APRIL 1 HAS COME and gone, and with it, all the corny jokes that people try to play on each other. I used to try and get in on that action, but in my old age have given it up as a lost cause. Mostly because the people I know have given my warped sense of humor up as a lost cause.

People aren’t the only ones who can play an April Fools’ joke. Mother Nature has long been good at it. Take this year for instance. With residents of north Wisconsin practically begging for sunshine and 60 degrees, we got 30 degrees and snow flurries instead.

Mother Nature has fooled us quite often over the years. She used to do it to me on an almost annual basis when I was young and ready to eagerly join the “Brotherhood of the Bois Brule River” for that hallowed stream’s annual early opening day which falls the last Saturday in March.

The Brule River of north Wisconsin’s Douglas County was brought to my mind last week by a short note and newspaper clipping forwarded to me by an old friend, Don Hiller.

Along with kindling anew a fire within me for another Brule River trout outing, the newspaper clipping included an article about several books celebrating the river. One of them, “Right Off the Reel,” is a collection of 84 of the best outdoor columns written between 1936 and ’56 by Gordon MacQuarrie for the Milwaukee Journal when he was that newspaper’s first outdoor editor.

The book was published by the Barnes Area Historical Association, with all proceeds going to the association which supports the MacQuarrie museum in the area of his cabin on the Middle Eau Claire Lake. My order for a copy of it is already in the mail.

I used to stumble into the river in the morning the early opening day of the lower section of the Brule, oftentimes wallowing through 2 feet of snow to reach the stream. No matter the weather, the siren call of the Brule was not to be ignored.

As MacQuarrie, who in the 1930s wrote of the Brule “You who fish it, and every troutster hopes he will, should be forewarned . . . many’s the time I have hit the lower Brule dressed like an Eskimo . . . ” Mac further wrote “A good many of the faithful, like the president of the Old Duck Hunters’ Association Inc. are firm believers in celebrating the opening along the more Arctic portions of the Brule. There is sound reason for this. At the average opening many of the big, migratory rainbows from Lake Superior are working back to the home waters.” He added one more comment by Mr. President “A man would have to be a ‘ninnyhammer’ to pass up that first crack at the big ones.” 

Never let it be said that I am a ninnyhammer, whatever a ninnyhammer is. Over the years, I put in my time dressed like an Eskimo, sometimes even using snowshoes to reach the banks of the lower Brule the early opener.

It can be said that I was seldom successful in bringing home a “kitchen sink fish,” from one of those early excursions, but if nothing else, they satisfied the urge — itch, if you will — to be among the faithful searching the roiling waters of the Brule for just one big fish opening day.

The Brule of northwest Wisconsin, for those who have never been on it, is a place of special beauty. It has a power over the hearts and minds of all who have fished it, even if they put their wader-booted feet into it just one time in their lives.

I know it has done that to me and though I haven’t fished it much in recent years, mainly because it’s national level of fame is so great with “canoers” and kayakers that nowadays — especially off-season weekends and at any time during the summer — it’s almost impossible to make a cast without being stampeded by one of the river runners.

Still, nothing can take away from the mystique and the aura of the Brule. Most years, I still make a ceremonial trip to the Brule, if only for an hour or so of fishing. I rather think this year, since I am now among the ranks of the retired, there will be at least a couple of trips to this stream I came to love when my dad took me there for the first time when I was a teen.

Perhaps never shall I experience a rise of fish like we did that stifling hot August afternoon and evening, and of course I will never again be able to catch my first native brookie on a dry fly as I did that day in 1966, but the Brule will never lose its magical hold on my soul, which is the soul of a trout fisherman.

With all that said, I already have rods and reels readied, pocket tackle boxes filled, long johns pulled from a drawer meant for summer storage and all the other oddments needed for an early trip to the Brule. That trip will be made in short order, perhaps even yet this week.

With a little luck, I will find a path to the Brule through snow that has already been trampled into a hard-packed trail by the thundering herd who undoubtedly made their first pilgrimage to the river for last weekend’s opener.

My expedition may amount to little more than a sightseeing trip if the snow is too deep and the wind too raw, for I unashamedly admit that, at almost 70, I no longer care to go forth into trout battle if the elements are not kind. I’m not quite a fair weather fisherman yet, but I will admit I am edging ever closer to that description.

But give me a day on the Brule this week or next when the sun shines, the wind blows lightly and the temperature creeps toward 50 and you will find me sending forth my casts upon the Brule, listening to the line sing its song “whish, ever whish,” again and again.

The balsams lining the river banks will welcome me with their sweeping boughs of deep green and perhaps a pair of mallards dallying in a calm pool will be there even before me, welcoming me home to the Brule. MacQuarrie’s spirit will be with me.