With Wisconsin offering over 43,000 miles of rivers, it can be difficult to decide on the perfect destination for paddling.
While many may explore this state through a Wisconsin waterfalls road trip or checking out the famed Driftless region, kayaking the Bois Brule River has long been a popular activity for both residents and visitors looking for a relaxing outdoor escape.
The History of the Brule River
This Wisconsin river’s real name is the Bois Brule, which literal translation is burnt wood.
This early terminology dates back to an early Anishinaabe Native American language as they saw the Brule as “a river through half-burnt woods”.
That fact, paired with the Brule’s title of the “River of Presidents”, creates a fascinating back-story of this unique wisconsin kayaking spot.
Located in Douglas County, Wisconsin, the Bois Brule River (frequently referred to as the Brule River) is nestled near the county’s eastern border with neighboring Bayfield County.
With nearly 44 miles of winding waterways, the Brule’s stream starts in central Douglas County near the Upper St Croix Lake. It then continues to flow through the Brule River State Forest, eventually draining into Lake Superior.
The Brule River formed a long, long time ago as a small outlet for Lake Superior when the lake was in its glacial form.
Once the glaciers retreated, the river’s flow reversed, and springs found along the river’s course fed the Brule. This new, continuous water source eventually led to the Bois Brule River flowing north into Lake Superior.
Native American Ties
Quickly after the Brule River’s stream reversed to continually flowing north, the river became a notorious pathway for the local natives.
The Bois Brule functioned as a popular travel route during the historic fur trade era as one of the nation’s largest fur trading posts was located east in the Apostle Islands.
Ambitious voyageurs would start canoeing in Wisconsin up the Bois Brule, and then continue to portage about two miles to the nearby headwaters of the St Croix River.
Once on the St Croix, they would then continue their journey towards the Mississippi River.
The Brule River is also well-known historically as the site of the 1842 Battle of the Brule. This battle was most notable for the conflict between the Chippewa and Sioux tribes in the area.
River of Presidents
Like I stated earlier, five US presidents have vacationed and fished on the Bois Brule. Kayaking on the Bois Brule River has been popular throughout history as one of Wisconsin’s most famous trout rivers.
The Bois Brule was also home to President Coolidge’s summer White House during his Presidential term, as he enjoyed trout fishing around the scenic Wisconsin landscape.
President Grant, Hoover, Eisenhower, Coolidge, and Cleveland have all stayed on this underrated Wisconsin river, many of which staying at the world-renowned Cedar Island Estate.
Another fascinating snippet of history includes the very person in charge of CIA counter-intelligence. During the Cold War, James Angleton enjoyed escaping political pressure to his cabin on the Brule. It was later revealed that he enjoyed fishing for Brown Trout during the night on this scenic river.
Since the Brule River’s rise to fame within the political realm, many wealthy families have purchased and maintained the property surrounding the Bois Brule for five generations.
The Cedar Island Estate has since been purchased by the Ordway Family– early investors in the Twin Cities fortune 500 company 3M.
This massive estate consists of many square miles of land and features a collection of ponds, fishery, with its very own airport landing strip. When President Coolidge stayed here, it was known as the Pierce Estate– named after a tycoon from St Louis, Missouri.
Another great example of a generational estate on the Upper Brule is owned by the heirs of Arthur Holbrook.
This famed doctor’s book From the Log of a Trout Fisherman offers discussion on how he traveled the historic Brule River.
Written in 1949, Holbrook illustrates how he and his father rode trains from Milwaukee to the Brule in order to catch the best trout in the Midwest.
Significance of the Bois Brule River as a Natural Resource in Wisconsin
The Bois Brule River holds immense significance as a natural resource in Wisconsin.
Known as one of the state’s premier trout fishing streams, it attracts anglers from far and wide who seek the thrill of reeling in these elusive fish.
However, its importance extends beyond just recreational activities. The river is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, creating a delicate ecosystem that contributes to the ecological balance of the entire region.
A Premier Trout Fishing Stream
The Bois Brule River has gained recognition as an exceptional trout fishing destination. Anglers are drawn to its pristine waters, which provide ideal conditions for trout populations to thrive.
Rainbow, brown, and brook trout can all be found within its depths, offering fishermen an exciting challenge.
The river’s reputation as a top-tier trout stream stems from various factors. First and foremost is its water quality.
