Driftless Trout Anglers

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William Schlafer  
#1 Posted : Sunday, March 22, 2020 9:52:33 PM(UTC)
William Schlafer
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Joined: 7/24/2011(UTC)
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Location: Sussex Wisconsin

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Regarding fly fishing in the Driftless Area, I get asked these two questions often:

1) Where should I fish?
2) What flies should I use?

Here's my thoughts on both.


Where to Fish
Sharing favorite Trout streams and honey holes is a touchy subject on most online fishing forums and websites. Some folks really get bent out of shape to see their stream, or any productive stream for that matter, mentioned online or talked about in public. I've never really understood this, as every Trout stream in the DA is well documented in many books and websites. There are no secret streams or unexplored Trout waters in the Driftless Area. There may be some places that are extremely hard to get to, so they rarely get fished. But trust me, many others have been there before you, and many more will follow.

That said, I think for those new to Trout fishing you need to earn this cherished information. Study the many online sources, maps, books & literature on the subject. State DNR websites and Trout Unlimited are great resources to explore to learn about Driftless Trout streams. According to the WDNR, Wisconsin alone has 3,000 trout streams stretching more than 13,000 miles. There's plenty of room for everybody. Get out there and explore. Boots on the ground and in the water will get you more valuable information about what type of streams you are looking for, and the type of fishing experience you want. It's not just about catching fish, it's the journey.

The more you share on this forum, and with other fishermen (and even property owners) will earn you tips, hints and access. Buy something at your local fly shop and they will often be more than happy to give you some advice. But I think you'll find that the places you discover on your own will bring the most satisfaction.


What to Fish
There are many theories about what to fish and when to fish it. Learning how to read water and weather conditions and understanding what Trout are looking for during a certain time of the year is key. I've never been a "match the hatch" kinda guy. I don't flip rocks and I fell asleep during biology class. Couldn't tell an emerging caddis larva from a water bug if my life depended on it. And I don't care. I've got better things to do when I'm fishing than worry about Entomology.

I'm a firm believer in attractor patterns: flies that don't necessarily imitate any one thing, but contain a number of features that Trout look for in food.

The venerable Pink Squirrel is a great example of this.
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It kinda looks like a scud, or maybe a shrimp, or some other hatching bug. The bead head might look like an eye, the pink collar maybe looks like gills and the spiky squirrel dubbing just looks like a big gob of something a Trout prefer to eat. The proof is in its ability to catch Trout in nearly all conditions and times of the year. Ask any fly shop in the area, it's a number one seller for a reason: it just works.

I prefer the original John Bethke style Pink Squirrel with a fat Shell Pink Chenille collar, Red Fox fur mix for dubbing, classic gold bead and tied in size 16 – 12 scud hooks. Tungsten bead heads help get the fly down into the water column quicker and are worth the extra expense.


The classic Woolly Bugger is another generic attractor that catches tons of fish of many species. It somewhat mimics a minnow, or a leech, or maybe even a crayfish. Tie it in any color of the rainbow. Strip it, jerk it, swing it, even dead drifted and it will catch fish. I prefer black with emerald green chenille body in smaller 6 - 8 size hooks. But there are hundreds of different variations colors and sizes to choose from.

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Whenever there's a stain in the water, the Woolly Bugger should be one of your go to lures. Darker colors generally work better in low light and stained water conditions.


In the spring everyone loves catching rising Trout with dry flies.

But... this can also be some of the most frustrating Trout fishing to master for newbies. Everything matters when you are dry fly fishing. The sun, the wind, the presentation, the time of day and a thousand other factors come into play. There are days when you'll see Trout rising everywhere, eating God knows what, but completely ignoring everything you toss at them.

Again, I like generics for dry flies. Blue Wing Olives, Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams are good all-around choices when chasing rising Trout. Smaller sizes (20-14) usually score better than bigger stuff. Delicate, precise casts are required. Longer, lighter leaders also help, as rising fish spook easily. Fish like a predator: stay low, keep your shadow off the water, and wade carefully to prevent spooking Trout.

