Driftless Trout Anglers

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William Schlafer  
#1 Posted : Monday, April 30, 2018 1:30:23 AM(UTC)
William Schlafer
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Joined: 7/24/2011(UTC)
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Location: Sussex Wisconsin

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Every spring I plan a multi-day fishing trip to the southwest portion of the Driftless Area. This year, weather, work and other things conspired to delay my trip. But with conditions improving, I finally got out last week.

It's hard to believe, but just a week earlier we were locked into a massive late winter storm. Over a foot of snow covered the area I was going to fish. But a rapid spring warm up wiped away the snow and once the runoff was complete the streams returned to normal quickly. Temperatures would be in the comfortable range in the 50s and low 60s.
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I hoped to time it right to hit the first big hatch of Caddis and Blue Wing Olives of the season. I would arrive on Wednesday, thinking that there would be few fishermen out during the middle of a work week. Boy, was I wrong. More about that later.

When I arrived at my first stream I was surprised to find a vehicle parked at my usual spot. Well, no problem, I moved to a lower section downstream a mile or so.

The plan was to focus on dry fly fishing for this trip. My casting skills aren't the best and I wanted to work on my dry fly game. But there were no risers in the cool morning, so I switched over to small bead heads and streamers. The water was clear and had just a tinge of the that cool aqua blue green color created by the limestone that underlies the area. A half dozen fine feisty Browns landed in my net.
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This Brookie was missing a chunk of this gill plate. I've caught fish that had similar injuries before. Is this from an attack by another Trout, or some other predator? Although it looked ugly, he seemed unaffected by it and fought with vigor. No gill lice seen either. Surprisingly it would be the only Brookie I would catch during my four day trip.
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Round barn country. Not many of these old Norwegian barns still left standing. The construction techniques used to build these are pretty amazing for the day. Ingenious engineering for a farm building.
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I decided to move to another stream to see if I could find some takers for my dry flies. I was surprised to find cars parked at many of the access points of several streams along the way. There must be others who have been patiently waiting for the break in the weather, I guess.

But I knew of a class III stream that has been on my list for awhile and is lightly fished. It has a lot of stream bank erosion issues and normally is inaccessible due to high weeds along the banks during the warm weather months. The creek is often muddy and quite silty.
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Even from the road I could see the rise forms on the water of Trout sipping bugs. Just two casts and I scored my first Trout on a dry. This stream would be impossible to get into when the weeds are up. Even now it was tricky and dangerous walking the stream bank. One bad step and I would be taking a swim. I nearly got stuck in the mud several times.
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Small Black Elk Hair Caddis were working fine, but the Trout seemed to really like this Bi-Colored generic Adams pattern. The bright parachute colors were also much easier to pick out on the water than the black and tan Caddis. I bagged a dozen typical Brown Trout in the 10-13" range. Not trophies by any means, but lots of fun to catch on dry flies.
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I saw several big Trout leisurely feeding under this tangle of tree branches. No way I could make a normal cast in this spot, so I broke out the old "bow and arrow" cast. The bigs didn't bite, but this fine Brown did. It was tricky to work him out from under the branches. I felt a sense of accomplishment in figuring out how to pluck him out of that tight spot.
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Spent the first night of my trip in La Crosse at my buddy Andy's place. We enjoyed a great Italian feast at a local restaurant and then some cocktails at The Bodega Bar downtown.

The next morning was very cool, in the upper 30s. The first couple of streams I visited were even busier than yesterday. Cars and trucks parked at every access point. What the heck is going on?

The fishing was slow, so I decided to run into Viroqua to stop at the Driftless Angler Fly Shop to pick up some more of those bi-color Adams and some leaders. While I was there, Mat told me there were four TU groups working the local streams this week with over 100 fishermen! The next hour or so was spent wandering from steam to stream looking for anyplace to fish. I would dig deep into my playlist of Trout streams before I would finally find one to myself.

All that driving paid off as my stream had many eagerly feeding Brown Trout. The wind was really howling however and I had to work hard to plant my fly on the narrow stream.
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This particular spot has always been productive for me in the past, and it wouldn't disappoint today. I plucked 13 Browns out of this outside bend. The water along the rocks is probably five feet deep with an aggressive current that keeps it cleaned out of silt. Simply float a cast along the current seam and the Trout would come up and hammer the fly. Typical Driftless cookie-cutter Browns, but a such fun to catch! All the rocks and gravel in the photos were washed out of the stream during last years floods. In places the rocks and sand were piled up 2-3 feet deep.
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I'm typically a walk and cast style fly fisher, and I rarely sit on one spot for very long. But this hole was just so much fun to fish. And it was in the shade of several trees which also blocked out some of the wind. What a great spot. And it saved the day. I had a brief hook up with a Trout that would've been the best fish of the trip, maybe 18 inches in size. But I couldn't convince him to strike a second time. I'll stop back later this summer and see if he will eat one of my hoppers.

I finally had enough of the wind which was now whipping along at 25-30mph. So back to Viroqua for dinner at The Driftless Cafe. What a meal! A beautiful salad and then a delicious Beef Tenderloin on a bed of mashed potatoes with Kale and Truffle sauce. The clean plate tells the story. It might be one of the best pieces of beef I've ever eaten. Washed it down with a couple glasses of Bells Two Hearts Ale. I highly recommend you stop by The Driftless Cafe when you're in the area.
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While driving around town, I came across this stone marker in an old cemetery in the middle of town. Having grown up in the area, I somehow had never heard the story of Lucy Stone, who was a pioneering voice in the movement to end slavery. I plan to look her up to learn more about her story.
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Spent the night at the Vernon Hills Hotel, where I was once again treated to the fabulous Eddie Rivard suite. Bath towels tied into Swans, a couple of mints on the pillows, and a small complimentary box of dry flies. What service!

