Paradise Springs in Waukesha County, Wisconsin
This place, no doubt, is special. There is a good-sized spring that empties into a crystal-clear pool, and this pool holds some of the best-educated Brook Trout in the state, and perhaps the nation. The reason: These fish are captive and they are hunted, almost constantly, by trout anglers. When I arrived I expected to see a car in the lot, maybe two at most. But the lot was full. Half of the cars belonged to fishermen. The 50-degree temps didn’t help to keep the crowds down.
The two anglers I spoke with, both from Illinois, were on their way out and claimed that they had each “got a couple” of fish fooled.
So I went up the short trail, found a spot amongst 5 other anglers, and tried a copper john below a hopper. A cast into this pool is like an explosion going off. The ripples travel forever across the water and there’s no sneaking up on anything. One by one, the other anglers relented and I did too. There was one solitary fisherman left once I had decided to reel in my line and become a day hiker. I never did see anyone catch a fish, but they’re in there, and they sure look appealing.
An angler at Paradise Springs, Wisconsin
Spring House at Paradise Springs
Spring House, Paradadise Springs, Wisconsin
Water welling up from the earth, Paradise Springs, Wisconsin
Paradise Springs, Waukesha County, Wisconsin
An old cabin along the Scuppernong River below Paradise Springs, Wisconsin
Over the weekend I took a trip down to Chestnut Mountian Ski Area, south of Galena, Illinois, to do my second job as a ski coach for the Blackhawk Ski Club. We had a great weekend and our kids were second as a team in the Giant Slalom Saturday, and first as a team in the Slalom on Sunday, and we ended up winning the overall meet against powerhouse clubs Tyrol Basin and Cascade Mountain. Way to go Blackhawk!
Coaching skiers at a ski race involves standing at the bottom of the course, cheering on skiers, giving out high fives and fist bumps at the finish, and talking about the run the skier just had. It’s an interesting experience, and a lot of fun. But, I didn’t really move from my spot for two days, and if you’ve ever stood on the side of a hill for two days, you too may want a change of scenery.
So, when the race was over Sunday afternoon, I drove north through the beautiful town of Galena (it is seriously a very cool place) and headed north to Wisconsin. I decided that since I was in the Driftless I’d take in some sights I’ve not seen before. After passing through Hazel Green I checked my GPS to see that there was a river flowing southward on the east side of Benton and Cuba City that I’d not seen before. I took some county roads and made my way toward the river.
The Galena River is not designated as a trout stream, and it likely gets too warm and flows too slowly to support a trout population. I stopped at the river on Twin Bridges Road and got out with my fly rod and camera. I did some fishing with a wooly bugger, a copper john, and a hopper pattern, but didn’t get any interest from the smallmouth bass that may have been swimming there. It was nice to unwind with some casting and waiting, and it made me wonder why trout fishing has to close down for several months of the year in Wisconsin. I can’t, for the life of me, understand the science behind this law. Perhaps there is concern that spawning and reproduction will be disturbed by fishermen wading through redds. Perhaps it’s more of a cultural thing. Winter is for ice fishing, you idiot. I don’t know.
At any rate, being outside along that pretty river was a nice way to end the weekend, and I’m glad I did a little exploring.
Galena River near Benton, Wisconsin
Galena River near Benton, Wisconsin
Galena River east of Cuba City, Wisconsin
Twin Bridge Road passes over the Galena River, Lafayette, County, Wisconsin
Gravestone at Carr Cemetery near Cuba City, Wisconsin
Moonrise over Lafayette County, Wisconsin
As you may have read, I went fishing on September 30th and had a good time. I think there are a few things I can attibute my success to.
- Trout are starting to spawn, so hormones are cranked up, meaning fish are more aggressive.
- After sticking with fly gear all season long (almost exclusively) my ability to cast with a fly rod has improved a lot, including roll casting.
- I have learned that stealth is much more important when using fly gear (as opposed to spinning gear) because long-distance casting is much less an option with a fly rod.
- Fly selection – with spinners it’s one of two options: a gold #9 Panther Martin, or a silver #9 Panther Martin. With flies, the options can be overwhelming. But if you have the wrong fly, you won’t catch fish.
Hormonal Fish, Correct Fly, Stealthy Approach all lead to a beautiful hookup
A Crawford County Spring-Fed Trout Stream
Speaking of using the correct fly, I had hookups and strikes aplenty using a Hopper with a Copper John dropper. Mid-day, when I started fishing, every fish I caught was on the Copper John dropper, nothing on the Hopper. But as the sun started to get lower in the sky, the fish switched over to the Hopper and ignored the Copper John that was ticking along the streambed. I have no idea why this happened. I think I may have had a couple of double strikes, meaning one fish went for the Hopper and one went for the Copper John, at the same time. I never did get a double hookup though.
I also had zero hits on wooly buggers, Griffith’s Gnats, or any other patterns I tied on.
Hunger or Aggression? This Brown started a surface fly-eating trend.
Driftless spring creek Brown on a Hopper fly.
All this is to say that when things aren’t going right, it’s hard for a novice fly fisherman to figure out what to do. Is it the fish? The fly? Am I being too loud? Casting shadows? Wearing the wrong color hat?
So many choices, and without experience or a guide, it’s difficult to know what to do. Luckily, once in a while you have the day you’ve been hoping for all year.
Yes, it’s true. I had the most success I’ve ever had fly fishing for trout yesterday.
I went and visited Todd Opsal at On The Creek Fly Shop before heading west to Crawford County, and he talked to me about a fly I’d never used before, the Copper John. Todd suggested I tie on a hopper surface fly with a Copper John dropper. So that’s what I did. My second cast yielded a fish.
Plum Creek Brown on a Copper John
As for where I fished, I wanted to try a couple of streams I haven’t fished previously. Using Google Maps and the DNR Trout Stream data, I found two streams that looked good. A year ago I called someone at the Crawford County Government Offices and asked if there were any county parks with camping there (there aren’t). I also got to talking with the man on the phone about trout fishing and he said “Plum Creek is the best trout stream in Crawford County”. For some reason that stuck in my brain. Well the stats do look good (5.2 miles of Class 1 Trout water, native Brook and Brown Trout, no stocking), and I imagine that had something to do with him claiming it was the best trout stream in the county.
The upper reaches of Plum Creek in Crawford County
I don’t know that you can blankly state a particular stream is the best out of all the streams in Crawford County. That place is an embarrassment of riches, with so many good trout streams you’d be hard pressed to fish them all. Even non-designated streams are full of trout!
Todd Opsal of On the Creek Fly Shop, whom I may have mentioned earlier having helped me with my fly choices, concurred that Plum Creek was a nice choice, and he had fished it once before and enjoyed it, and told me about a friend of his, Bill, who fished the lower section of the creek and got some nice biggerr fish.
My second choice was one I’ll leave off the books, but it’s near another creek I’ve fished that is full of fish, and it worked out nicely for me yesterday and, well, you know…
Another nice place to fish in Crawford County
So, I fished a couple of great places, caught a lot of nice fish, and feel really good about it all. It’s hard to beat seeing a fish slam your hopper fly off the surface of the water seconds after it lands on the water with so much force it startles you.
The events leading up to this moment were a great deal of fun.