Driftless Area, Grant County: Trouting with the son!

I myself have only been to the Driftless Area of Wisconsin twice. One trip less then stellar, another one a scandalous trout-a-palooza.  My son, now 9, wants to catch a trout. My son wants to go to the Driftless Area and net his OWN trout this summer. It was decided a few weeks prior that we would head up before he went back to school and camp out one night with designs on just that.

For those that have read every post on this blog ( pretty much just me..) you’ll know while I love fishing with my son, I have a small very small very tiny almost minuscule amount of patience. I decided this past trip it might have more to do with my desire for him to be happy and fulfilled and not what I previously thought. I’m an asshole.

This trip would test that.

We left Sunday morning to head to the BlackHawk Lake recreation area to set up camp. We arrived around 3pm after a long construction filled drive and lunch and put the tent in place. After that it was off to the Blue!

The Blue River was where I had my best luck a few months prior and I thought it a great start for him. We arrived and suited up in our waders, grabbed our Fly Rods and hit the water. Two anglers from Duluth where already on site and heading upstream, exactly where I wanted to take Spence. We headed downstream instead and found a nice little pocket of Large Browns. They weren’t to be had. At all.

Nymphs, Dries, Hoppers, Terrestrials of all kinds produced nothing. I was patient, didn’t even have my Fly Rod with me, and just let him feel his way. As we walked the banks countless Cricket jumped and skittered into the stream struggling to get back to shore. A few were nabbed from the depths by a large hungry brown. But not ours.

Casting at Blue River


We packed up and shot over to Big Springs. I had horrible luck there earlier in the year but the Trout were everywhere. We pulled up  and from the bridge alone spotted a few huge browns quickly dart under the bridge. Scampering down, my Fly Rod now in hand, we worked a small stretch of stream. It wasn’t to be.

We cruised back to camp around 8pm and were fast asleep by 9:30. I was crazy disappointed. I felt bad. Its a long trek for a kid with Trout on the brain. I also couldn’t help to NOT appreciate the environment and experience. I was focused on my son hooking up. I realized towards the end my patience was wearing thin. His casting was atrocious, not at all as good as he can cast and worst of all he didn’t seek to improve. We tried to fine tune his cast in the weeks leading up but it just seems it didn’t stick. Where I pointed to for him to cast he was also off by a good 5′.

“Cast into that riffle and just let the nymph travel down.”- Casts into the tail water.

Blue River, Driftless Wisconsin


The next morning we hit Blue again and headed upstream. It was Monday morning and not a soul to be seen. We spotted trout left and right, darting from undercuts and shooting downstream as we approached. We walked a good chunk of the Blue and came across a lot of nice riffles and bends, deep pools and boulders, current breaks. Nothing doing. Were we too late? We didn’t arrive stream side until about 9am. Did I blow it? No rises, no boils. Nymhps to dries to terrestrials again.

We sat and had an early lunch while Spence contemplated his Fly selection.

Lunch stream side in Driftless


Heading on, my mind raced. The day before and right now, are carbon copies. What are we doing wrong? Weather was great, two different times of day. Different approaches. It just wasn’t happening.

Fly fishing at Drifless


We headed back to the car and after hitting Blue and Big Spring, 6 mile etc.. I decided to head to a whole different water system. Maybe it was this “section” of Driftless Area streams? Something was turned off. Something wasn’t working..

We headed to The Green River. 40 mins later we were pulled up to a bridge and unloading. I could see in his face he was disappointed. It was almost a chore for him to get out of the car and grab his rod one more time. What for? Casting for what? What is the point? I decided to fish a bit more aggressively. I stood back earlier and let him do his thing, not really trying too hard to get into trout myself but at this point, this kid needed a trout in his hand. From my fly or his, it didn’t matter to me.

We scampered under the bridge and casted a bit as we saw a few rises under there. My first cast I hooked into a nice sized brown. Hooked into and lost.. but hooked into none the less! He quickly perked up.

“Thats a good sign buddy! Maybe we are finally on em!”

“Yeah!” he said, determined.

