On Saturday I took a trip up to see my friend Damian Wilmot from Fly By Night Guide Services. Damian is a long time guide on Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River. The Brule flows North into Lake Superior from Wisconsin’s South Shore. He and Steve Therrien are two of only a handful of fly fishing guides left navigating the stretches of the upper Brule in the old traditional manner of combining daytime and night time fishing from a canoe on a river chocked full of history. The two shifts are separated by a monumental hot cooked, wood fire meal, located at one of 6 historical shelters hidden along the river. The separate camps are complete with covered wood stove pavilions and roofed screen porches to provide shelter from the elements on inclement days. These camps are located on private property and  date back to a day when guided fishing on the river was a social event for the slightly more affluent and a time when the fly rod was king. The river’s history is well documented as an early fur trading route between Lake Superior and the St. Croix River used by the Native Americans and the early French trappers. The property surrounding the Brule was purchased during the settlement period by a number of affluent families and protected from logging. Presidents Coolidge and Eisenhower stayed or visited the Brule on numerous occasions and enjoyed the beauty and superb fishing it had to offer. Many of the original families still hold ownership of the large tracts of land surrounding the Brule and, generations later, their progeny still carry on the traditional fishing methods and guided outings. The remaining land directly surrounding the Brule River is now largely public forest and is protected from development. A testament to its value as a resource.

Damian slid the canoe into the water at 1:30 PM. We fished the upper portion from Stones Bridge to our dinner camp with a traditional Pass Lake streamer and caught a number of beautiful brook trout in the 8 to 14″ inch range. The large boiling springs that were evident on the river’s bottom held the nicest fish, and we saw brookies that were larger than those brought to hand. This portion of the Brule flows slowly and canoe travel is easily achieved both up and down stream by traditional paddling.

As we discussed the challenges of guiding and teaching fly anglers, we both agreed that the ability to cast accurately on this tree lined river means the difference between catching fish and not. An angler who can cast the fly under hanging trees, hit small openings between branches of submerged timber and put their offering from 3″ to 6″ from the bank will catch significantly more fish than the angler who can’t. Fly pattern choice is nowhere near as important as the placement. Damian’s handling of the canoe was masterful and enabled me to cast to the best of my ability in tight cover.

Our Dinner at 6PM was nothing short of fantastic. Ribs and a potatoes, bacon, onion mix that was fit for a king. I am a meat and potatoes guy and this meal fit the bill for this hungry angler. All topped off by a cup full of island scotch that I taste every time I hear the word Brule. The experience was enhanced when Damian’s counterpart Steve pulled into Hidden Camp with his clients. They were there to prepare dinner as well and the stove was still hot. Abby and her friend Mike had come from Washington DC to float and fish the Brule. Abby’s Grandfather lived on the river and their family still owns the house along the banks of the river. As we talked and discussed her childhood memories of the Brule my understanding of its tradition only deepened.

8PM, Pitch Black Dark, I took my seat in the front of the canoe armed with a 7 weight and a mouse pattern the size of……..well, a large mouse. The cloud cover was thick and no light from the moon was evident. Damian had floated the night before under a full moon. He said the ride was beautiful. Every tree was a shadow. The ability to see was perfect. The fishing was poor though, too much light. He expected our night to be better. As we began the float I was a bit anxious. I have fished many times at night before but under different conditions. Walk wading or sitting in a boat on a lake have been my night fishing experience. I like the dark. There is a quiet that does not exist during the day which is calming as long as the fear of  vampires, ghosts and wild carnivorous animals have been extinguished from one’s thoughts. I believe the scotch Damian fed me at dinner was to calm the nerves of his client, an old guide trick for sure when he is unsure how many times his boat mate has watched the Texas Chain Saw Massacre or the Blair Witch Diaries. For the first ten minutes I cold see almost nothing. My eyes eventually adjusted and I am sure my pupils were as large as dimes. I realized I had entered a world where the sense of sight, relied on so heavily to be effective in fly fishing, was almost non-existent. The ramping up of the other four was an instant reaction. I could hear everything, but there was no sound except for the subtle swish of the paddle. My ears searched constantly for sound. I could smell the aroma of the White Cedar trees ten fold from that of the day light hours. I could taste the scotch, more now than when it was on my tongue. I could feel the texture of the cork grip of the Sage 7 weight like I have never felt before. I was ready.

Damian used an additional method of moving the boat down the river called stubbing on this second half of the trip. The method involves two round poles dug into the bottom of the river to control both speed of advancement and position of the canoe in current. The guide literally is walking the canoe down the river by this means and can hold the angler in position to cast accurately on this higher gradient stretch of the river. His instructions and control were once again masterful.

The first fish attack on the mouse was missed by this angler. I quite frankly was so amped up that I pulled the fly from the fish before he could actually eat it. I would miss no more, and the team of two acted in harmony for the rest of the float. The casts were made into the down stream abyss and slowly quiver stripped back to the boat. The attacks were numerous and the number of fish landed was lost track of. The prize was a 21″ resident male brown trout whoses haloed red spots shined like LED’s through the darkness, a trophy for sure.

There are no pictures of my night fish. On this float I understood that light was the enemy. The flash of my camera would only have lessened the experience of two colleagues in a canoe, to gain a primal connection, to life below the flow.

The Brule River is one of America’s great trout rivers. There are few who know it as well as Damian. If you are a fly angler, put this trip on your bucket list.

Thanks bud