My son Bode (Bo-Dee) and I took an overnight trip to the Driftless on Friday and Saturday and enjoyed ourselves very much. We set out after I got home from work Friday, picking up some provisions in Viroqua before heading to Avalanche to camp.
On the way we passed a few Amish buggies pulled by horses, and some Amish farms where we were greeted by waves and smiles as we zoomed by in our car. Bode had never seen any Amish buggies or farms before and was curious to know what it was all about. I explained it as best I could and he was fairly fascinated, as a boy who likes to make what he can by his own hand, at the lifestyle and talents of the Amish.
We enjoyed a quiet night camping in Avalanche and woke up at six on Saturday to go fishing. Bode was using a spinner while I walked along with him, fly rod in hand. We got to the next plunge pool upstream, the water still churning brown from days of rain. He made several nice casts to the top of the pool when suddenly his line tightened. He initially thought he had snagged something but then began cranking the reel. His line danced, but in the way Andre the Giant might dance, more deeply rooted than ephemeral.
Bode, having had very few large fish on the end of his line previously, cranked and cranked his reel until the spinner was an inch from his rod tip. The fish revealed itself in the surface film and we both let out a hoot.
This fish was one that many fishermen don’t get the chance to catch in a Driftless stream, and Bode had gotten one a few days past his twelfth birthday, in the first half hour of fishing.
Wow! Way to go Bode!
Bode with a 21″ male Brown Trout, caught in a Vernon County spring creek.
Well, John and Stephen and I had a leisurely start to the day on Saturday and got ourselves up to Billings Creek near La Farge (French for “The Farge”) in Vernon County mid-morning. The stretch we’ve fished before made for difficult fishing. John got a couple of browns to hook up on a Marabou Leech and actually lost one as it skittered away under an ice shelf. That was the theme of Billings Creek on Saturday, those ice shelves. In some areas, like the deeper pools, there was ice clear across the creek.
The scenery was stunning, with that beautiful fresh snow and sunshine, so that’s what holds prominence in my mind at the moment. The fishing was difficult and the icy lines and even icier guides made for some tedium. But the beauty of the day made it hard to feel too sorry for myself.
After a couple hours and some hot chili we decided to bug out and go down to Camp Creek near Viola. The water there was much more inviting, with no ice and lots of visuals on fish. The water was very clear and the fish were spooky as always. Camp Creek is all about stealth, whether it’s via the long upstream cast or getting down on hands and knees to do some Czech nymphing. I saw two riseforms, so there were trout eating some kind of bug on the surface. Nothing big enough to see though. I finally caught my trout on a small Pheasant Tail nymph trailing behind a streamer, and I held it up in the sunshine and admired it for a moment, happy to be a trout fisherman again.
We all returned to the city happy and tired, hoping to see spring break out sometime soon, when new plans will be made for seeking trout.
I hope those of you who went out to fish the opener enjoyed the great weather and had some success too. Best wishes in 2013!
Billings Creek, Vernon County, Wisc
Stephen Rose at Billings Creek
John Jackels works Billings Creek
March 2, 2013 on Billings Creek
A great bend pool on Billings Creek, frozen over…
Check out that horseshoe tree!
Look at how clear Camp Creek is behind my head
The spot where a hawk and a rodent met.
John Jackels at Camp Creek
Ride along with me and Stephen as we drive from Coon Creek toward Pine River through the Driftless.
Stephen Rose and I have been planning to take a trip to Vernon and Richland Counties for a few months now, and the stars aligned in our schedules to allow that trip to happen. We didn’t plan on Wisconsin being in the middle of a drought, though, and that made the fishing a bit tougher than we’d hoped.
We managed to catch a dozen fish between ourselves, but nothing with any real size. We saw a pike in Coon Creek and scouted a pair of 20-plus-inch fish as well, but the sun and biting flies got to be a bit much so we headed in to Borgen’s in Westby for some burgers, beers, and pie.
We caught our suppers each night, supplemented with venison brats and tabouli, and washed down with cold beers. We camped for free in Hennessy Hammocks and avoided a few bulls in their pastures without incident.
Stephen and I both agreed that we won’t be taking another extended trip to fish for trout until we get some more rain. Water levels are low and many streams are warm (though some are suprisingly cool, even well down their drainages). I was happy to see that even though we’ve been without rain, the streams appear healthy and the fish happy, and for the most part, the Driftless continues to show off its lushness.
Enjoy the photos for now, and looking forward, expect a few videos of our trip on the site too.
Coon Creek in Vernon County, Wisconsin
Scouting some big trout, Vernon County, Wisconsin
Stephen enjoying lunch at Borgen’s, Westby, Wisconsin
Pecan Pie? Are you kidding me?! Borgen’s in Westby, Wisconsin
Coon Creek Brown near Coon Valley, Wiscsonsin
Preparing supper along Coon Creek, Wisconsin
It always tastest better right out of the stream…
The Big Dipper above Wisconsin’s Driftless
Camp Creek Brown Trout, near Viola, Wisconsin
This stretch of Camp Creek is kind of pretty, don’t you think?
Stephen with a fish on, Camp Creek, Wisconsin
The Camp Creek Bandit.
If the biting flies hadn’t carried us away, we’d have stayed all day. Camp Creek, Wisconsin
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.
Len Harris (you know Len Harris, right?) has a nice report on club-reared Brook Trout stocked in Driftless area streams. Give it a read. And tell Len “Hello”.
Len’s report says the DNR gives these clubs fingerlings and the clubs raise them for one year before releasing them. One question I have, that I’ve asked Len about, is where the DNR gets the fingerlings? Do they collect eggs and roe from wild Brook Trout? I would hope so, in order to keep the genetics of these fish strong. The Pacific Northwest is having a raging debate right now about hatchery-raised fish competing with wild salmon and steelhead. Is something similar happening in Wisconsin?