A few casts later and I was able to land him. I asked Spence to hold him, to release him and he wouldn’t. I think it was a pride thing. Im not sure. He wanted to catch his own and I understood that. But with the past 24hrs… who is to say there are more to come?

We worked that area for another 10mins and headed downstream. The first bend and riffle I came to I casted in a nymph and just let if travel down the riffle. I felt a tug and saw a flash of a nice big Brown. I pulled my line out of  the water and called Spence over. He tried and tried and couldn’t get him. I walked on down another 30′ into the tailwater and casted in again. 2 casts later and the same thing. I pulled my line out and called Spence to this section now. He still couldnt get into them but at least he was excited as we new this stream was much more active then the mornings.

Diftless Area, Wisconsin


We walked on down to a great riffle that spills into a nice deep pool with a few bends to boot. Nothing. He wasn’t casting where I needed him to and wasn’t hitting as far as I needed him to. I had given up on technique and just tried to put him as close to a spot as he could get.

We waded on down hopping on and off of the banks as we went. The water and scenery was gorgeous. After another 40 mins of nothing we decided to call it. There was a Hardees in Fennimore couldn’t get out of my mind! On the way back, flys in their keeper we came back to the riffles and the deep pool in the picture above.

“Hey buddy, lets just hit this for a few minutes, it would be INSANE for their not to be Trout in here..”


Driftless Area, Wisconsin


We both casted in and around the pool. I tried to get him to cast past the riffles and let it naturally proceed down into the tailwater. He just couldn’t get it going. I saw Trout hitting surface bugs just in between the tailwater and riffles. I casted into the riffle myself, let it glide down and the 3wt dropped down as my rod bent.  A nice small brown. I felt better.

I moved my rod over by him so he could unhook and release it. He did. He held it for a minute. He felt the fins and the sides. He looked at it, but not too long and I could tell he was happy.

Driftless Brown Trout


In the end however, it wasn’t his. He didn’t earn it. I think he felt that and within a few minutes of walking back upstream after fruitlessly trying for that 2nd trout that kept hitting in the tailwater as we wrestled with this one.. he became quiet.

Its a long drive and a long few days of fishing for a 9 year old. I forgot that a few times. When I fish I bring a small bottle of water at best. I have to remind myself to drink it to boot! Im focused, Im maddened and full of zeal and passion. He is 9.

We got back to the car and both resigned to start heading back home ( via Hardees! ) We talked some on the ride. Talked about the day as we ate our burgers and wondered which one of us smelled worse. When we hit the expressway back to Chicago it was quiet. I looked back and saw a 9 year old that was perfectly content. Eating a Blizzard from the Oasis, watching Star Wars ( THE ORIGINAL!) on my IPOD and just enjoying himself. I hope he enjoyed the whole trip even though we didn’t accomplish our goal. I tried to tell him of my first trip to Driftless and the 10 hr day I spent NOT catching trout let alone even seeing one. I do not think it mattered much to him. This time though, it mattered to me and I hope I did OK as a Dad, as a guide and as a fishing buddy.


I cant help but feel I failed him as a guide but only hope he will give me a 2nd chance down the road. Because I plan on fishing with this kid for the rest of my life.

Who the hell else is going to wheel me into a river?

4 comments on “Driftless Area, Grant County: Trouting with the son!

  1. Outstanding post. You have me feeling so bad for you son. He’ll definitely get them next time! At least he saw some riffles his first time out there. Ha

    The pictures you took are amazing. Definitely captured some moments that will be long remembered between the two of you. I bet he was thrilled to see some horses up close and personal while fishing. I know I’d be!

    Can’t wait to read about your next and sure to be successful adventure up to the driftless with your son!

  2. HAHA! I thougtht the exact same thing, I thought of showing him a picture of RIFFLES but only I would find that funny.
    With the horses, I told him “Just go up and grab the mane, you can ride that Horse all day! They dont mind. Grab the Mane and pull yourself up.. I did it all the time when I was a kid. In Chicago..”
    “DAAAAD…..your lame…”

  3. Fish or no fish, I can’t imagine that he didn’t love the adventure. Those trout can be finicky and I am sure with time, he will end up catching a crap load of them.

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