I visited Black Earth Creek for an hour yesterday, aspiring to catch some trout on the last day of the inland waters trout season in Wisconsin. I knew it was a long shot though. The sun was out and the sky was blue, but moreover I was fishing in Cross Plains at Zander Park, a spot that just two months ago was being fully rejiggered by diesel-powered earthmovers and men in hard hats.
I saw another angler downstream of the now defunct On The Creek Fly Shop, so I started fishing the second pool in the “re-meandered” section. I saw a few little fish scatter as I moved along, drifting my nymph along. I moved up past the new bridge into the section of the stream that had not been reworked. Funny thing is though, it was getting reworked. With the gradient downstream restored to its more natural state, the speed of the water upstream has increased and now, instead of lots of muck and silt on the streambed, there are beautiful stones and patches of gravel. Water Cress grows along the banks, accompanied by Jewel Weed and Black-Eyed Susans.
Wading upstream, what used to be a chore in slogging through silt is now a pleasant and easy amble with solid footfalls. Trout will find plenty of places to drop their eggs and spawn, and hopefully multiply appreciably.
I look forward to visiting this spot next spring. As seasons come and go, the habitat will settle in, and so will the fish.
Black Earth Creek, upstream of the Zander Park bridge
The cool clear water of Black Earth Creek, running over the newly scoured streambed
I checked the Mequon-Thiensville Fishway Camera website this morning and got a big surprise. A picture of a native Coaster Brook Trout swimming upstream in the Milwaukee River.
This would not be so shocking to find in a tributary of Lake Superior, but I never imagined a Brook Trout would be swimming up the Milwaukee River. It goes to show that tearing down dams really does allow a river to support more wildlife.
If Grafton and West Bend would tear down their decrepit dams these Coasters would have a true shot at making their way up to Brook Trout spawning habitat in the Northern Kettle Moraine headwaters. Can you imagine the Milwaukee River being home to the only native anadromous salmonid? How cool would that be? Could West Bend become the Coaster Capital of the Midwest?
A Coaster Brook Trout swimming past the fishway camera in the Milwaukee River in Thiensville, WI
I’ve been reading the newsletters of the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club over the past few weeks and have learned a lot about their work to improve the Brule River fishery. One of the most incredible projects is the “Gravel Drops” they collaborated with the National Guard on years ago. The photos are really intriguing. Gravel, of course, is an important substrate for trout and salmon spawning and it allows the eggs a safe place to lie during maturation. Check out the pictures on their website. I think you’ll enjoy them.
I have also gleaned from the Club’s newsletters that they’re struggling a bit financially. This is a real shame, because their work has helped make the Brule a healthy fishery, giving all who fish it better opportunities to experience the tug of a wild Lake Superior Steelhead.
I am planning to send in my membership form with $20, and I’m also going to add a bit extra to help with the Habitat Fund. I’ll purchase a map and a cap as well and I encourage you to do the same, whether you’re an angler who loves the Brule, or just someone who loves the idea of the Brule.
National Guard and Brule River Sportsmen’s Club members spread gravel at Mott’s Ravine Bend in the Brule River in 1995. Click the photo to see the gallery.
I’m going to LA next week for work. The guys in our office in Hollywood joked that I should fish the LA River. Big carp and catfish dwell there in Los Angeles, where “A Sewer Runs Through It”.
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
Ten hours north of here lie dozens of rivers as fertile as the Brule River, and wilder to boot. Naturally-reproducing, wild Steelhead and Coaster Brook Trout swim in rocky, wild rivers.
A trip is in order!
Late April is only eight months away. Better get it on the calendar!
Check out this great episode of “Discovery”, a UP outdoors show, featuring Damian and Tim on the Brule. They sure do catch a lot of fish!
Our fourth day on the East Rosebud Trail found us walking over a snowfield and peaking out at the Continental Divide, made obvious by a large rock cairn that we each contributed to. It felt great to know that we’d climbed all the way to the top, and that in front of us the trail would descend again. However, the effort of walking downhill is not negligible, just different, from walking uphill. Your back feels it differently. Your toes do too. Your lungs though, they get a rest.
We came upon Russell Creek, every bit as beautiful as East Rosebud Creek, and flowing westward into the Pacific. More flowering meadows were laid out before us, and the rocks took on a different color and tone. Things looked a bit more rounded at their tops, and angular along their faces.
We passed a few hiking parties on the way to Bald Knob Lake, all of whom were headed “over the top” to the East Rosebud trailhead. Many people choose to start at Cooke City and end at East Rosebud, due to the fact that the elevation gain is significantly less.
We arrived at Bald Knob Lake and put down our packs and got out our fishing rods. The Brook Trout were rising everywhere and we had no trouble catching them, either on flies or spinners. They were all about six inches long, making them a bit ineffective as a main course for dinner, so we put them all back. They were all beautiful though, with their blue and red dots and silvery bodies.
I took a swim in the lake, finding an island to dive off of into a deep pool. The water was cold, but the refreshment overpowered the chill and I stayed in for ten minutes and relaxed. “No worse than Lake Michigan” I told myself.
