Fishing The Driftless...It Wasn't Quite What I Expected...

May 08, 2015 Michael Agneta 23 Comments

I'm not exactly sure what I expected before I headed to Wisconsin. You read stories online of the Driftless, its magical spring-fed streams, and trout upon trout upon trout. While I don't doubt those tales to be true, I have to say, I was a bit befuddled when it came to fishing last weekend, at least with my tenkara rod.

Literally & Figuratively...

Hailing from Pennsylvania, the large majority of my tenkara fishing was done on somewhat high gradient creeks and small streams that had many features...riffles, pocket water, plunge pools, downed trees, etc...each that over time, you learned were fish holding environments, and idea places to toss your kebari/fly. In subsequent years, traveling to places such as Utah, Colorado, and the Smoky Mountains to fish only reinforced that concept of what tenkara trout fishing looked like. Then I went to Wisconsin.

Tiny winding streams, flowing thorough canopy-free cow pastures full of well...cow crap, featuring long runs of extremely shallow, clear, and glass smooth water...I honestly wasn't sure how to approach fishing it. Probably didn't help that the weather was absolutely beautiful, with hardly a cloud in the sky...casting shadows certainly wasn't difficult.


Now don't get me wrong, I caught fish in Wisconsin...but it certainly wasn't by using the "traditional" tenkara tactics that I was used to and were proven from previous experience. Actually, if it wasn't for my friend MacLoosh suggesting that I try tossing dry flies (Elk Hair Caddis), my fish numbers would have been far, far lower.


Actually, let's take a step back...in planning for the Midwest Tenkara Fest, one of my blog buddies, Mark Mlekush, inquired about fishing together while I was visiting. He had just purchased his first tenkara rod, and was planning on attending the MWTF on Sunday as well. I'm not one to turn down fishing invitations, so we ended up fishing together on both Sunday after the Fest, and pretty much all day on Monday.

It was definitely welcomed company. In the little bit of solo time I spent on the water on Saturday morning on Timber Coulee and Coon Creek before heading to the Fest for the day, I had caught a grand total of 3 fish using a combination of unweighted kebari, beadhead kebari, and pink squirrels. Ok, but not great.


That changed on Sunday afternoon once Mark suggested we target risers with the EHC. I spent our first stop on Rullands Coulee Creek basically figuring out how to approach the fish without spooking them...primarily using a floating tenkara line and a longer than normal length of tippet, I played with some fish but didn't catch any. I think Mark brought one or two to hand.

Mark with a Rullands Coulee Creek Brown

We then moved over to Timber Coulee and by the end of the night (it was starting to get late) I got on the board with 3 fish of my own...all rising browns...all on the Elk Hair Caddis. It felt good to get rid of the afternoon skunk.




The next day we met up again at about 9AM and decided we were going to hit a few more streams. Our first stop was Bohemian Valley...which actually had some trees...and some shade! I managed a hookup on one fish that was just sitting beside a log, but when I lifted my rod to set the hook I got snagged in an overhead branch and it popped off. Guess I was spoiled by fishing with no trees up until that point. Mark ended up sneaking off and fishing an even smaller feeder stream and landed a few brookies. That sneaky bastard...



From there we headed back down to Timber Coulee slightly upstream from where we fished the night before. It was game on! After an hour or so of slow fishing, things really started to pick up and I got 6 browns on dries in a span of about a half hour...bringing 5 to hand.  It was an absolute blast! Two came out of the same hole in an undercut bank as the caddis drifted on by. Both fish absolutely crushed the fly, one was a solid 15 inch brown, the second a carbon copy, only slightly smaller.





When I finally caught up with Mark, he was fishing quite a bit downstream, trying to pick up a trout that had been teasing him for about 20 minutes. Content, and just soaking in the "pastoral beauty" I rested in the field looking on...there's something to be said for just chillin' in the grass.

MacLoosh throwing loops


He never did catch that last fish, but I know he caught quite a few that day. I think it was a solid outing for the both of us. Now 5PM, we had intended on hitting Spring Coulee on the drive back to town, but I think we had both had our fill of fishing for the afternoon. Days where you leave the stream satisfied are always good ones.

Fly fishing tenkara in Wisconsin was definitely not what I expected, but I sure was glad to have a good friend like Mark point me in the right direction. While I found the fishing to be challenging, the scenery was beautiful, and much like the prior days at the MWTF, it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet someone you've been friends online for quite some time. Thanks again MacLoosh...I had a blast!


Postscript: 
Some people have interpreted this post as negative, or a slam on the Driftless. Quite the opposite. After fishing for trout in fast moving, high gradient streams all my life, the handful of slower, winding meadow streams I fished last weekend were definitely new (to me) and an interesting change and challenge. Not a condemnation of the area by any stretch, simply part of an enjoyable personal learning curve. I had a tremendous time fishing in Wisconsin and after only sampling a very small percentage of the waters the area has to offer, I look forward to going back someday.

I'm not exactly sure what I expected before I headed to Wisconsin. You read stories online of th...