The Bois Brule benefits from clean, cold waters that are rich in oxygen—a crucial requirement for sustaining healthy fish populations.
The river’s unique geological features create abundant hiding spots for trout, such as deep pools and undercut banks.
Supporting a Delicate Ecosystem
Beyond its allure for anglers, the Bois Brule River supports a delicate ecosystem that plays host to numerous plant and animal species.
Its riparian areas boast an impressive array of vegetation including willows, alders, and ferns that provide shade and shelter along the riverbanks.
This diverse flora contributes to stabilizing soil erosion while also providing habitat for wildlife.
Birds like herons and kingfishers can be spotted perched on branches overlooking the water, patiently waiting for their next meal. Mammals such as otters frequent the river’s edge in search of fish or crayfish to sustain themselves.
Moreover, aquatic insects form an essential component of this intricate ecosystem by serving as prey for trout.
Mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies are just a few examples of the insect species that call the Bois Brule River their home. The presence of these insects not only sustains the fish population but also attracts other wildlife that rely on them for sustenance.
Maintaining Ecological Balance
The Bois Brule River’s significance extends beyond its recreational and ecological value—it plays a vital role in maintaining the overall ecological balance of the region.
As an interconnected system, changes within the river can have far-reaching effects on surrounding ecosystems.
By providing habitat for various species, the river contributes to biodiversity conservation efforts in Wisconsin.
Protecting this delicate ecosystem ensures that future generations can continue to enjoy its beauty and reap its benefits.
Comparing the Upper and Lower Brule
The Brule is an incredible river to kayak in Wisconsin, famous for its steelhead, brown trout, and salmon fishing activities.
As one of the only true spring creeks in the entire region, this beautiful river is sectioned into two distinct regions, each featuring unique opportunities for kayaking in Wisconsin.
While one may think that the Upper Brule is north of the Lower Brule, you need to remember the Brule flows South to North.
This means the Upper Brule is actually south of the Lower Brule, with a decisive division at the town of Brule, Wisconsin.
The Upper Brule
The Upper Brule is the best section of the Bois Brule for fly fishing. Brown and Brook Trout are more common on the Upper Brule than the Lower.
The only lures allowed on this section of the Brule are artificial (check fishing regulations before your journey).
The Upper Brule tends to be clear, cool waters with a steady spring-fed flow from the valley’s springs. Because of the sandy shoreline, it is said to take 200 years for the water to seep back up into the springs.
The river widens at several “lakes”, with the largest being at Big Lake. This section of the Brule offers several rapids and chutes between these lakes.
Make sure to check the water gauge height before you leave on your adventure to the Upper and Lower Brule.
The most popular spot to put in kayaks is at Stone’s Bridge. This spot offers a parking lot to leave your car at, however, it is best to arrange for someone to park your car at the Winneboujou kayak take-out point.
The river is initially narrow and slow– perfect for capturing photos of the scenic landscape. You will traverse this narrow section of the river surrounded by wing-dams.
This area continues for several miles until you start to notice the cedar bogs and McDougal Springs flowing into the river.
Here you will kayak through numerous chutes and gentle rapids, pushing you along towards Big Lake, which eventually leads to the generational estates.
You will be able to navigate the Brule passageways through the Cedar Island Estate– by far the most scenic area of the Upper Brule.
With winding waterways and low-hanging branches, you will kayak under wooden bridges and view the historic estate up close.Finish up your adventure in Winneboujou, where you will notice plenty of beautiful cabins and a small area to get out of the Brule.
The Lower Brule
The Lower Brule is a popular fishing area for Steelhead and lake-run salmon. The fishing runs tend to be in the spring and the fall, with not much fishing activity during the summer months.
The water on the Lower Brule moves at a faster rate as the height difference between Lake Superior and the Bois Brule River drops at a faster rate.
Make sure to check the weather before you’re planned kayaking in WI. The waters in the Lower Brule typically become mucky for a couple of days after rainfall.
This is mostly because of the clay banks found along the shoreline, vastly different from the sandy ones found on the Upper Brule.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a better whitewater experience, planning to kayak on the Lower Brule after rain offers the best chance at bigger rapids and faster chutes.
The most common access points for the Lower Brule are the town of Brule, Pine Tree Landing, Highway 13, and Lake Superior.
The first area of the Lower Brule is the Meadows.
