Showing posts with label MWTF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MWTF. Show all posts

June 17, 2023

Five Days in the Driftless

My flight landed in Minneapolis at 830am local time, about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The checked bag was among the first to emerge from the darkness and take its place to be claimed upon the conveyor belt. I watched it circle once before lunging to snag the handle. A short tram ride found no line to pick up my rental SUV. I paid for a Toyota, but they gave me a Mercedes. A bit fancy for my tastes, but so far everything was coming up roses.

Day 1: Why is it So Hot?

After an almost 3 hour drive through what seemed like endless construction I found myself in the heart of the Wisconsin Driftless. Hastily lacing up some wading boots and stringing up my tenkara rod, the harmonious melody that was my trip was interrruped by an abrupt record scratch. I couldn’t help but notice how hot it was. 92 degrees. In Wisconsin? The high in Florida was at least ten degrees cooler. It really didn’t matter. Well it did, but not that much. One of my favorite spring creeks lazily flowed before me. And I mean lazy. The water was low, the sun was high, but there were no other anglers to be found, and I was going to catch some fish.

Luckily, enough browns cooperated to make the back sweat worth it. You know the kind of humidity-induced perspiration that begins as a few individual drops rolling down your sides but evolves into a drenching so much that your shirt clings to your torso? Some might even call it moist. That’s a fun word to type. I may have shed the fishing skunk, but I’m sure by this time I smelled ripe.

Needing to check into my cabin, I cut the fishing a smidge short and headed over to the farm on which it was quietly located. Left a nice wet mark on that Mercedes’ haughty leather seat along the way. Did I mention how hot it was?

Now settled in the cabin for the night, a few of my friends (and roomates for the week) began to file in as well. Exhausted, I thought I was feeling the ill-effect of sunstroke. A blur of orange took over my eyes as they rapidly went in and out of focus. Fortunately, it was only Luong Tam walking through the front door.

Day 2: Cowtown

I met up with my friend Dave early this morning. You know Dave. Or likely know Dave’s voice. He’s the James Earl Jones of Tenkara Angler. We decided to drive a bit to fish a creek that is typically quite productive. I mean what kind of jerk would take his friend to a creek that sucks?

Much like the day before, the sun was high and the water low, but we found some riffles and deepish pools during our creekside meander. I’d pick up a fish, Dave would pick up a fish. This continued for about 45 minutes… and then some lifeguards on four-wheelers called an “adult swim” for the cows. All anglers out of the pool! I’ve never known livestock to be cognizant of stream etiquitte, and almost predictably they decided to seat themselves right in a pool Dave was working up to fishing. These were not the browns we came here for.

So, upstream we proceeded and each caught our fair share over the next 3 hours. The fishing wasn’t prolific, but it was good enough to keep our rods bent frequenly enough to avoid too many awkward, fishless silences. Note that I had said this creek was typically quite productive, not always quite productive. Happy with our morning of catching, we exited the stream and walked back to the car. Dave mentioned that his dermatologist would have been proud of him today. If you look at the photos, you’ll recognize why.

Day 3: North of the Border

I have a favorite creek in the Driftless. It’s a good drive north from where I usually fish. It might as well be in Canada. By name, it practically is. It’s lightly wooded and holds both brown and brook trout. It was still to be above 90 degrees this day and the shady spots were going to be welcomed.

This was a solo trip. Not that I keep the location of this stream under lock and key, rather I just wanted a bit of solitude. Growing up an only child, I don’t mind being alone, particularly in nature. Seclusion often authors the most interesting inner monologues. Well, I guess I wasn’t totally alone, as I did find constant companionship at the end of my line.

Later that evening was the main gathering of the Great Driftless Tenkara Campout. It was the total opposite of the morning’s tranquility. There were probably close to fifty people in attendance, eating, drinking, and talking about tenkara. There were raffles, presentations, casting contests, and story telling. I even had an extended conversation about ice fishing of all things. (Note, I’ve never ice fished in my life.)

I like being around people, but if I was to be recklessly honest, I don’t really enjoy group gatherings. They can be a bit much. A group of five is awesome. Ten is okay. But, fifty… well… Perhaps it goes back to that only child dynamic. But I attended for a bit, talked to some, and tried not to be too socially awkward. If I recall, my new acquaintance Bob characterized such activity not as antisocial, but rather nonsocial. That sounds good to me. Type As were seemingly too many to count. I’m fine with sitting back and being a Type X, Y, or Z. That said, my dysfunction should not take away from the fact that the organizers held an absolutely wonderful event!

Day 4: Put a Fork in It

This was by far the best morning of fishing of the trip. Chunky browns and some stray brookies were situated neatly beyond the pastures of a Mennonite farm.

If the water looked like it held fish, it did. Likely, two or three from the same run, given you coaxed them out of hiding just right. Lightly twitching, twitching, twitching, before feeling the sharp rebound of a take and the subsequent mounting pressure. You were nothing more than a flexed forearm away from fourteen inches of butter. It was glorious. And still hot. But I didn’t feel the temperature at all. Being distracted by the tugging of brown trout can do that to a person. I can’t say the same for the yogurt covered raisins stashed in my fishing pack.

A change of location and several hours later, my cabinmates and I decided to take a night out on the town and hit a local restaurant, and then try our hands at fishing the early evening that followed. As one might expect, there aren’t a lot of options to go out and eat on a Sunday night in the middle of mostly nowhere, but we found a welcoming establishment and ordered food. It eventually even got served, and obviously quickly eaten.

The fishing that followed was pretty good for the limited time we were out. A strange haze filled the sky. They said it was due to wildfires in Canada. (The real Canada, not the one from the day prior). It made for a surreal backdrop, not only for the evening, but for the rest of this trip to the Driftless in general.

Day 5: Donny Osmond Creek

Donny Osmond? If you’re familar with the area, you can figure out where we fished. Or just play Sherlock Holmes and look at the road sign in the picture below. This morning I paired with my friend Matt and we both found regular success early on. The cool water flowed through some high banks above and beautiful structure below, while the braided riffles seemed to produce section after section. Matt was fishing wet flies, I was fishing nymphs. The surf & turf combo seemed to be the perfect entree for several hours… until it wasn’t.

As with most mornings, the fishing faucet turned off as the sun rose to its apex in the sky. I picked a final brown out of a narrow section of water before collapsing my rod and exiting the creek by the roadside. There was a gentleman standing by his pickup truck watching me scale the bank. He asked, “how they biting?” I replied, “okay, I caught a few.” As with most fishing conversation, it was neither fully the truth nor fully a lie.

It was probably for the best to stop at that point, as we were going to meet up with our friend Mike, who was dropping in for an overnight stay. Sadly, he was arriving virtually at the same time as I was departing. Even though we squeezed in a brief nightcap that evening, the morning’s outing with Matt was essentially my walkoff for this trip.

The Postscript

Before I knew it, this year’s Driftless angling adventure was over, relegated to but a fond memory. I found myself hurriedly packing my bags and getting ready to depart early the next morning. Delta Airlines was calling me. But not before one final breakfast sandwich from Kwik Trip.

Five days of fantastic fishing. Five days of fun with friends. Five days of fattening food. Five days of fucking hot temperatures. These were my five days in the Driftless.

June 19, 2022

Another Great Visit to the Driftless

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!