Driftless Trout Anglers

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#1 Posted : Saturday, March 31, 2018 7:20:28 PM(UTC)
Rank: Dragon Fly

Joined: 11/7/2016(UTC)
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Location: Madison

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Even two weeks later and while thinking back, it's hard to make sense of what happened this day.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to do a trip report for this day – in fact I intended not to. Part of me was concerned that someone might put two and two together and figure out where this was going on.

The area where this took place is one that I’ve fished frequently over the past several years. It’s typically a low density fishery in this location. I’ve caught some big fish there in the past, so I keep going back, often just stopping when I have a short window or at the end of a trout day spent elsewhere.

I almost never see anyone else fishing it.

Anyway, here goes…

Had stopped at a bridge the day before and gotten 3 nice fish (19, 18 and 16) in about 20 minutes. Have probably fished that spot at least 30 times over the years because it's on my route to other water and is convenient to the road. I’ve probably been shutout 15-20 of those. Most of the time it’s a ghost town, but I’ve gotten a few 18s there which is what keeps me going back.

Had plans for a longer after work trip the next day at a different stream, but getting three fish of that caliber at that spot was unheard of for me.

Decided that the next day, I would make a concerted effort to fish a few miles of this stream instead of just dropping by for a bit.

Was excited all day at work as I waited for 3:00 to roll around.

Started at the same bridge as the day before, and fished upstream.

Got a smallish brown on my first cast. Cool! The fish are willing.


Hooked another smallish fish at the second bend and had to look at it for a bit to realize that it was a rainbow around 10 inches. Couldn't put my finger on why this brown looked odd. Laugh


Cast again to that spot and hooked a solid brown.


When I got it in, it looked like my line had somehow wrapped itself around the fish's head a couple of times. Couldn't figure out how this could happen and then realized that it was old line and had been on the fish for some time as there were grooves in its flesh.


Cut the line off and inspected her mouth to see if there was also a lure or fly still around. Let her go and I imagine she's much more comfortable now. Glad we ran into each other.

Fished to the end of this short stretch and landed 3 more browns including two 18+ inchers and lost another that looked even larger.



What in the world was going on? Six fish in this stretch and none were the same as the 3 I’d gotten the day before in the same spots. Had never gotten more than 3 here and usually get shutout.

Time to head downstream to my start point for the long stretch I had planned to hit. Was probably a mile or more walk across grassy flats that in the summer are impossible to traverse, or at least difficult enough that no trout is worth it to me.

You’ve all seen these places. They exist on most large streams when they flatten out and wind their way across a large valley floor. No cows here to keep the grass down either.

Relatively deep water with very little if any traditional trout riffle>run>pool structure. Structure usually consists of deeper spots in the deep water.

Hit the first corner and got another solid fish, probably a 17 incher and then proceeded to pull two more out of the same, long and deep corner spot. All 3 were solid to large fish (17-19) and all gave a good account of themselves.



The next little section of bends had some downed trees and little runs and lies but didn't hold any fish that I could entice. Seems like a common theme for this stream as most trout seem to be in holes rather than on structure or in runs.

Moved upstream a bit and hooked a strong fish in a woody corner hole and got it in to see that it was almost a 21 incher... 20.75.



That face has seen a season or two.

Fished further up and got another 19-20+ and then another and another.

Was texting a fishing buddy during this and saying, "Hate to tell you this, but I just got another." "Umm... yep, another." "Uhhhh..."

Had to share this somehow in the moment. We agreed that an asteroid must be inbound coz this was end of the world stuff.


The bends in this area have nice holes and many seemed to hold multiple large fish. Every bend had at least one fish. Not 16 inch large, but 17 inches and mostly longer.

I literally pulled the hair on my arm to make sure that I was awake. Also realized that… okay… I could feel the cool air. For a moment I was afraid that I was going to wake up and that this hadn't happened and that I still had to go to work before I could fish later.

Continued through the last of this first stretch and I actually started to tire. Every battle was a mixture pure adrenaline, joy and wonder at what was happening. Every fish hooked was an absolute battle and test of wills and they came one after the other.

I kept thinking, "I don't understand what's happening." "How is this even possible?" "This is silly stupid."

Each time I hooked one was like jumping back on a roller coaster.


