In a previous post from the close of the Trout season in Wisconsin last year I recorded my utter humiliation. I outlined my 4 hour drive to the Driftless Region of Wisconsin to stalk spooky and sacred Trout. It was less than successful and although I stated I would return for a second try.. in my heart I didn’t have it in me. To fail so miserably at something you hold so dear is pretty heart breaking. I watched video after video before and after my trip last year and it all seemed so mysterious and Zen. Hunching down behind milkweed, craning your arm up and casting from seemingly nowhere so as not to alarm the trout. It all seemed so awkwardly ‘not me’. It wasn’t how I fished when I was there and what I thought was my downfall. I’m just no that kind of angler. And I was OK with that.. but being so taken with Fly Fishing, it seemed like something I had to accomplish.
For my 40th birthday my wife booked us a weekend at a Cabin right on Castle Rock Creek in Grant County Wisconsin. Friday night to Monday morning would be spent fishing. I spent the entire week leading up to the trip doing little things. No, I didn’t buy a fly vest or Lanyard. No, I didn’t sharpen my hooks and flatten my barbs or try on countless scarves to protect my face. I bought two proper leaders and a handful of nymphs. I knew what I wanted to do and had an idea of how I was going to do it.
We arrived on Friday around 5pm and unpacked the car. After walking around the cabin for a few minutes I stated “Im heading out.. just going to hit Castle Rock Creek right below us..be right back..” 3 hours later I was.
I started at Castle Rock creek and it was much like my first Driftless adventure. Chocolate Milk water. Some riffles, nothing great. The only difference was the 10,000 ‘cant see em’ flies buzzing around my face. ( why didn’t I buy a fancy scarf!!!) I attempted to cast a few times while swatting bugs and untangling my line from the surrounding brush and trees. Nothing.
I went back to my car and decided this wasn’t going to be the sum of my first day here. I pulled up my GPS where I had loaded about a months worth of area research into. I found the next closest creek to me. Blue River, 3 separate locations. I headed on over and started again.
I exited the car, checked my gear and sprayed down with 98% deet! I walked over to the creek and stood on the bank looking at the area. A nice bridge with a deep pool under it, some riffles and shallow water upstream. Clear water with a rocky bed.
I casted under the bridge like any midwest angler would do. And I was rewarded with my first ever Brown trout.
Yup. That is about the size of it. I caught another one a few minutes later in the same spot. Picture looks about identical. YOU CANT HOLD THESE THINGS! I was super excited and my mind was racing. Right water, right cast, nothing special. In that minute I had demystified trout fishing. It WAS doable. Its just… ‘fishing’.
I kept on, persevered. My technique was casting upstream into the riffles or faster flowing water and just letting my nymph come back to me. I would pick up the slack with quick stripping and then BAM! TROUT ON!
This was day one, hour one and I already caught more trout then the 10 hour trip last year. I actually beat my record when I caught the first one. Things were looking great and if these were the only fish I caught all weekend, well, Id be OK with that as well.
But they were not.
Without thinking or planning my days ended up like this. Exploring new water every morning, fishing favorite water in the afternoon. I didn’t think I would fish at all on teh day that we arrived but I had fished and explored three creeks in the first two hours of being there. That night I scribbled down and mapped out 3 more new creeks to try and when I woke up I hit them all.
All in all over the weekend I hit the following creeks-
- Doc Smith
- Blue River
- Big Spring
- Caslte Rock
- Bronson Creek
- Otter Creek
- Lee Creek
- Coon Valley Creek
- Six Mile
- Platte River
My favorite by far was Blue River, the most challenging by far was Big Spring. Blue River had deep holes and great pools, riffles galore. It was clear, but not too clear. It had easy casting and I had the most success on it.
Big Spring was GIN CLEAR. You could see the trout stacked up, hitting surface bugs and going back down. You just couldnt catch any of them. I walked upstream a bit and got into the water and started my process of casting up into the riffles and letting the nymph come back to me and it worked. But only once.
I had the easiest time catching trout in fast water. I had the hardest time catching them when they were slurping bugs on the surface. This is what the Trout Anglers speak of when they talk about patience and the entomology involved in Trout Fishing. They were hitting some kind of insect. I didn’t know what they wanted and floated past every dry I had. They would let it pass then hit something right after it. Hard. Since I couldn’t see what they were hitting I have to assume if I had something a size 20 or 22 I would have had better luck but my smallest fly by design was a size 18. ( Horrible eyes…)
This was a shame because I could see they were LARGE BROWNS! Sometimes their entire head would come out of the water and slam something. My frustration at some point led me to just walk away when I saw them hitting the surface instead of trying to tempt them. I found it best to drive past water I probably wouldn’t enjoy and spend time where I felt the most comfortable. My mistake last year was fishing water simply because I was pointed to it and working it hard for hours and hours. Water I never would have fished or enjoyed fishing.
All fish caught were Brown Trout. I would have loved a Rainbow or Brook but they weren’t to be had. I suspect if I would have worked a section longer or returned to a few sections a few times throughout the weekend I would have gotten not only into other Trout but larger Trout as well. I was in exploration mode. I wanted my next trip to be a meaningful one and this long weekend was about finding the water I like and having some success on it. The next trip will be going deeper into the creeks and streams I enjoyed and working a little harder for the larger fish.
If I have any advice for fishing the Driftless Area it would be this-
Do not limit yourself to one body of water.
If you drive past a Trout Stream and it looks too shallow for you or too chocolate milky, drive to the next one. Do not fish it just because its a trout stream. Fish what you enjoy. It will help you read the water better and be an all around better experience.
Follow your own instincts. Fish are where you think they are. Almost always. Deep Pool? Fish. Structure? Fish. Tailwater? Fish. Take that truth and be true to yourself as well. Fish the water you like to fish and it will not matter what you catch.
Driftless- Ill be back!
I mean.. hey, I bought a shirt and everything…