Stephen Rose and his son Heron (named for a bird that Stephen admires, but also named for Hank Aaron, Stephen’s childhood baseball hero) went out to the Driftless yesterday with a spinning rod and some #9 Panther Martins and got after it, with encouraging success.
They found the stream they were fishing loaded with Brook Trout, and the Brook Trout were much further down in the system than they tend to be during the warm months. It is our suspicion that they’re comfortable lower downstream right now because water temps are still cool enough for them to feel comfortable.
The fish in the photo below has some health issues. Not sure what it is, but it looks like fin rot to me. Has anyone seen this before in trout they’ve caught?
At any rate, It’s gratifying to me to see a young fisherman like Heron get out there with his dad and catch fish, especially on a day that snow fell from the sky. Way to go guys!
A nice-sized Driftless Brook Trout, suffering from fin rot, me thinks.
Heron and Stephen after a successful outing in the Driftless of Wisconsin
Stephen Rose and I visited the Milwaukee River yesterday afternoon. Look at that picture down there. Isn’t that a beautiful place? That could just a well be the West Fork of the Chippewa River in Vilas County. But it’s not. It’s in Milwaukee.
Stephen and I have talked frequently about what it means to have “non-invasive” non-native fish in our water system. I found out that the village of Grafton, which had a referendum on what to do with the dam in their community, voted to keep the dam in place, but to put in a fish way to allow fish passage up and down the river. The DNR, later on, determined that it would be a bad idea to allow fish to migrate upstream of Grafton because of the risk of invasive species like Asian Carp invading the upper Milwaukee River system. At some level I agree that it would be good, if Asian Carp were to make their way into the Great Lakes, for them to be prevented from invading the upper Milwaukee River. But I also think it would be a good thing for Brook Trout to be able to migrate from spawning areas in the Northern Kettle Moraine creeks all the way out to Lake Michigan and back. We’re not going to get anywhere in reintroducing native Coaster Brook Trout into the Lake Michigan Tribs if they can’t get from the lake up to the creeks at the upper reaches of watersheds like the Milwaukee River.
So, how do we all determine what’s best? How is the presence of large, non-native predatory salmonids in the Great Lakes appropriate? Salmon and Steelhead are certainly admirable creatures. Their migrations are awe-inspiring and spectacular. But how does their presence negatively affect the native Bass, Pike, Suckers, and Whitefish, not to mention Brook Trout and Lake Trout, both of which are also native?
These questions are larger than me. Many people don’t even care, or don’t even know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we humans are programmed to reshape our world to our liking, and introducing Salmon and Steelhead into the Great Lakes is just part of our role in the world.
Anyway, a couple of boys were fishing along the bank and were slinging lures at Salmon. They didn’t know what they were doing. They weren’t having any luck. One ended up snagging one in front if its tail and was having trouble getting it to hand. I asked if I could lend a hand, and waded over to collect the fish, pull the hook out, and give it to the boy for his buddy to take a picture. He was genuinely in awe of the creature, a large, toothy fish half his height in length.
He asked if I’d caught any and I said no, I hadn’t. He wished me luck and as I left he expressed his love for the Milwaukee River. So, did that Salmon get him to fall in love with the river? It probably had a lot to do with it. And that, to me, seems like a good thing. If people care about a place because of their experiences there, it makes sense to provide them with cool things to experience in that place. It’s hard to fall in love with a polluted and fishless river. But a clean, swift moving river full of big fish will draw a lot of visitors to it. Those visitors will want to see that the river is taken care of. So maybe introducing Salmon and Steelhead is overall a positive. It’s hard for me to say. Perhaps you have some ideas? I’d love to hear what you all have to say.
Milwaukee River, October 25, 2013
Here’s why you shouldn’t harvest that 30-inch brown you pulled out of the Driftless. Why we don’t have slot limits in our trout streams is beyond me.
Uh oh. The cat has been let out of the bag.
Well, maybe not to the degree a front page spread in the New York Times would garner. But Field and Stream, no slouch in the outdoor sporting world, has a short missive on fishing Wisconsin’s Driftless.
The descriptions all sound accurate to me. The technical nature of fishing small spring-fed creeks, the hassles of casting a fly to a spot surrounded by willow saplings, the challenge of navigating country roads past gruff and grim farmers to find pools of 8″ fish, all separate the small stream anglers from those who’d prefer to sit on their bass boats and suck Miller Lite all day.
Let’s face it. There a large helping of “fu-king around” that goes into a day of fishing in the Driftless. It can be hot, buggy, dirty, mucky, and unfulfilling. But if you figure it out, it can be that thing you find it hard to stop daydreaming about.
So let the magazines tout the Driftless. The Driftless deserves it! More press means more attention spent on keeping it nice, on ensuring these beloved streams flourish.
Camp Creek on a summer morning
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