It was like an active day on any stream where there seems to be a willing fish at almost every lie. Except… they were all really big.

Maybe some of you others have had this happen, but this was uncharted and unprecedented territory for me.

Don't know where the smaller, resident fish were that I normally catch in this area. Hunkered down would be a guess.

The largest fish of the day came after I had already pulled a nice fish from a deep corner hole. I knew right away that this was a heavier fish than any previous ones. Could feel it through the line – didn't fight harder per se, just felt heavy.

When I got a look at it could see that this was the longest brown that I had ever laid eyes upon. What to do? I was standing on a 3 foot bank and there was no way I could lift this fish.

Could see that the bank was lower about 20 feet downstream, so played the fish to that point and keeping tension on the line as best as I could, laid flat on my belly and reached down with my net.

Would love to claim that it was smooth as butter landing due to my mad netting skills, but the fish wasn't cooperating and was staying just out of reach. Luckily the hookset was firm and eventually I got the beast to the net by grabbing the line with my hand and guiding it.

Got the fish out of the water for a quick measure and ended up a hair over 23 inches – my best ever by 2.25 inches – the previous best caught maybe a half hour earlier.

Put her back in the net and reached down to the water so she could recover some more before a grip and grimace. I was alone and she was so big that it was a struggle to get a good shot and I only tried one sequence and then let her go.


Didn't want to drop her or dick around too long. The perfect photo isn't worth adding risk to the catch and release of a likely 10 year old fish.

The photos I got are sufficient and the important thing is the experience anyway – which I won't forget.

Finished the stretch and got a few more of these large browns…





…and then walked to a second stretch. The sun was starting to get lower and couldn't find any bigguns in this next stretch, but did get a decent brown or two…


Funnily, the last fish of the night was about 10 inches and caught within sight of my van.


Most people would probably think that the 23 made the night, but that's not the case at all. Was cool to get one of that size for sure, but to be honest she's just the exclamation point at the end of a long, incredible sentence.

That or she is her own separate subject which is overshadowed by the totality of the outing. Not that I don't understand or appreciate the significance of a 23 inch Driftless fish, but to be honest, she was just one more large fish on this particular night.

They all blended together into one long, rod bending, hold onto to your ass, crazy night.

Anyway… the at times overwhelming feeling of "WHAT is going on?" was the dominant theme of the outing.

Emotions ran the gamut… I was stunned… flabbergasted… euphoric… dialed in… happy… competitive… exhausted… joyous... anxious…

When I got to the van, I could have cried. It's not that I was sad or even overly happy. I think I was just wiped out – physically, mentally and emotionally. And very… very… deeply satisfied.

Another thing… I lost 4 this night that were in the 18-20+ range. So be it. I'm satisfied with my percentage.

Funny that on any other day, losing 4 fish of that size would have been a crushing blow. I just shrugged em off coz I don't catch 100% of any sized trout that I hook and I was catching so many of these that it was no worse than losing a 14 incher on a normal good day. Cost of doing business.

Final tale of the tape… 18 browns and a small rainbow. Of the browns, the 23 inch hen, three 20 inchers (a 20, a 20.25 and a 20.75), nine or ten 17-19 inchers (stopped getting an exact count or measurement on these) and a smattering of smaller ones that were caught away from the main pod of bigguns.

And a word on the ever mythical 20 inch trout... I think it's good to have a bench mark and the number has to be set somewhere and 20 is a nice round number. But I didn't notice any difference in the fight of the 20 inchers compared to the 18s. A 20 is just a slightly longer 19 inch trout.

Anything 18 inches and up in most of the Driftless is an absolute prize in my mind and even most 17s are.

I didn’t get photos of all of the fish and some photos didn’t turn out. A couple of the fish were bleeding a bit so I immediately released them.

To any doubters I guess I’d say, maybe this is just another fish story. Wink

But maybe not.



Edited by user Saturday, April 7, 2018 12:19:56 AM(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

“Harvest eaters... release trophies.” -Gurth
Private correspondence at: jkschind "at" tds.net
thanks 2 users thanked Gurth for this useful post.
weiliwen on 3/31/2018(UTC), William Schlafer on 4/1/2018(UTC)
#2 Posted : Saturday, March 31, 2018 7:24:26 PM(UTC)
Rank: Dragon Fly

Joined: 11/7/2016(UTC)
Posts: 1,346
Location: Madison

Thanks: 129 times
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Some final thoughts...

