My friend Jeff picked me up on Friday morning to head North for our finale to the Steelhead season on the Brule river. Jeff’s car was stuffed to the gills with gear and food, and we were off. The drive up was pleasant. Anticipation was high for reasons both related to fishing and concern for our safety. Jeff’s cell phone buzzed repeatedly along the way with messages from friends and family questioning our sanity regarding the impending storm setting up to dump a load of snow on our outing. Our determination was unwavering. Storm, what storm? Our destination was achieved without incident and after dumping out gear at the cabin we made for the river.

View of the trout pond from the cabin on Friday

Killing other anglers with kindness has been my motto. “Chatting them up”, as my friends call it, is just the way I approach anglers on the stream. I figure it can’t hurt, but occasionally I’m proven wrong.  Our first encounter of the day was with another angler stationed on the stream bank at the tail out of the giant hole we had hoped to procure on Friday afternoon. At first sight, the pool appeared vacant. Movement in the bushes however, alerted us to his presence. The angler was kneeling, shaking out what appeared to be a large black hefty bag. Turns out it was, and the bag would become the body bag for his catch. I believe we may have caught him off guard and thought we might berate him for dispatching one of these beautiful wild fish. I have seen these  confrontations before on the Brule and many times those conversations can become heated. My intentions were to compliment him on his catch and then kindly pump him for information on the specifics. What did you catch him on? Have you had a lot of success today? Has angler traffic been busy today? However, by my 3rd question I could tell that my chat had become an irritation to him. I was the finger nails on the black board, the lawyer at his divorce, the tangle in his line. His response to all three of my questions was, ” just put your god damn line in the water and you will find out” he continued, “The fish are everywhere and if you just put your line in the water you will find out the answers to your questions”. I thanked him for his information and Jeff and I continued down the trail. I laughed, almost uncontrollably, knowing that my jovial attitude and happy go lucky approach had stepped in a big pile of poop! Since time was growing short we stayed close to the big hole knowing it always held fish and hoping that the man would leave. Occasionally we would check back to see if he had vacated.

By 4;30 pm I had worked my way up-stream to a small rock ledge just down stream from the grumpy angler. I worked the water of the small feature thoroughly, making small adjustments every other cast. On the tenth cast I hooked a nice fish. During the fight I began talking to the fish. I asked the fish to stay put in the small pool or to head straight up-stream where I could gain access to the big slow moving tail out where we had seen the grumpy angler. By coaxing the fish into slower water they are much easier to land successfully. If the fish were to move down stream it would be 100 yards of rocky, ankle busting, slippery, stream bottom navigation before I would have reasonably slow water to land him/her in. After a minute or two of moving the fish towards the big pool the steelhead decided I was trying to trick him and like a motor boat headed screaming down through the fast water. As I turned in to engage in dangerous pursuit, there, standing behind me on the stream bank, was the grumpy angler. He had remained silent throughout the animated discussion stage of the fight . With a shit eating grin, he commented “Nice to see you got your line in the water but I don’t think he is listening to you”. He offered to help with the netting. I accepted. Mid-way through the rainbow’s descent through the fast water, he unhooked the net from my back unaware that the net bungee was attached to my wader belt. The tug, as it reached the end of its length slightly swung me around and sent me to one knee. I unhooked the bungee and held the fish with the rod  half bent to a small pocket behind a rock. As my netter made his way just down stream of the fish, I decided to put just a bit more sideways pressure on the fish to move him to net. The explosion sounded like a new years eve party popper and I heard the whiz of graphite shards traveling at high speed past my ear. It was over! The rod broke in two and the orange egg at the end of my line was gone along with the fish. As I sat on the bank I knew I had put too much torque on the rod. The fault was my own. The rod’s life was exactly 2 hours and 2 fish long, since it was brand new at the beginning of the day. In retrospect, I believe that the new rod was too stiff for small stream steelhead. My preference has become for the more flexible rods in the last few years. In the aftermath, The grumpy angler turned nice returned my net and headed down the trail.

The Cabin

At dusk Jeff returned from down stream and had all the details of the  my encounter. The grumpy angler had stopped and “chatted him up” telling him that I should name the small pool that I fished the “broken rod hole”. As I learned later, anglers are allowed to name holes after they have hooked or landed fish in them. All the holes on the Brule have garnered names this way. Jeff explained that the grumpy angler was overly kind during their discussion. Ultimately I believe  that the grumpy old angler knew he was a DICK when he spoke so tersely to us, and in his heart of heart he wanted to make up for that. I snickered to myself, killing them with kindness had worked again.


As I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning the big snow flakes were softly falling on the ground. The wind

The Beginning

was calm and the temps were mild. The crew which included Jeff, Jim, Dan and myself knew the day would be special. The storm had begun and we were exited about fishing in conditions that would be challenging, beautiful and would convey the very message of life as it applies to all things that live and love the out of doors. We would not be disappointed.

As I stepped in the river to make my first cast all things were swirling. The multi-directional current of the river seemed to move opposite of the falling snow. The strike indicator disappeared and then reappeared as the blanketing snow obstructed my view of its location. The normal judgement of strike detection was almost impossible. I intensified my focus. My eyes and ears, my sense of balance and the water pushing on my legs created asensation that was overwhelming to my brain. Every few moments I could feel myself tipping over and stumbling. I blamed it on the finely prepared Rum Manhattans that Jeff had unselfishly bestowed upon us the night before. Later I learned that every angler I spoke to experienced the same vertigo symptoms. I was glad because the same beverages were on the menu for Saturdays celebration.

Saturday evenings view

During the day some fish were caught, some were not. I fished my 8 weight  Orvis Shooting Star bamboo rod all day and my Shoulder was smoked from the weight of the rod by mid-afternoon. The rod had belonged to my friend Ed Richards who passed away a few years ago. This rod comes out of the closet once a year to fish steelhead on the Brule. It is a pleasure to fish, but it is heavy at 9 feet long. Because I do a fair amount of high sticking when I fish the Brule it is like holding a small bucket of sand extended as far from your body as possible for long periods of time. The rod has landed numerous steelhead and I think its flexibility is a plus. Cane is much tougher than most people give it credit for. The snow continued with variable intensity all day. By 4 pm we looked like 4 little soaking wet rats. Showers, and the warmth of the wood burning stove outweighed the last hour of fishing. We headed to the truck for the drive home. Driving back from the stream to the cabin was treacherous. Over 400 accidents were reported throughout the storm track by Sunday morning.

The Crew

Jeff prepared a fine dinner of Beef Bourginon over baby red potatoes that hit the spot. The Manhattans were fabulous once again.  Neighbors that were camped in a pop-up camper were invited over to dry out and warm up by the fire. Stories of the day were exchanged and  although bedtime was not early, we stayed put and watched movies next to the fire.


Sunday Morning

The snow kept falling. It was Jim’s Birthday. The prospects of fishing and getting soaked again, only to ride 4 hours home in the car were considered. After discussion we all decided we had achieved our personal goals for the 2010 steelhead season and that we had infact not declared war on the steelhead in the Brule. We packed our gear, checked out of the cabin, and wandered into the local pub to watch the Purple thrash the Bears and toast Jim on making 50 trips around the sun.

All in all it was a great outing. Fishing, friends and fun. All wrapped into a memorable adventure tothe woods of  Northern Wisconsin to a river named the Brule.