Heron joined me for a very brief moment, throwing himself in and immediately getting back out. Bode came along too and waded carefully into the water, only going up to his knees until a little encouragement from Heron and me got him in up to his neck. He also got back out quickly but we all found the swim fun.
Our campsite was well suited for a campfire, so we indulged and got warmed up after swimming. The night brought fierce winds and we were all relieved to find the next morning that none of us was blown off the cliff and down the waterfall adjacent to camp.
Knob Lake was a beautiful enchanted place to visit and I’m glad we stopped there. Ouzel Lake is just a bit further down the trail, and it too looked to be a gem, so consider it for camping, swimming, or fishing as well.
After our night at Bald Knob Lake our final day on the trail lay ahead of us, another big hike of seven or eight miles.
Off to conquer the Divide! East Rosebud Trail
Wes crossing the snowfield at the Continental Divide, East Rosebud Trail
Continental Divide, East Rosebud Trail
Bode, Stephen, Heron, Wes, and Tom at the Continental Divide, East Rosebud Trail
Bode and Heron take in the view at the Continental Divide, East Rosebud Trail
Cairn Lake greets us as we continue west, East Rosebud Trail
Onward through stunning alpine meadows, East Rosebud Trail
Walking westward through the Russell Creek drainage, East Rosebud Trail
Stephen amongst wildflowers, East Rosebud Trail
Our troupe descends toward Russell Creek, East Rosebud Trail
A lovely butterfly near Russel Creek, East Rosebud Trail
A small lake forms from Russell Creek, East Rosebud Trail
Granite Peak (?) fades from view, East Rosebud Trail
Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Brook Trout filled Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
The sun gets low near Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Bode warms up near the fire, Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
- Our bear hang at Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Fishing rods at rest at Bald Knob Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Last we left off our troupe had just arrived at the unparalleled Fossil Lake. The guidebook stated that the lake is full of Cutthroat Trout, but they are often hard to locate as they tend to school together. Well, somehow, whether because of our superior collective intellect or our luck, we happened to camp in the vicinity of a very large school of these delightful and delicious fish. Bode and Heron were thrilled to have another dynamo fishing spot and were more than happy to put 5 tasty trout in our frying pan.
The boys started off fishing with their spinning rods and an assortment of old reliable Panther Martin Spinners (#6 sized). Stephen, after having set up hammocks for he and Heron, came down to the lake and assembled his fly rod, topped off with a size 14 adams parachute. His first three casts yielded him three nice trout and the boys picked up on this. They demanded to use their daddys’ fly rods and were given them unflinchingly. Some instruction ensued and before long each of these young men were catching 12″-14″ Cutthroat Trout with ease on dry flies. After our first night at Rainbow Lake the boys decided it would be worthwhile to tally the number of fish the boys had caught versus the number the men had caught. At this point I think the score was something like 70-10, in the boys’ favor. What more could a fisherman father want than for his son to catch the trout fishing fever at age 11?
After dinner we wandered across the way to the snowfield to have a snowball fight and look around. This was a moment we’d all been hoping to have and it was a great time. Afterward Bode and Heron and I walked up to the top of a prominent dome overlooking Fossil Lake. The flora was incredible and setting sun gave the surrounding peaks that wonderful warm hue that seems to make them glow. As we were sitting on top of this knob taking in the view I noticed a marmot not ten feet away resting on a rock, joining us in our repose. We sat there for a while admiring one another and then Heron grabbed my camera and tried to see how close he could get to snap some photos. As it turns out, Heron is good with marmots, so now we call him “The Marmot Whisperer”.
Night fell and all went to bed, but I decided to lay back on a slab of rock above our campsite to watch the stars pop out and see the moon rise over in the East. I saw one shooting star and couldn’t help but think to myself how fortunate I was to have taken on this new and unfamiliar challenge with my mates. We hadn’t really known what we were going to find or how our bodies would perform on the climb, but now with over half the trip behind us and each of us settling in to our routine I felt assurance that we wouldn’t run into undue hardship.
Heron and Bode fish Fossil Lake barefoot, East Rosebud Trail
The headwaters of East Rosebud Creek trickle down the mountain into Fossil Lake
Stephen with a nice Fossil Lake Cutthroat, East Rosebud Trail
Dinner at Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
How’s that for backcountry cooking? (East Rosebud Trail)
Bode chills at Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Wes watching over Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Snowfield on Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Let the snowball fight begin! (Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail)
Let the snowball fight begin! (Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail)
Stephen brings out the big guns, Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Round two, this time with feeling (Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail)
Where’s Wes? Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Castle Peak and Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Heron wandering the alpine wonderland around Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Bode and Heron at Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Marmot spotted, Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Amazing tiny flowers at Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Our campsite was in the trees above Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail
Heron’s marmot, photo 1, East Rosebud Trail
Heron’s marmot, photo 2, East Rosebud Trail
The marmots ducked for cover when a hawk was spotted overhead. East Rosebud Trail
A baby marmot at Fossil Lake, East Rosebud Trail