June 10, 2019

2019 Tenkara Wisconsin Driftless Campout

I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit pessimistic before my trip to the Driftless area of Wisconsin a few weekends ago. As the departure day of Friday got closer and closer, the weather forecast seemed to get worse and worse. Rain... lightning... more rain.. Saturday & Sunday pointed toward a washout. Just ask my wife how bummed I was, I even contemplated re-directing my flight elsewhere.

Fortunately, those weather forecasts were a bit misguided. For the most part, the area only got rain during the evenings, and nothing to negatively impact the fishing. Actually, the threat of rain probably kept some people off the water, which I'll certainly take.

I did a lot of fishing by my standards, and as such I'm not much for writing an extended fishing report about each outing. Rather, a short paragraph or two, and then I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

Friday: Sneaking in Some Stream Time

This was a travel day, and I was fortunate enough to arrived in Wisconsin with a few hours of daylight to spare. Hit a stream not too far away from my accommodations out of convenience. Caught fish almost right away using Anthony Naples' "Coulee Killer" nymphs. I had to dodge a few guys with spinning rods, but that didn't seem to impact the catch rate. We all seemed to be having luck.

The fishing outing was brief, as I met up with some tenkara friends over in Coon Valley for dinner, and then hung out a bit with them at the Esofea Park campground a little bit afterwards. Dave Knoll and Zoan Kulinski had organized this as a tenkara campout weekend, and about 20 anglers showed up. While not all were camping, the grounds were a great meeting & social spot for all the fixed-line folks in the area.

Saturday Morning: Game of Zoans

A full day of fishing was had on Saturday thanks to the weather being largely cooperative. In the morning I headed back over to the campground, had a little breakfast, and met up with Zoan Kulinski. Zoan had access to some private water, and took me over that way to spend the morning fishing it with him.

For whatever the reason, this was the most difficult fishing of the weekend. Not sure what I was doing wrong, spooking fish in the calm waters, whatever... Zoan was absolutely slaying them, but I only managed 3 browns and a brookie. I didn't mind, the company was good and the farm was really interesting, with tons of rusting old cars and trucks and a stand-offish bull in the surrounding field we had to carefully navigate while exiting.

Saturday Evening: Campground Water

After finishing up with Zoan, I headed back to my hotel, checked some work emails, stopped for some cheese curds, and then went back out and fished the water down stream from the Esofea campground. There was going to be a big tenkara group dinner there that night, so I figured I could fish upstream to the campground meet up with everyone for food, drink, and stories. This stretch of water was extremely active with an evening rise of browns. I stopped counting after 20 fish to hand. Most of the fish were caught on a beadhead kebari twitched either across or slightly faster than the the current.

As mentioned, we had a big chicken barbecue at camp that evening, trading stories and such of everyone's fishing that afternoon. Sounded like everybody had great fishing experiences. That lasted for a few hours until the skies opened and the downpour started - which kind of ended the night for many.

Sunday: Soggy But Slaying

I took a drive on Sunday morning to a stretch of water about a forty five minutes north from where I was staying. I had fished it with success a few years ago and wanted to see if it had changed much. Fortunately, it didn't.

The rain was pretty persistent in the morning, but seemed to slow around 10:00 AM, so that's when I dropped into the stream. This was an amazing stream to fish. Fish, after fish, after fish... all seemingly a minimum of 10", but most larger. While I didn't manage any brutes, I spent the entire day here, thoroughly fishing each and every riffle, run, pool, and bend. Again, with the water a bit high, a beadhead kebari was the star menu item.

Monday: Saving the Best for Last

All weekend, in the recounting of fishing stories by the campfire, a specific bit of water had been mentioned more than once for exceptional fishing. I hadn't visited it yet, so I planned to make it the final act of this Driftless adventure. Unfortunately, I had to wait until around 1:00 PM to give it a try as I had a few "Monday Morning" work things to remotely take care first, including a conference call.

This water isn't a secret by any stretch, but the section I fished required a little bit of hiking to get down to, and a bit more endurance to hike back up out of. Despite the later arrival, when I hit the water I didn't see any other anglers, which was a good sign.

I had fished for about a half hour, bringing about a half-dozen browns to hand when I saw three of the guys heading toward me downstream as they were completing their morning of fishing. It was Dave, Zoan, and Rob Worthing! They threw out all sorts of adjectives - "memorable," "phenomenal," "awesome" - when describing the fishing that awaited upstream, so hoping they didn't hook ALL the fish, I headed upstream in good spirits.

Holy crap. So. Many. Trout. They were hitting dries, they were slashing at subsurface, it was just a constant barrage of hook sets, net, release. I think this was one of the scenarios where it wasn't so much the angler, the techniques, or the flies, the trout were just "on." It was a great way to end the trip.

On to Next Year?

On Tuesday morning's flight back to Florida, I couldn't help but look back on another amazing weekend of Driftless fishing, (this was my fourth visit - and the best so far), while also looking ahead to returning once more next year. The fishing was top notch, the cooler weather was welcomed, and the company kept in the mornings and evenings was superb. Kudos and thanks go out to Dave and Zoan for organizing the weekend.

And from the looks of it, I'm not the only one who enjoyed myself... the dates for 2020 have already been set!


  1. Michael,
    Another great write up. It was really nice seeing you again.
    David Noll

    1. You too Dave, already looking forward to next year!

  2. Well, I guess one can't complain about a weekend like that. Hope next year is as good as this year. It'll be hard to top.

  3. Nice article, and a fabulous destination. Love the Driftless, it is perfect for Tenkara.

    1. I think it's perfect for any sort of technique. So much water, so many fish!

  4. Michael
    A few questions, did you use your fly rod, were all the takes from dead drifting the nymph, any use of an indicator, and did you try the pheasant tail, hares ear, or copper john?
    Congrats on a fantastic trip, one that my son and I will be making next year. Really enjoyed the read, thanks for sharing

    1. This was all with my tenkara rod. I don't use an indicator with tenkara and only nymphed in the deepest of pools. Most of what I fished were wet flies, and I would twitch them either slightly faster or across the current, depending on the structure and speed of water.

      I hope you and your son have a great time - you know where to find me if you're looking for any water to fish.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful write up about our little camp out. We already have 18 signed up for next year!

  6. Nice report, Mike! It was great seeing you in the Driftless this year!

  7. Nice write up! Can you share Mondays stream? Thx