Stephen, Fred and I took some time on Easter to hit the Driftless. There were clouds all morning and patches of drizzle. At around 2pm the drizzle picked up and started feeling like rain showers. At that moment, for a period of about thirty minutes, the fish went mad. Fish were biting flies, nymphs, streamers, pink squirrels, brown beavers, green boogers, and yellow Bio-Strike. Most of the Brown Trout I caught during this period went airborne as I tried to play them to hand.
And then, nothing. Once the showers became steady and constant the fish hunkered down, back to being their normal Trouty selves.
Gosh, that was fun!
A Driftless Brown Trout with Easter Egg Colors
September is one of the best months to chase trout in Wisconsin’s Driftless creeks. Nights are cool and water temps are prime for fish activity. Lots of terrestrials are active in their riparian habitats, and fish hormones are starting to crank up in anticipation of spawning season. All this means good fishing!
Stephen Rose and I headed out of Madison to Crawford County to camp out overnight near a Kickapoo tributary. Hennessy Hammmocks fit the bill nicely for roadside camping because you don’t need a flat spot on the ground, just a couple of stout trees and away you go. Camping in the trees and dreaming of fish. How could you do any better?
The cicadas sung me to sleep and the sun woke me the next morning. We packed up our sleeping gear, put on waders, drank a little coffee and walked a hundred yards to the creek. A fog hung over the creek and it made me feel as though the underwater world and the world we inhabit above the water were melting into one, as if the fish could have swum up out of the water and into the mist lying between the banks.
I tied on a foam cricket and got after it, landing a couple of twelve inch brown trout, and Stephen had similar luck on hoppers. The fishing remained good throughout the morning, but we found fewer and fewer fish willing to rise, so we switched over to nymphs and continued to have success.
If you’ve been putting off a trip to the trout stream, now’s the time to get out there. The season ends at the end of the month, so take advantage while you can!
A glorious spring-fed creek in WIsconsin’s Driftless Region
Success with a foam cricket in early September on a Kickapoo River tributary
Stephen Rose fishes hoppers in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin
Pink flowers line the stream in September
A bruiser Brown Trout from a Wisconsin Driftless stream
Stephen Rose casting to a lie on a Kickapoo tributary
I’ve been a guided client a few times in my life. I never thought much about how the guide felt during the experience. A guide’s job is to shepherd you through an activity that they know a great deal about, not only teaching you how to do it, but also going a step further to make sure that you are actually having some success while under their tutelage.
What I mean by this is, if you haven’t done something before, you will obviously need to learn a bit about it before you can do it, unless you’re bungee jumping, I suppose. Not much learning there, I wouldn’t think.
Bungee jumping is an easy thing to do successfully, even if you’ve never strapped in to a bungee cord before. The “guide” who shepherds you through the bungee jumping process does arguably half the job of a fishing guide or mountaineering guide.
A newly-made fly fisherman, learning to cast to a dinner plate-sized target.
A fishing guide must show the client how to approach the water, how to cast, where to cast, what to use, how to adjust, and on and on, all the while working his damnedest to find the fish and get them to take the fly so the client can feel successful.
Last November when Stephen Rose and I went up to the Brule and hired Tim Pearson as a guide to show us how to fish for Steelhead, I was generally satisfied to understand the what and the how. I was hoping to catch a fish, but it wasn’t something I expected. If I were to learn the ways of fishing for Steelhead I knew I could return year after year and put that knowledge to use to have success.
But Tim had a serious look of relief when both Stephen and I had each caught a fish. And now I understand why.
A cold water spring dumping out of the hillside in Iowa County, Wisconsin
Showing Eric the ways of spring creek fly fishing on Saturday, I was happy with the job I did teaching him the “how”. I believe he could go out and gear up, hit the water, and make casts to likely holding lies. And if you do that enough, you’ll catch a fish.
I really, really wish I could have gotten a fish onto Eric’s line, but it didn’t happen. I’ve heard stories of clients who were angry with their guides when the didn’t feel like they got their quota of fish. I can’t imagine how I’d handle a client who acted that way, but I know that’s what paying clients expect from a day out with a fishing guide. That’s a big reason for hiring the guide.
Eric was a model client, and I really appreciated that. There was not a hint of blame from him, indeed just the opposite. He showed an appreciation and new knowledge for the challenges of spring creek fly fishing. Eric can do what he pleases with the skills and knowledge he picked up on Saturday. Hopefully the skunking won’t deter him from trying for trout another day.
As for me, I can’t say I’m longing for another chance to be a guide. It was a pleasant day out with a new friend, but I can see how a fisherman who turns his hobby into a job by becoming a guide might start to have mixed feelings about fishing. I plan to get out and teach others to fish, and hopefully more often than not, we’ll get some fish on that line of theirs.
Eric executing a nice roll cast to waiting trout.
After spending another half-week in LA last week, I had a night at home on Thursday and then took off for Cedarburg with my two dogs and three sons to visit my folks. My dad’s cousing Lee Swenson was in town for a short visit from Palo Alto, CA. The last time I saw Lee was in 1993, when I was 15. I enjoyed spending time with him in San Francisco then, and had an equally nice time with him over the weekend. At age 68 he still backcountry skis on Telemark skis in the high Sierras and does a fair bit of mountaineering as well. Lee took a shine to my dog Louie. Lee grew up with a dog but hasn’t had one since, and he and Louie got along like old buddies.
Lee Swenson and Louie in Cedarburg, WI
Lee had visited Taliesin the day before we saw him, and he couldn’t say enough about the beauty of Southern Wisconsin. He said the farms were just the right size, there were healthy crops everywhere, and beautiful deciduous tree-covered hills everywhere you looked. I couldn’t agree more.
I took a little time Saturday morning to fish for Smallmouth on the Milwaukee River in Grafton, Wisconsin. The section I fished runs through Lime Kiln Park and used to be dammed up. But the dam came down last year and the river is vibrant and free-flowing. I landed a couple of 6″ bass, but enjoyed myself nonetheless in this scenic, healthy river just 15 minutes north of Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee River in Grafton, Wisconsin
This morning I took a little time to fish my home waters of Black Earth Creek. I landed a nice rainbow in this section along with one smaller brown. Both were on nymphs. I tried dries of many shapes and sizes but the fish were not rising this morning. The creek is really blooming with aquatic plants, making clean sub-aquatic drifts difficult. But the fish are there and the water is clear and lovely, so I can’t complain too much.
Black Earth Creek, Dane County, Wisconsin
I’m scheming to take a little trip in July to Crawford and Vernon Counties, Wisconsin’s trout mecca, in my opinion. My birthday is in July and I have a willing co-conspiritor in one Mr. Stephen Rose, so hopefully that will be etched in stone shortly. It is almost July, after all. I do believe I’ll catch an armload of fish on a few of my favorite Driftless streams when that trip comes to pass.
Here’s some video of me talking about a trip I was on this summer in Crawford County.
Here are some shots of the colors this fall in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. I hope you enjoy them.
The Kickapoo River, Crawford County, Wisconsin
The "Kick"apoo, Driftless, Wisconsin
Soybeans and Corn ready to harvest, Crawford County, Wisconsin
The road leading home, Crawford County, Wisconsin