A Tail of Two Rivers

I simply couldn’t believe that the strange looking piece of water I was currently fishing turns into the same river that I’ve been frequenting for the last decade. My friend and guide for the day, Damian Wilmot, assures me this is true. Like many Midwest anglers, I visit the Brule River only in the pursuit of Steelhead, thus limiting myself to fishing only the lower stretches.On this particular day, Damian and I were floating the upper river between Stone’s Bridge and Big Lake. Our plan was to stay out past dark in hopes of encountering a Brown Drake hatch, just one of the nocturnal emergences that the Brule is known for. Damian is an astute Brule River historian and his guide service, Fly by Night, upholds guiding traditions that date back to the 1920’s. The first of these traditions employs the use of a canoe, which is the most practical and only legal way of descending the upper river.


Fly casting from a canoe takes a little getting used to. And being one who occasionally learns from past blunders, I elected to sit down while I fished. My initial thoughts were that the afternoon start, bright sun, and recumbent position would all conspire against any immediate fishing success. However, I was more than a bit surprised when numerous brightly colored Brook Trout were eager to consume the Pass Lake Streamer that I occasionally managed to cast and present correctly. As the afternoon slowly gave way to early evening, I was able to coax a larger Brown Trout, out from under an over hanging tree, into taking the small streamer as well. Somehow, I think Damian had this all choreographed because that ended up to be my last cast prior to breaking for our evening meal.


Dinner, Damian style, on the upper Brule utilizes preexisting structures or landings that have been in place since the turn of the century. Despite being on mostly private land, they are available to anyone and constitute the second of historical traditions utilized by his guide service. I sat and relaxed with a glass of wine as Damian prepared what turned out to be the best meal I’ve ever had on a guided trip. In fact, the mere thought of that meal, while consuming the home-made offerings that I provide on guided trips, would be just cause for dumping the food overboard. We dined on steaks, Brule Fries , veggies and more wine as we discussed the significant differences between the upper and lower river. Usually on guided trips I can’t wait to finish the provided meal and resume fishing but the relaxed yet calculated pace of this interlude was perfect.

Dusk is where things got interesting. I’ve always wanted to fish one of these fabled night hatches and it looked like the bugs were going to cooperate. We paddled by some famous estates, descended a small set of rapids, and were subsequently surrounded by a swarm of newly hatched Brown Drake Mayflies. Damian quickly stopped and stabilized the canoe by clawing one foot onto an emerged boulder and by digging a specially crafted hand held stick into the river bottom. I responded by casting to the sound of rising fish for the first time in my fly fishing career.  The inherent strangeness of the situation was immediate and compounded by the newly discovered fact that I’d managed to miss a guide while stringing up my dry-fly rod. This of course had nothing to do with the wine consumption mentioned earlier. Despite this mistake, I managed to catch a couple of nice trout in consecutive casts. The sensory upheaval of fishing in the dark was now starting to manifest itself and I asked Damian if he’d ever had a client come apart out here? Damian did not speak, but replied with the distinct sound of knuckles of rapping on a canoe paddle. At least one more trout was landed before a monumental leader snarl put a premature end to my fishing. Perhaps it was just as well, for the hatch was waning and our time was running thin.


A new found feeling of confidence engulfed me as we continued our journey downstream. I became convinced I was not going to be the causative agent behind Damian’s first capsizing. One more set of rapids brought us to Big Lake where we finished our trip in silence. I had time to relax and reflect on what had been a truly unique fly fishing endeavor; very different from the Steelhead fishing that I’d done downstream. With out question a float trip down Wisconsin’s upper Brule River fishing a night hatch is a truly a Great Northern Adventure not to be missed. Driving home to the Twin Cities from Stone’s Bridge, departing at midnight, on deer infested highways is a stupid northern adventure that I don’t recommend.