If your idea of trout fishing is striking off to some beautiful backcountry stream, complete with flowers and butterflies, to forget all about life’s difficulties and cast dry flies to over-eager rainbows, steer clear of the Brule River.
I’ve romanticize the Brule since I was a young boy and carried a copy of Gordon MacQuarrie’s ‘Stories of the Old Duck Hunters’ everywhere I went. He made it seem so easy and wrote wonderful tales of landing massive lake run browns and rainbows on the shores of the lower Brule. I’ve found it slightly more difficult.
Every time I’m there part of me wonders why I keep coming back. But every spring I find myself on the banks of the Brule with the same kind of sheepish optimism the river beat out of me a year before. It’s an unforgiving place filled with icy cold water and steelhead that are more indecisive than my fiancé dress shopping at Target.
Dan and I had been planning our yearly self-masochistic pilgrimage to the Brule since January, but had considered canceling the trip for fear of breaking the shelter-in-place rules currently in effect. We discussed it at length and decided to sneak up to the river for two days, taking care to keep our distance from other fisherman and not stop at any gas stations or stores along the way.
We put in at county road FF on Saturday morning. I had flashbacks to a grueling, weeklong trip we took last year as I noticed the river was still running a chocolaty brown color that made it impossible to see the top of your wading boots in six inches of water. In for a penny, in for a pound though, and we fished until dark on Saturday with not so much as a bump.
As we drove from put-in to put-in, I remembered why I keep coming back. The history of this river and those who have come before me sets the Brule on hallowed ground. There’s a grand mystery in the sea of birch trees that shield the river on either side and you can’t help but wonder if a small shiver went up MacQuarrie’s spine every time he laid eyes on them.
As we drove, I felt my mind wander away from fishing entirely. All I could think about was coming back in the fall to stomp the aspen thickets in search of grouse, or maybe even a deer. Later on, a pair of wood ducks buzzed me as I changed flies and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I mused about sitting in a stand of musty cattails listening to wing-beats on a duck opener that was still an excruciating four months away.
I felt guilty for not focusing more on the river and the task at hand. I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my life and fly-fishing has remained a constant passion for almost as long as I can remember, but I suddenly realized I’d fallen slightly out of love with it. Trout fishing has become a placeholder, something to do when I can’t do the things I truly love.
The idea that anything could be more important to me than fly-fishing stuck in my throat and I stood in the river wondering how that was possible. Then I realized of
all the phases and changes in my life, they have one thing in common. They’ve all been punctuated by the sound of water running over my feet in the middle of a trout stream.
I know now the Brule is just as important to me as it has always been, but in a different way. I’m not there to catch fish any more, I’m there to pass the time and think about what mystery lies around the bend — and that makes it a hell of a lot more relaxing.
I welcome any comments from readers. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone at 651-433-3845 or in the mail at P.O. Box 248, Osceola WI, 54020