GrayGoat2It has been ten days since the last of 4 swimming scoundrels pulled me to the end of my rope. I am haunted by the memories of these fish and hope to relive the magnificence, that is the Brule River, one last time before the end of the steelhead season on November 15, 2009 .

These are their stories:

The river is straight and boulder strewn before dropping into the medium sized, soft, right handed, bend pool. This straight section above the pool is littered with troughs, seams, boulders and pockets of water, varying in depth and deep enough to hold fish. One angler can fish this section of faster water above, and one can fish the main pool below, each remaining in eye and conversation contact. Locations like these are ideal for camaraderie as well as entertainment. Anglers experience the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat… together. My first fish of October 28, 2009 came as I drifted down stream to the soft inside flows bordering the upper section and the drop into the lower pool. Along the very inside path at the bottom of the straight section lies a rock. It is not a very big rock, maybe 3 feet in diameter. This boulder is submerged about 6 feet under water, depending upon the flows, and acts as the inside hinge of the dog leg that is the bend pool. The rock is visible during low flows and can be fished from the down stream side if one chooses. I have always preferred to fish it from above, feeling the current directs my imitation to the correct spot easier from that position. Many anglers neglect this rock, or do not know it exists, choosing to fish the deep heart of the pool or the tangle of Snag Monsters instead. I have hooked fish around this rock numerous times and today would be no exception.  The drift was right and the hookup was solid. The fish shot like a rocket toward the back of the pool. The combined sounds of  the Shark Skin line singing through the guides, my reels disk brake zinging and the rhythmic drumming of the reel crank beating against the sleeve of my Gore Tex jacket was sweet music for a guy who was bite-less in the last 10 hours of fishing. This selection of music was over in 3 seconds along with the fish who had given me the smile and the hope. Another hour in the same spot with no results and I was off to the next open hole.

GrayGoat5Steelheading on the Brule can sometimes be like musical chairs. Anglers will continue walking up and down stream looking to step into the most likely “holes”. A hole is simply defined as; A likely location where steelhead may swim, rest, play, eat, sleep, or otherwise reside on a regular basis.  These spots are readily identifiable, many times by the appearance of the stream bank as well as the character of the water. The grass is beat down and the earth is scuffed.  There may be some remnant fishing trash strewn about, along with the scar of a fire pit. Many times there will also be a clear cut, identifiable entry/exit point to the water. This area will be “V” shaped and look like a beaver slide. These V’s have been developed over time and are generally areas of bank erosion. In Wisconsin the biggest holes will always have a fork stick implanted in the stream bank marking the exact location where one can drown a big gob of night crawlers, take a nap, drink a beer, or partake in all three activities at once! Fork stick spots have a long tradition in Wisconsin and their appearance is a reassurance that you are in the right spot. Needless to say “holes” will have shallow, mostly non fishable water on either side and anglers will wander about until finding the next open hole to try their luck.

The second fish was hooked in one of the larger holes on the Brule. This hole can handle 3, sometimes 4 anglers at once, depending on the anglers’ style of fishing. ItIMG_2212 is a location where I have also seen the most angler turf war conflicts, and it is rarely left unattended by anglers. I like the slow, deep tail out section and fish it immersed in water up to my waist to get the longest cast and drift. There is a giant Snag Monster located on the down stream side of this bend pool and on this day you could not see its location. Over time our group alone has lost hundreds of flies, or maybe even a thousand flies, to this monster. The fish love to locate closely tucked  in on either side of this beast for comfort and protection. As I varied my drift lanes, a cast was placed on the upstream, outside edge of the monster between the shoreline and the snag, falling just above the overhanging tree and into the faster water. To make this cast it requires about 40 feet of line and 10 feet of leader. This allows the flies to sink to the proper depth necessary to feed the fish. The take and set were almost instantaneous. The fish exploded out of the water and surged towards shore. The strong bend in my rod telegraphed the calling card of a big fish. Without warning, 50 feet of line and leader sprang back across the river and spun itself onto the branch of a Hemlock tree located behind me on the river bank. As I watched, all I could do was smile and shake my head. I was intimately familiar with this tree from other encounters, and as in golf, regard it as another cleverly placed hazard when playing this hole. Pulling down on my fly line I could see that 8 feet above my head, the tree had eaten my entire leader clear up to the line connection. As a seasoned veteran I knew I was in for a long re-rig and would have to leave my spot open to lurking anglers. But wait! Using a technique recommended NOWHERE in Sage’s instruction manual I reversed the rod in my hand, tightly holding the Ferrule connection of the tip section of my 4 piece 10 foot 8 weight XP fly rod. By doing this I could hoist the reel 8 feet into the air and hook the tree branch with the reel. Pulling down with the rod I could bend the stout branch low enough to jump up and grab the green end of the rig eating branch. It is advisable to make sure your Ferrules are waxed and tightly fit before experimenting with this technique. The sight of an expensive fly reel and the butt section of a fly rod hanging 8 feet above the river is another story of retrieval. Fortunately on that day mine held and I was able to get my whole rig back. I fished for an hour more with no bites. It was time to head back to the truck.

