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Out in it: Trolling in Brookston

If you read my column regularly you're already aware I'm up for new adventures. This week I jumped at the chance to fish a new stretch of the St. Louis River with Cloquet's Chad Vermeersh. We hooked up his Lund and headed slightly northwest to downtown Brookston to chase walleyes.

The boat landing is easy to locate, upstream of the bridge, just off the beaten path. The landing drops at a precipitous rate, its concrete pads swallowed up by the root-beer stained water far below. I drew the short straw, riding in the back of the boat as we launched. I felt like I was teetering 12 feet above the water as we descended the ramp, the river threatening to spill over the transom as the Lund entered the water at a steep angle. Above us, a group of guys monitored our progress from the giant steel and wooden deck that overhangs the river. As I fired up the Honda, I'm sure we were rapidly pegged as being out-of-towners.

I've spent some time upriver of Brookston, many hours around Cloquet, and lots of time on the lower stretches of the St. Louis River where it works tirelessly to dump into Lake Superior. Each stretch has its own personality, its own attitude. This being new water to both of us, we would be forced to learn this portion of the river on the fly.

We motored downstream under the bridge, skirting its concrete supports, reading the water before us. It didn't take long before we made our first poor decision. In front of us the river narrowed, creating a rapids stretching from bank to bank. Boulders dotted the underwater landscape, each big enough to cause some damage to our prop or skeg. I tilted the Honda up as far as she would go as we bounced and clanged down through the rushing water, playing a short game of Plinko with the Lund. We shot out relatively unharmed below the rapids, focused mostly on fishing. Still, in the back of our minds, we knew we would somehow have to make our way back up the rapids.

I grabbed one of my rods tied up with a swimbait and launched it toward the opposite bank, working the middle of the river, still only flowing a few feet deep. My second cast I spun around and targeted an area where a small river deposited into the St. Louis. Two cranks in, a giant smallmouth bass crushed my offering and headed for rushing water. A nice battle ensued as he circumnavigated our boat, leaping high into the air trying to throw the hook. After he relented, I lifted him from the water, admiring his strength and muscle earned from battling the current all day and night.

We worked the area for a while, but the pull to get above the rapids well before dark proved too much. I tilted the motor into shallow drive and Chad climbed on the bow, acting as a spotter as we ascended the rapids. My heart raced as we traversed the maze of obstacles below. Deadheads, sandbars, shallow rip rap and boulders were all possible roadblocks to remembering this as an enjoyable evening on the water. I waited for the inevitable clunking of the prop on a submerged rock but somehow we navigated the entire stretch without incident, emerging unscathed back under the bridge.

We began trolling crankbaits, quickly identifying a stretch of deeper water from just below the bridge to a 100 yards upstream before another boulder field slowed our progress. Chad battled a chunky pike that found its way into our cooler of ice. We worked the stretch just off the giant deck overhanging the river, catching the attention of its patrons on each pass as we hooked walleyes, pike, rock bass and even a channel catfish.

I'm not sure if it was a coincidence, or if we had worn out our welcome, but one landowner unleashed a kid on a personal watercraft into our trolling pass. I chuckled at the scene: the sun beginning to set, a fairly peaceful evening. We trolled our stretch, kids splashing in the shallows downstream, other anglers casting from the banks. Paralleling us upstream, then downstream, the kid screamed past within 15 feet, rocking our boat each time it shot by. Laughter flowed freely from the river bank and deck high above.

We decided that despite the entertainment, maybe getting off the river before dark would be for the best. Another excursion in the books - the sights, sounds, and experiences all part of the enjoyment. Trolling downtown Brookston provided the adventure we sought.

Bret Baker is an award-winning outdoors columnist and lifetime resident of Cloquet. Email him at [email protected] with fishing questions or story ideas.