After lower runs of steelhead the past few falls, Wisconsin’s Brule River bounced back to a run of 5,660 steelhead in the fall of 2015. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced the fall-run totals for steelhead, brown trout and coho salmon this past week.
Last fall’s steelhead run was about twice the total of runs from three of the past four years. That trend was a cause for concern for some anglers.
Not only was last fall’s steelhead run better in terms of numbers, the run was steady at more than 400 fish per week for nine consecutive weeks, said Paul Piszczek, fisheries biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Superior.
“It’s encouraging, first of all,” Piszczek said. “You have to put it in the context of a naturally reproducing population and how variable it can be. In a data set like this, you need to look at the longer term.”
Piszczek said research he has done on historic Brule River steelhead runs leads him to believe that the size of steelhead runs are closely related to flow levels of the river. Last fall, he said, the river had no big flow events that triggered one big push of fish, as had happened in some recent years.
Steelhead — Lake Superior rainbow trout — migrate up the Brule and other streams to spawn. Some fish come in during the fall and spend the winter in the river before spawning in the spring. Others enter the river in the spring and proceed upstream to spawn. The Brule is considered one of the premier steelhead streams in the western Lake Superior region.
Of the steelhead that entered the Brule last fall, 62 percent ranged from 20 to 25 inches long; 25 percent were 26 inches or longer; and about 10 percent were 12 to 17 inches long, Piszczek said.
Dennis Pratt, president of the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club, was Piszczek’s predecessor as DNR fisheries biologist in Superior. While the higher numbers are encouraging, he said he would need more detailed data before offering an assessment of the Brule’s steelhead population.
“In order for me to get a judgment on where we’re at and what direction we’re going, I’d need more information about the length of fish going by the window (where the DNR’s camera records fish passage) and the ages of fish at various lengths,” Pratt said. “You can gain information about how well they did in the lake. It gives you an idea about what’s going to happen in the future.”
In addition to the steelhead, a total of 3,930 brown trout and 1,680 coho salmon also were counted as they made their way up the Brule last fall. The brown trout run was slightly higher than any other from the past decade. The coho run was about on par with that of recent years. The coho run seems to peak about every three years.