For me the summer ends with trout fishing in the Driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin, followed by sealing my driveway. Neither one has any thing in common, or are similar in any way. Although someone out there is reading this and saying, “Well that’s not really true; water is involved in both of them.” Really? You believe treated water from a hose is anywhere close to that which comes bubbling up from the ground, filtered by limestone, cold and full of bug life? And some of it is filled with fish. Go ahead seal your driveway and tell me that that black water is anywhere near what I was standing in and tie a string to that black broom and make believe you’re standing in some of the best trout water anywhere. See, nothing in common; except for the guy waving a stick with a string.
And that’s what makes it interesting. This year, four of us gathered at the Pietsch Tree Inn for three nights and two days of fishing. And we got up there early enough for some of us to get in some quick casts before darkness fell on us. And it gets dark, freshly sealed asphalt dark up there. I caught a bat on a back cast and flipped it into the pool. I don’t like bats and this one was the fourth one I’ve caught on a dry fly. I often think there should be a category, best bat flies. But then we’d get into selective bats, match the bat hatch and what kind of guano you’d need to search for. So I fish for trout.
There is a lot of water up there. A lot of really beautiful streams and the best way to figure it out, whether it’s your first time or last time, is a couple of things. Get a Gazetteer, (preferably a Wisconsin one) then go to the DNR website and check out the maps and mark some on your gazetteer and plan on having a look at them when you get there. Also, for some of you, book a guide; you’ll be glad you did. Finding the entrance can be a problem. Many have the yellow or white signs and some don’t but check your map before you start climbing fences. Most entry and exit points are marked. If it’s going to be your first time start at Timber Coulee or the West Fork of the Kickapoo as these streams are easy to walk, in some places there’s even benches and bridges. It’s like trout Disney world. And now repeat after me: riffle, run, pool. Again; riffle, run, pool and finally one more time: riffle, run, pool. This is the driftless mantra. The conservation groups do a great job of creating perfect trout habitat and once you figure out what to throw, catching can be great fun.
And what happens when you decide to go someplace else? Where would I go you ask? I really can’t tell you. Well that’s not really true, I will tell you this: I went to the West Fork of the Kickapoo, Rouland’s coulee, the Timber coulee and three streams that I like.
And bring three rods or more: a streamer rod, a nymph rod, and a dry fly rod. In the morning throw streamers, then have lunch and try out the Echo Shadow II nymph rod, and then get out that rod that you saved all your money for, that little dry fly rod and throw dry flies when the hatches start coming off the water. Then go find a good place to eat and drink beer.
Like all fly fishers who tie, I bring a lot of flies. And yet I only seem to use a few. Go figure.
So for streamers its: yellow fox, woolly buggers (yep best fly ever), wild turkey marabou and ye olde pass lake fly and the occasional zoo cougar or big sculpin fly. Think six-weight here. For nymphs, of course I throw the pink squirrel, caddis, hare’s ear, rubber legged hare’s ear and whatever is available at the Driftless angler store in Viroqua. All trips to the driftless must have a stop to visit Matt or his wife. It’s a rule. Similar to the cheese curd one.
And then we come to that category filled with flies: Dry flies. So I’m a fan of Bob Wyatt, a grumpy guy from New Zealand who challenges the selective trout people. See why I’m a fan? But I throw his emerger patterns, a royal wulff because I like them, a humpy for the same reason, elk hair caddis and any elk hair pattern caddis that I think would work and something called a muddled damsel. Which is a big elk hair caddis pattern of sorts and it’s a good one to get big trout to smack it. Then of course there are Fran Better’s patterns that work very well up there. Like the haystack. You can look them up; if you’re reading this I know you can spell google.
There are those that say fishing that area can be technical and difficult. It can be but sometimes it’s just right and the fish come quickly and you never know if it’s going to be a bright little brookie or a hum dinger of a brown trout. Or a bluegill. I caught one last year on the west fork and one this year on the west fork, different locations but still, a bluegill? I will bring a camera with me next year, probably catch a pike. And there is a great fly for catching creek chubs, the black nosed dace, works great, never caught a trout on one but its sweet for chubs.
Couple of tips: If you’re new to all of this and you’re from the Chicago area, go down to the Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters (http://chifly.com/) and see about going to one of their schools. It’s worth it if you’ve never been there and Jon and the crew are very helpful and probably a lot better teacher than I’d ever be. I tend to walk away and let people flail because somewhere I lost that empathy and sympathy gene. Also if you’re an okay caster, practice throwing up high and because of the weeds and then practice those short fifteen foot casts as accurately as possible and work on mending. Long casts are okay but a good short cast…that works too. Wear sunscreen and long sleeve shirts and bring bug spray. If you live in Milwaukee, go see Pat Ehlers at the Fly Fishers, (www.theflyfishers.com) you’ll be glad you did and he can get you set up with good people as well. And if you find yourself just lost and want some help, talk to Matt at the Driftless Angler (www.driftlessangler.com) he fishes there nearly every day and as I said, I stop there every trip because it’s a law. So check out your local fly shop, talk to them, spend a couple of bucks and go have a good time. Fall is a terrible time to waste on the driveway.
Stuart Van Dorn