This section is characteristically slow and deep– not a great spot to get off on the shore because of the marshy landscape.Numerous rapids and long, straight runs follow the Meadows.
The best rapids along this section are the Mays Ledges where you can experience over 2-foot-high standing waves with chutes.
As you get closer to Lake Superior, you will approach the Lamprey Barrier– a five-foot dam with a fish ladder on the side.
This is a great rest point to get out and explore the Lower Brule scenery. You will have to follow a trail to portage around this blockage.
The rest of the Lower Brule becomes more and more shallow as you head towards Lake Superior, where you will eventually get out.
Opportunities on the Bois Brule River
Abundance of brown, rainbow, and brook trout make it a haven for anglers.
The Bois Brule River is a paradise for trout fishing enthusiasts.
With its abundant population of brown, rainbow, and brook trout, this scenic river offers endless opportunities to reel in some impressive catches.
Whether you are an experienced angler or just starting out, the Bois Brule River will not disappoint.
To make the most of your fishing experience on the Bois Brule River, it’s essential to understand the behavior and habitat preferences of each trout species.
Brown trout are known to be more aggressive and can often be found near fallen logs or under overhanging vegetation.
Rainbow trout prefer faster-moving water with plenty of cover such as riffles and deep pools. Brook trout tend to inhabit smaller tributaries and prefer cooler water temperatures.
Offers both fly fishing and spin casting opportunities.
One of the great advantages of fishing on the Bois Brule River is that it caters to both fly fishing enthusiasts and those who prefer spin casting.
Fly fishing allows anglers to imitate natural insect prey using lightweight flies made from feathers, fur, and synthetic materials.
On the other hand, spin casting involves using heavier lures or bait attached to a spinning rod and reel setup.
When fly fishing on the Bois Brule River, consider using dry flies during hatches when insects are emerging from the water’s surface.
Nymphs can also be effective by imitating immature insects beneath the water’s surface. In contrast, spin casting with spoons or crankbaits can prove successful in enticing hungry trout looking for a quick meal.
Expert tips to enhance your chances of landing a trophy-sized catch.
If you’re aiming for a trophy-sized catch on the Bois Brule River, here are some expert tips that may help improve your chances:
- Timing is key: Plan your fishing trip during the spring steelhead run or salmon spawning season for a higher chance of encountering larger fish such as chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead.
- Explore different sections: The Bois Brule River offers a variety of fishing spots, ranging from calm pools to fast-moving riffles. Explore different sections of the river to find the ideal habitat for trophy-sized trout.
- Match the hatch: Pay attention to the insects present on the river and try to match your fly patterns accordingly. Trout are more likely to be enticed by flies that closely resemble their natural food sources.
- Be stealthy: Approach the river quietly and avoid making excessive noise that could spook trout. Wear neutral-colored clothing and use long casts to keep your distance from wary fish.
- Vary your retrieve: Experiment with different retrieval techniques when spin casting to trigger aggressive strikes from large trout. Sometimes a slow, steady retrieve works best, while other times a quick and erratic retrieve can be more effective.
Last Minute Tips for Kayaking the Brule
- Make sure you know where you are going. Pack a map of the river to help you understand the river’s course and bring your cellphone in case of any emergencies while kayaking in WI.
- Inflatables are not allowed on the Brule. This includes inner tubes and inflatable kayaks, so make sure to either rent or bring your own non-inflatable water craft.
- Any coolers that you decide to bring with you must be fastened within your kayak or canoe. You also cannot bring any glass on the river under any circumstances. This includes glass bottles.
- There is a spot to rent kayaks in the town of Brule, a perfect option that lets you park your car. They will provide transportation to and from the river, so you do not have to worry about how to get home.
- If you are renting kayaks or canoes, make sure to book way in advance. Paddling on the Bois Brule is becoming increasingly popular, especially during the summer months.
- The Brule River State Forest has plenty of camping facilities to stay at for a minimal fee.
- For those looking for more amenities, check out the nearby rental cabins on the Brule or around the area.
- Nearby towns for lodging and dining include Iron River, Port Wing, and Cornucopia, Wisconsin.
- Depending on the Brule sections you complete, this trip can be an all-day adventure. Make sure to start early in the day to enjoy a relaxing journey along the Bois Brule River.
- Once finishing you paddling adventures, check out the nearby hiking trails along the Brule! These paths will bring you right up to the Brule’s shoreline, offering spectacular views.