Trout Central. Yes, yes it is.
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Friday started out just like the day before. Too cold to fish early in the morning, but everyone and his cousin was out there again. I decided to push further east towards Richland Center, where I planned to spend the night with my brother.
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I found a spot open on a stream that I haven't fished in three years. Lots of beautiful deep pools and runs with lots of rocks and habitat for Trout to hide in. Unfortunately I found that since my last visit an infestation of Rose Thorn bush had taken over long stretches of the stream banks. These nasty things can really tear you up if you get caught in their barbs. I had to skip over lots of good looking water and pick my spots to duck through the brush and into the stream to fish.

The Adams pattern worked well again, as well as the reliable Woolly Bugger stripped through the pools. The wind was really kicking up again with thunderstorms pushing by just to the northeast. I then noticed that someone had high holed me by parking just upstream and hiking across a field to get into the stream. Well, fine. I had enough of the wind and the Rose Thorn bush by then. So let him have it.
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I had high hopes for Saturday but it was again really chilly in the morning. By mid-day the sun was bearing down from blue skies and the wind was once again ripping through the valleys. The wind was blowing straight downstream which made it nearly impossible to cast any distance. The crystal clear water and bright skies made the Trout very skittish. Every cast would send the Trout scurrying upstream. Interesting how quickly things had greened up in only a couple of days.
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But I stubbornly stuck with the dry fly and managed to catch a few when the wind would allow a cast that would find the water. I was working my way up to the nicest part of the stream when I heard voices. Sure enough, two guys had high holed me again. Just to be real douche bags, these guys were fishing downstream - right in my direction. When I got to about 100 yards from them, I gave them a hard stare thinking they might turn around and leave. But no, they just kept coming.

I was pretty frustrated with the wind and I was in no mood for confrontation, so I decided to turn around and fish back downstream. At least the wind would be at my back. But no. Mother Nature wasn't through messing with me, as the wind somehow turned 180 degrees and was now in my face again. Grrrr.

Just to put the cherry on the day, I managed to break the tip of my best fly rod when I got frustrated with a cast that ended up in a tree and I jerked a little too aggressively. I suppose I was due - I haven't broken a rod in over two seasons. A real crappy way to end the day and the trip.
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But, I still feel the trip overall was a success. I caught a bunch of Trout, but oddly only the one Brookie. Not sure why they were in hiding. Maybe the weather was a factor. Ended up fishing 12 streams over four days, in five different counties, over 600 miles driven. Might be my last trip for awhile as work is conspiring against my fun again.
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-Bill

Edited by user Monday, April 30, 2018 1:44:50 AM(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
thanks 1 user thanked William Schlafer for this useful post.
MNTrout68 on 4/30/2018(UTC)
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Gurth  
#2 Posted : Monday, April 30, 2018 2:11:09 AM(UTC)
Gurth
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Great report Bill!

Was wondering how it went.


Speaking of the rose bush thorns, got into one last week and have three 1 inch gashes in a set of waders to repair. Better that than pin holes I suppose as I can easily find them.
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William Schlafer  
#3 Posted : Monday, April 30, 2018 1:27:48 PM(UTC)
William Schlafer
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Joined: 7/24/2011(UTC)
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Location: Sussex Wisconsin

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Those Rose Thorn bushes were really thick. Someone had come in and cut out a bunch of Willows along the banks of this creek at some point last year. But all it did was make room for an explosion of these prickly bastards. They tore me up a little too while trying to climb down and then up those steep banks.


-Bill
“You'll never look back on your life and wish you had spent more time in the office." -- Brian Trautman, Captain SV Delos
WI-fly  
#4 Posted : Tuesday, May 1, 2018 3:13:41 PM(UTC)
WI-fly
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I had that same tenderloin meal at the DC last month. So darn good.
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William Schlafer  
#5 Posted : Tuesday, May 1, 2018 4:07:20 PM(UTC)
William Schlafer
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Joined: 7/24/2011(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: WI-fly Go to Quoted Post
I had that same tenderloin meal at the DC last month. So darn good.


In another life I was a restaurant manager. I have an eye for the little things that most people miss in restaurants, like food handling and service. They do a terrific job in all phases of the meal. I really can't overstate how good that tenderloin was. Good thing I don't live nearby or I'd be in there every night.

Here's the menu item:
ORGANIC PRAIRIE BEEF TENDERLOIN
DRIFTLESS ORGANICS WHIPPED POTATO
BIRDSONG RIDGE SAUTEED KALE
WHITE TRUFFLE OIL
HOUSE DEMI GLACE

BTW: the pizza there is really good too.


-Bill
“You'll never look back on your life and wish you had spent more time in the office." -- Brian Trautman, Captain SV Delos
thanks 1 user thanked William Schlafer for this useful post.
MNTrout68 on 5/1/2018(UTC)
Jumpsuit  
#6 Posted : Saturday, May 5, 2018 2:00:16 PM(UTC)
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Great report ! Crazy to think we just got done with snow storms and now am fishing with blooming flowers around and short sleeves already .
big_river_bum  
#7 Posted : Sunday, May 6, 2018 11:10:23 AM(UTC)
big_river_bum
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thanks for the great report bill!

i always look forward to them ThumpUp
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