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
On Saturday I went out fishing with a fellow New Morning Nursery School dad, Eric. Eric had never been out trout fishing and the last time he cast a fly rod was in the Appleton West H.S gym back in the early 90’s. Interestingly, Eric and I both attended the College of Engineering at UW-Madison during the same period, but never crossed paths.
Saturday was a beautiful day. With Eric being new to trout fishing I decided to take him to a few of my favorite streams, where I was sure we’d be into fish. The first stream we visited, a tributary of the Kickapoo, had many many fish, but the water was low and clear and sneaking up on them was not easy. The second stream, a trib of the Blue River, was also very low and clear, and the fish were numerous there as well.
By the end of the day Eric had become a good caster. His roll cast is second to none, and his fly cast is much better than mine was after one day out. I hope to have taught him enough to allow him to carry on with fly fishing spring creeks if he chooses to.
What struck me was how much I rely on a long cast in conditions like these. Sneaking up on fish is well-nigh impossible, and the only way to fool them is to cast from such a distance as to make them think you’re not there. Of course a first-time fly caster can’t rely on a long cast, and so our luck was not good in catching fish. However, a few fish did bump Eric’s fly. I tried to convey to him that I’ve had many many outings with no fish to hand. Hopefully he believed me.
I intend to get out a few times this week to chase after trout. September is a special month to pursue trout, and I plan to take advantage of it.
A sizeable brown trout trolling the bridge pool of a Blue River tributary, Iowa County, Wisconsin
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
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.