I went back to this general area several times in the following weeks, fishing several miles in each direction and really getting to know this stream in detail for the first time.

Have gotten some really nice fish, ranging from 15 inches to an almost 20 inch male, but that one evening's fish density of those big ones has not rematerialized. Not even close. Even been shutout a couple of times.

They've up and disappeared like a fart in the wind. This actually makes me pleased and makes the night I had all the more special.

I believe that evening was me being in the right place at the right time – a product of being out there a lot and exploring new and tough to access areas that most others don’t bother with.

I believe that I stumbled upon a mass migration of these large fish as they left their wintering area and were heading for wherever they go come spring. No way that many big predators could be in a such short stretch of this type of stream all the time.

Maybe stumbled upon is the wrong way to put it as I went there expecting to find fish.

But who could expect that many of THOSE fish?

Was like my own little private inland brownie run.

Simply incredible and I'll never forget it.

I thought it at the time and had it said to me by the few people that I told about this…

I'm (you're) ruined now on trout fishing.

I mean, what in the Driftless could ever top or even match that evening?

Funny thing is that it's been the complete opposite.

I've taken great joy and satisfaction from several 2 and 3 fish days that have happened since then. I’ve lost some big fish and shrugged them off.

I haven't been disappointed or even thought of comparing these subsequent days.

That crazy night was an anomaly. A rare gift to be appreciated, but not expected.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I never believed that I was chasing anything in particular out there on the streams and rivers, but maybe deep down I was. Having captured it, I'm in a different place now and feel content in a way that wasn't there previously.

It’s good.

That is, until I finally pick up those fly rods and everything resets to zero…

“Harvest eaters... release trophies.” -Gurth
Private correspondence at: jkschind "at" tds.net
#3 Posted : Sunday, April 1, 2018 2:33:02 AM(UTC)
Rank: Dragon Fly

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Good stuff Gurth! Congrats! I agree with you, it's migration related. A couple buddies and I have done this several times and each time I believe it to be fish migrating from Wintering holes. We are far from that up this way...Winter won't stop up here!

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Gurth on 4/3/2018(UTC)
William Schlafer  
#4 Posted : Sunday, April 1, 2018 4:39:09 AM(UTC)
William Schlafer
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Damn Gurth.

That might be the finest day ever posted on this website, in terms of size of Trout caught. I've had a couple of 40+ days, but never close to that number of bigs. A couple of those would be career fish for many of us.

ThumpUp ThumpUp ThumpUp

One rule I've learned in the time I've spent fishing for Trout: when the Trout are biting like that, you keep fishing. No matter how much you hurt, no matter how hungry you are, no matter how late it is, or how far the hike is back to the car. Days like this are rare. You need to take advantage of them.

Well done!


Edited by user Sunday, April 1, 2018 2:45:59 PM(UTC)  | Reason: damned typos!

“You'll never look back on your life and wish you had spent more time in the office." -- Brian Trautman, Captain SV Delos
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Gurth on 4/3/2018(UTC)
#5 Posted : Sunday, April 1, 2018 6:04:22 AM(UTC)
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Great day Gurth! I have had some doozies too, but nothing like you encountered.

Nice to see all the healthy bigger fish. They are gonna eat their share of smaller ones!

I am mixed on migration theory, but I think the confluence of fish you had may have been food source related as well. If you where in a spot where something underneath was going on, they would congregate to eat as well as migrate. Were there bait fish in the area? I have had em bunch up on minnows a time or two.

I have read migration stuff, but have caught fish where I would and wouldn't expect too many times to put a ton of stock in migration. I think you had it lucky, right place and right time! Awesome stuff!! Make me want to fish bad when winter is frickin over here.

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Gurth on 4/3/2018(UTC)
#6 Posted : Sunday, April 1, 2018 8:27:24 PM(UTC)
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Epic day. Well done!!!!!!
Curt Rees
Coulee Region Trout Unlimited
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Gurth on 4/3/2018(UTC)
#7 Posted : Tuesday, April 3, 2018 4:04:05 AM(UTC)
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Amazing Gurth! Thanks for sharing!
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Gurth on 4/3/2018(UTC)
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