IMG_2253Feeling like I needed one more cast, I stopped at a small nondescript pocket hole about the size of a pick-up truck. There are a number of smaller pockets in this run that can hold fish, but this is the biggest in a high gradient drop that connects one bend pool to another.  This hole was on my way back to the parking lot, and I had watched anglers pass up this secondary water earlier in the afternoon. This spot is a “High Sticking” spot where only your leader and indicator are on the water. High sticking eliminates the drag of the fly line from the drift as well as reduces the need for mending. The water flow is fast between the seams and everything happens fast when it happens. This is a difficult place to land fish because there is very little slow water to coax the fish into after hooking. A net is almost mandatory for catching success, as well as a buddy to help with the landing efforts.

Fish number 3 came on my first drift into the sweet spot. Much to my surprise this fish found another way to thwart my efforts. Exploding once again after feeling the set of the hook, this fish leaped into a brush pile located half in and half out of the water. The fish actually jumped into the pile of wood that was on shore, tangling and wiggling its way back into the water. The burst of fin power when the fish finally waggled back to the water left a wake as he departed, as well as my flies hooked to the branches of the brush pile. This display of heroics I had not seen before and will likely not see again. I broke my flies from the pile and re-rigged. I could not end the day like that, being mocked by a pea brained fish. There would be one more cast!

The 4th fish came 5 casts after the 3rd. Same sweet spot, same Bat time, same Bat channel(old Batman reference). This fish was easily the biggest of the day. The fish blew 20 yards straight upstream through the fastest churning pockets of water in the run. When that did not shed the line attached to her she turned her attention down stream and arrived considerably faster to the same soft water pocket where I had hooked her. This predicament left me with 20 yards of unmanaged line and usually that means the kiss of death to any chance of landing the fish. This peel off line, run straight at you tactic is one the steelhead have used over and over again with great success. This series of events happens so fast your brain cannot engage fast enough to understand what just happened. BE READY! Expect it to happen so you can do your best to pick up the extra line before it becomes a problem. Fortunately I gathered my line fast enough and began a series of tactical moves turning the fish into slower shallower water for landing. Jeff, my friend, was in the water waiting with the net. This alone nurtured my confidence that I would finally land the fish of the day and head home victorious. As the eyes of the fish met mine in that upper layer of water closest to the joining of different worlds, the frenzied look of wildness, of flight and fight, came across to me in the expression on her face. She bolted like the lightning that she was bred from, never to be seen again. The terrific final run down stream was with furious purpose. She did not stop. I could not chase. The last thing I felt was the snap of the 3X and the rod recoiling to attention. It was magnificent.

In retrospect, the outing on the Brule was a great one. I experiencedIMG_2254 another chapter in the roller coaster ride that is steelheading. I shared memories with friends and fish that will last my life time. Although my definition of catch, lies smooth and silver, cradled within the confines of my releasing hand, was not achieved, I believe my most recent schooling to be no less of a success. See ya at the Kro-Bar on Friday night for one last go.