The Driftless region in southwestern Wisconsin has become one of my favorite places to fish. My excuse to return this year was yet another tenkara gathering, being held in Westby. Unlike last year
when I carpooled with a friend and made the long drive up from Florida, this time I flew in to Minneapolis, rented a car and drove the short two hours down to my eventual destination.
(I had reserved a Toyota RAV-4, but upon arrival they didn't have that model and upgraded me for free to an Audi. Score?)
Considering that I flew in and didn't want to haul too much gear, I didn't camp this year. Instead, I stayed in a wonderful one room cabin on a gentleman's farm along Spring Coulee outside of Coon Valley. It was a great place to have as basecamp, as it afforded a hot shower, comfortable bed, and a bit of a escape from Mother Nature, particularly during a few of the wetter days of the trip.
Thursday, June 2nd was coincidentally my 45th birthday. It was also my first day in the Driftless. After that drive and upon arrival I quickly got on some nearby water to remove the skunk from the trip. A dozen or so healthy browns in a quick hour or so of fishing made it a happy birthday for me.
In the evening I headed over to the campground where the larger gathering was being held. It was good to see my friends again. We ate, drank, and caught up with each other.
A nice stretch of creek also flows right through camp, so I was able to pop in for a few casts for an enjoyable night cap.
Friday's plan was to hit two very different creeks. The first was one that I was introduced to in 2021. I had a really great day there last year, catching the largest fish of that trip.
While I didn't quite replicate the size of the fish from a year ago, the numbers added up very quickly despite the cloudless, bluebird skies. And let me tell you, it was HOT in that sun... and that's coming from someone who lives in Florida!
Fishing through the early afternoon on the first creek, I wanted to switch things up and fish a bit more intimate water. And by intimate I mean the size of the water, not necessarily the venue.
A short drive later put me on a very small creek, only 4 or 5 feet across in most places. The stream also happens to run alongside a popular tavern. I had people watching me fish from the outdoor deck! Fortunately, the fish cooperated, quickly removing any performance anxiety the audience may have created.
After a quick stop at the cabin to cool off and clean up with a welcomed shower, I headed back over to the campground for another evening of hanging out.
(My friend Zoan summarized the vibes from the Driftless gathering...)
Bring on the rains! Weather allowed an opportunity to sleep in a little bit before meeting up with my friends Anthony & Bryan on one of the more popular streams in the area for a morning of fishing. Fortunately, the threat of weather must have been keeping other anglers away, as we had the preferred section of the stream to ourselves... well, with the exception of a very friendly farm cat.
Eventually, Bryan had to leave, so Anthony & I ran into town to grab some lunch before we parted ways as well.
Really wanting to catch some brook trout, I spent the rest of the afternoon (in steady rains) pursuing my quarry in some "new to me" water. At least the soaking was worth it, catching several browns and even more small brookies before bringing a solid 12-inch brook trout to hand. A definite highlight for this stream.
Weather-wise, Sunday was not much different than Saturday. Light, but steady rains fell for most of the day. However, the temperatures were cooler and the fish were active. Very active. Extremely active. Basically eating anything. I was most successful with beadhead kebari, nymphs, and leech patterns, but I don't think it really mattered much what was on the end of the line.
I'm not one to count fish, but if I were actually keeping track, 100 wouldn't have been a stretch to describe my tally from what is quickly becoming my favorite creek in the Driftless. Each riffle, run, or pool seemed to yield at least 7 or 8 fish. And I ended up fishing a lot of riffles, runs, and pools!
Getting tired of reading yet? Don't worry, only one more day.
This was the final day of fishing for me on this visit to the Driftless. While most of the region is generally flat, or what I'd consider rolling, countryside, I took the opporutnity to go down into one of the hollows that requires a bit of hiking before you're able to fish. Honestly, it's not that hard to get down into the valley floor where the creek is... but coming back up and out after a long day of fishing on the other hand...
I'm happy to report the extra effort was well worth it. The fish were plentiful, and the last fish caught, the one I'll call the "walk off brown", may have been the largest of this trip at 16+ inches. While that might not sound like a huge fish by Driftless standards, wrangling it on the Nissin Royal Stage 320 tenkara rod made for a fight of rodeo-like proportions.
And then just like that it was over. A return to the cabin, an evening of packing up clothes and gear, and one final night's sleep concluded this year's fishing fun in Wisconsin.
Tuesday morning brought a drive back to Minneapolis, killing a few hours at the Mall of America before catching a flight back to Jacksonville.
Now back at home, the longing for the "next time" has started to kick in a major way. Spring of 2023 just can't come soon enough!