not everything about the Brule steelhead opener has to do with steelhead.

In the parking lot at Wisconsin Highway FF, a campstove hissed on a pickup tailgate. Charlie Sundberg of Duluth was frying Italian sausage venison patties for his son, Zach, of Two Harbors and nephew Nate Aili of Duluth.

They hadn’t caught a fish yet, but who knew what the rest of the day might bring to a well-fed steelheader?

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