BWCA Fishing Secrets: Brule Lake

When I go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the summer, I try to visit a new place each time. Therefore I have no reason to hold on to any honey hole secrets and I thought I’d share them here with anyone looking for some advice on the where, when, and how of BWCA fishing. I can only tell you what worked for us and I offer no guarantees, other than that you will come out much more relaxed than when you went in.

For other BWCA tips on planning and maps, see this original post.

Lake: Brule

Target species: Walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike

How to get there: While Brule can be accessed from the north, west, and east via portages, the easiest way to get there is to just drive on up to the shore and unload at the boat launch on the south east section of the lake (entry point 41). Take the Sawbill Trail to the The Grade, and then head north on Brule Lake Road.

Campsite info: Brule is one of the few BWCA lakes that we’ve visited twice. The first time was in 2003, and we went again in 2010 for a shorter trip. Both times we stayed on the big island right in the middle of the lake, at the campsite on the western tip. (It is the last big island as you head west, just north of Jock Mock Point, which is one of the few features listed on a map.) Given that Brule is such an enormous lake, this paddle is relatively painless and only requires one crossing of unsheltered open water.

The reason we first chose this island site is that we had four dogs with us and we were looking for a site where they could run free without worries of them getting lost or harassing wildlife. To say it was a success would be an understatement; those pups had the time of their lives.

Dingo’s big smile is highly representative of the sheer happiness that all four dogs were feeling while camped on the island. I guarantee these pooches had more fun than we did.

Tent pad space is plentiful and out closer to the western point is a perfect spot nestled in some cedar trees, complete with a soft pine duff floor. It’s not so fun if a west wind is howling on the huge expanse that is Brule , but if it’s calm, stake your claim here before your scheming friends do.

With larger groups such as we travel with, hand pumping the vast amounts of drinking water needed through a filter is a tedious chore, so a large volume gravity filter can be a godsend. Just fill it with lake water, hang it from a tree branch, and soon you have a bucketful of potable H2O.

Fishing: Brule is full of walleyes. I mean full of them. While we did paddle around and find some hot spots off wind swept points and reefs, it didn’t take long to realize that all the walleye we’d ever want to catch could be had right off the westernmost point right next to the campsite. Stand on the four foot high rock “cliff” near the point and cast out a slip bobber with leech and jig. We were catching them hand over fist with our bobbers set anywhere from 6 to 10 feet, with the fastest action coming as dusk approached.

Tom strains to hold up a stringer-full of piscine tastiness.

This crazy success lasted the entire trip the first time we went, but on our last trip there, the wind was blowing so hard from the west we couldn’t even fish off this point. We were forced to seek shelter in bays and our luck was nowhere near as rich. Weather is king in the BWCA.

Tom, why does it look as if you are hiding something?



Smallmouth were also easy to find. Just paddle over to any bay and look for trees submerged near the shore, or else go to one of the many rock piles and reefs peppered throughout Brule. The most fun we had catching them was on sunny days when you could see a school of them beneath your canoe and you could pick and choose which one you wanted to catch by merely pulling your jig away when little ones went for it and holding it still when a fatty closed in on it.

Jackpot! Fresh fried walleye can’t be beat.

We’ve only landed one northern in all our time at Brule (caught by me, thank you very much), but then again, we weren’t targeting them. However, according to the DNR lake report, Brule likely has some enormous pike in it. Ciscoes thrive in Brule, and once a northern gets large enough to start feeding on the oily little baitfish, watch out, because that’s when a skinny pike can quickly balloon into a monster. (Similar to what happens to humans if they eat at McDonald’s every day.)

Of course, the fish we caught weren’t always of eating size, as Tim found out when casting his Rapala near a rockpile.

I give this little smallmouth bass credit for its bravery, but not for its intelligence. Thankfully Tim did catch larger fish than this one, otherwise we would have starved.
That’s more like it, Tim.

The most peculiar fish we landed were two 5-pound white suckers. I caught them both, one while drifting and jigging and the other on a slip bobber/jig set up. My heart raced as I fought to pull up what was sure to be a record smallmouth or chunky walleye, only to be faced with the ugly mug of a bottom-feeding sucker as I brought it to the surface. Gross. I know these fish have their place in the freshwater ecosystem, but good god are they uuuuuuugly.

Summary: Brule has stunning scenery and bite-happy fish, but it had something else in store for us. One evening as the walleye bite tapered off and darkness descended, we were treated to a northern lights show of impossible beauty. Neon green waves danced in the northern sky, and the dead calm lake mirrored the celestial light show with perfect fidelity, doubling the enchantment. The five of us were rendered speechless by the organic pulsations of the aurora borealis overhead. I know I felt my spirit move, and I think the others did too.

Brule Lake has it all.

Brule Lake is simply breathtaking.




9 Responses

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  3. Any cell phone reception since it is on the southern edge of BWCA. I was on lake Isabelle last summer to check out the regrowth from the fire 5 years ago, and I had full service there.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      We were there four years ago, so I’m not sure how it is now, but I don’t remember anyone having service on Brule back then. But the walleyes were answering the phone at every ring when the weather was decent!

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