My son Tim helped haul two 40-lb packs, paddles, poles, water and other miscellaneous gear while I carried my green Winona Solo Plus canoe down to the sandy beach of Lake Superior just east of the Bois Brule river mouth. My launch site was near the Wisconsin DNR's picnic area, which is part of the Brule River State Forest in Douglas County. I was underway at 8 a.m. in cool, sunny weather. A quarter mile paddle down the relatively calm Superior Lake waters took me to the mouth of the Brule. The river's reddish colored current was strong and the river initially was not willing to let me enter its shallow mouth. However, I switched to my spruce pole and pushed against her sandy bottom and quickly overcame her attempt to push me back out into the lake. I was soon making good progress and within minutes I was at the DNR's Brule River boat landing where two middle-aged fishermen sought walleyes and suckers without success.
Tim was waiting at the landing 8:15 a.m. to give me my second camera and say his farewell. We shook hands and then I headed south towards La Crosse while Tim returned home by a more conventional means.
The river depth increased to several feet south of the landing and the current was reduced allowing me to switch to my kayak paddle. About one-half mile above the mouth, I encountered a relatively large logjam along the left ascending bank where the river makes a sweeping turn to the east. The debris dam appeared free of pop cans, plastic material, Styrofoam, dimension lumber and other garbage that might indicate anthropogenic inputs from the watershed. At 9 a.m., I met a fishing boat returning downstream just below Weir Riffles, where the river offers the first real encounter with shallow fast water and rocky substrate. I stood up, stepped to the stern of my canoe and began poling my way upstream through the serpentine channel with continuous riffles and swift water.
Many deer were observed along the bank, occasional bald eagles stood on guard on large overhanging trees and a few ducks were observed in the infrequent pools as I ascended slowly upstream. The steep banks were comprised of red clay and were severely eroding in some locations contributing tiny clay particles and other suspended particulate matter to the Brule giving it a dark reddish-brown color. I passed what I believe was an old bridge downstream of Mc Neil Landing. The old rock support structures are all that were visible along the heavily vegetated bank. I arrived at the Mc Neil Landing bridge at 11:50 a.m. An old white farmhouse stood guard on the right bank above the bridge, which supported conspicuous signs warning fisherman not to walk on the mowed lawn. Although I was not fishing, I heeded the warning and stayed in the canoe and made my way upstream along the grassy bank.
About a half-mile upstream from Mc Neils Landing I had to portage the Brule's only dam that was placed in the lower end of the river to prevent the upstream spawning runs of lamprey. The lamprey is an eel-like invader to the Great Lakes, which has a nasty habit of attaching themselves to fish with their horny teeth. The dam contains a thin steel plate that overhangs the concrete spillway on the downstream side and prevents the slimy lamprey from slithering over the dam. This ingenious barrier was designed by the Wisconsin DNR and has proven to be quite effective in eliminating the lamprey's upstream movement to its desired spawning habitat.
The river soon became faster as a result of its increased gradient. The ascent is slow and difficult. I chose to walk several rapids along the banks when numerous rocks or shallow water provided little room for poling error. I averaged 0.75 to 1.5 miles per hour throughout the day with the slower speed attributable to reaches of rapids or fast riffles. I reached the Highway 13 landing at 3 p.m., about 8 miles upstream from the mouth. I was dead tired and my hands ached and were stiff from gripping and thrusting the pole for several hours. I sat down on the wooden take-out dock on the left bank and had a mid-afternoon lunch break and cherished 20-minute rest. I pondered over the Brule River State Forest map and the numerous marked rapids that lay ahead for the next several miles.
I pulled out on the left bank at 6 p.m. when I was too tired to proceed further. I was about 1.5 miles below May Ledges and about 11 miles from the mouth. My wilderness campsite was in the thick underbrush about 100 ft from the river's edge. This site complied with my DNR camping permit which specified I was to stay out of view of the river. While I ate my dinner at 7 p.m., a pair of canoes passed by swiftly with their occupants oblivious to my presence. I felt satisfied that I had complied with the conditions of my permit. I was able to faintly pick up the National Weather Service on my weather radio. The forecast called for evening thunderstorms and high winds Tuesday and Wednesday due to an approaching cold front. After cleaning up, securing gear and bear proofing my food packs, I was in bed by 8:30 p.m. for a well earned nights sleep.
Earlier trip down the Bois Brule - "We were two days and part of a night in making the descent, with every appliance of voyageur craft."
Moutth of Bois Brule, Lake Superior