23 comments:

  1. Good TR Mike! After reading yours and Anthony Naples', I really want to hit the Driftless area. Looks so beautiful and a nice change of scenery from Colorado. Did you ever fish the Big Thompson in Rocky Mountain National Park through the meadow when you were here? Looks kind of similar.

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    1. It's really a neat area Jason. I actually didn't fish the meadow when I was there. Quite a few fishermen beat me to it by the time I finally got there. I fished a bit upstream where there were more trees (and structure). Now that you mention it, I do see the similarities though...as long as you swap the cows for elk.

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  2. Mike,
    the next time you come contact me and you will have a completely different view of the area.

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    1. Thanks Len. I really did have an awesome time, so hope my post doesn't come off like I didn't, it wasn't meant to, only to contrast fishing high gradient streams vs. meadow streams.

      Only having time to fish a few sections of a few streams, I'd love to see more of the water that the driftless has to offer in the future!

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  3. For what it's worth, I didn't take your post to be negative. Rather, it seemed like a honest account of a challenging experience. Sounds like a cool place with intelligent trout, a must go for me!

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    1. Thanks Drew. I don't know how smart the fish were...maybe it was how dumb I was...

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  4. Hey Mike. I was going to suggest Len Harris as a guide and there he is. All those years I lived in Southern Wisconsin (all 9 of them) I never knew about the Driftless. Then again, at 9 your world is the 5 square block area around your house. I'm not sure my Dad even knew, but if he did he sure didn't tell anyone.

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    1. Yep, can't hide a post about the Driftless from Len. I thought he was out of commission with health issues, but have learned that's not the case.

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  5. looks like you fished in the "Trout Theme Parks" the DNR and TU love so much. That one looked like a native. Bring your warm water stuff when you come the next time also.

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    1. They sure could make the "theme parks" nicer if they offered cotton candy & funnel cake. I'd never leave.

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  6. Yeah, those streams look challenging to fish from my perspective, too. Harder to read where the holding spots under the water are, but I would one would have to assume they are hiding beneath undercut banks? I would imagine you need some good practice and skill around there to get the fly to drift exactly where you want it near the edge of the bank...

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    1. I found I had to stay low. Most of the fish I caught form the undercuts were from the fly kinda getting sucked into the darkness on the drift. Caught 2 back-to-back that way.

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  7. I think that you fished it better than I would have! It is just beautiful country for sure.

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    1. No way RD. I see those pics on Facebook that you don't post to your blog for some reason. You are a trout pro. I'm sure you'd show me more than a thing or two.

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    2. Yes RD, WI is a gem of a place. The dairyfarm trout fishing is unique and beautiful for sure. But I have to agree with Agneta.....you are humble at the least. I suspect you would have no prob filling a digital cam with trophy WI pics. Saw a few of your youtube fishing vids! You and the lady friends would fish circles around a lot if folks I know! Lol tight lines!

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  8. The great PR that the Driftless area gets is well deserved.

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    1. Couldn't agree more. Reminded me a little bit of central Pennsylvania, but definitely far more fishing opportunities.

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  9. Great post and pictures, Mike! I love going up there. You had more luck than I have ever had. I've only had 2 fish days. I need to learn how to carry myself like a feather. I'll never forget the first time I walked up to a stream on the Driftless and saw a bunch of fish scurry away, and I was about 15 ft away from the water. Long casts are a must, and so is being stealthy. Your post has motivated me. There's so much water up that was, it's crazy!

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    1. Stomping around is definitely counterproductive. Even though I cast a tenkara rod, I'm no ninja, so stealth is always at a premium.

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  10. Years ago on a trip there with a friend, I matched the hatch, drifted and floated everything and never saw a fish. On a break on a tiny bridge over a tiny creek, a guy comes comes out of the creek with a 5 foot ultra light spinning gear set up and a creel full of trout and bluegills. On the end of his line was a tiny Mepps spinner. Afternoon fishing, I tied on the biggest weighted streamer I had, cast it down stream, let it settle to the bottom and then ripped it back up stream as fast as I could. Trout came flying out from under cut banks to attack with abandon. Never did land one, but I was impressed with the quantity of big trout that were actually in the stream. Timber and Coon were the ones I had fished.

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    1. Nice. There were a lot of folks fishing with spinners, especially in Coon Creek. I was almost missing my UL spinning rod. I guess it was opening day of "catch & keep" season, and I think all of the water I was fishing was all-tackle. Lucky I'm not a gear snob.

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  11. Michael,
    Great report. It was really nice seeing you at the Fest. If you can make it out next year stay at the campground with us. I could bring and extra tent and sleeping gear for you. It's where all the cool kids hang out.

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    1. It was nice seeing you as well. Nice to get a bunch of enthusiasts in one place, no matter how silly the method of fishing we all like actually is. Not sure if I'll make it next year, but if I do, I might take you up on the offer. It'll probably rain or snow though...there's no way the weather could be nicer that this past year!

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