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When the weather warms up in July, I break out the hoppers. I love hopper fishing! Nothing better than watching a big Brown Trout storm out from underneath a cut bank and hammer the bug. Trout lose their inhibitions when hoppers start hitting the water in numbers. It’s a big meal that they simply can’t resist.
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There are dozens of different hopper patterns in every size and color. For the Driftless Area, I prefer smaller, simpler patterns in brown, green and purple. Most hopper patterns can double for crane flies, hexagenia mayflies, and many other large bugs that drop into the water. Look for overhanging grass and undercut banks – this is where Trout lurk in the summer. Often times making your bug land with a splat will draw the attention of a big Trout from many feet away. Too much fun!


Another generic foam pattern that all Driftless Trout fishermen should have in their fly box is the Hippie Stomper.
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It mimics a lot of creepy crawling things that find there way into Trout streams: spiders, ants, water bugs, etc... The Trout eat them without hesitation and like hoppers, are a blast to fish. Size 16 – 10 seem to work the best. Red, black, orange and purple all work well. The Hippie Stomper also makes a great fly for a “hopper-dropper” setup. Although most effective during the warmer months, I’ve seen Hippie Stompers work throughout the season.


Fish these five generic attractor patterns and you will catch Trout.
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Good luck!
-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 3 users thanked William Schlafer for this useful post.
stan b on 3/23/2020(UTC), weiliwen on 3/23/2020(UTC), billybigbilly on 3/23/2020(UTC)
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Hegawn  
#2 Posted : Sunday, March 22, 2020 10:04:49 PM(UTC)
Hegawn
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Yep, great advice Bill. I rarely fly fish but when I do I use the WB and PS and usually score nice trout.

I fish off my dock on the Wi river backwaters near Rhinelander and the smallies hammer the WB and blugills can be had on the PS also.
"When you come to a fork in the stream, take it!" - if Yogi Berra was a trout chaser...
Hegawn  
#3 Posted : Sunday, March 22, 2020 10:16:50 PM(UTC)
Hegawn
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...Oh, one more comment: I took entomology at Washington State University (1980) and forgot most if not all of whatever was taught. The only thing I can recall is the prof did look like a bug though.
"When you come to a fork in the stream, take it!" - if Yogi Berra was a trout chaser...
Gurth  
#4 Posted : Monday, March 23, 2020 12:19:26 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: William Schlafer Go to Quoted Post

Sharing favorite Trout streams and honey holes is a touchy subject on most online fishing forums and websites. Some folks really get bent out of shape to see their stream, or any productive stream for that matter, mentioned online or talked about in public. I've never really understood this, as every Trout stream in the DA is well documented in many books and websites. There are no secret streams or unexplored Trout waters in the Driftless Area. There may be some places that are extremely hard to get to, so they rarely get fished. But trust me, many others have been there before you, and many more will follow.



Good post but I’m gonna counterpoint this paragraph.

I promise you that many (most) of the places I fish regularly are not detailed in trout books and on websites.

I’ve never seen the small stream that I went to yesterday mentioned anywhere other than in texts between me and my buddy. Even you and I have never spoken of it that I can recall, so it’s not the one that you may be thinking of.

Sure, other people fish it but only those who’ve taken a chance on it and put in the time to explore. It’s a neat little place and as you said, it has more value because I discovered it for myself on my own.

By contrast, the known stream that is nearby and in the same watershed has cars at multiple access points nearly every day.

Now why would I want that to happen to this little gem that myself and others in the know generally have to ourselves?

We’re not keeping anyone out but we don’t need to put up a neon sign either.

It’s like any discipline or knowledge that takes time and dedication and sweat and maybe even some blood to acquire... once you’ve attained it, you understand that it’s special and should be earned and not just given to anyone who wants instant gratification.


This site is indexed by google. Why in the world would we want all of our special places that we’ve worked and/or networked to discover laid bare for everyone sitting at home on their device looking for an easy spot to catch trout?


Most of the places I go almost never have anyone else at the access I go to on a given day. Honestly... 99% of the time I get to fish right where I want to.

As I said, of course others fish those spots but like me, they aren’t telling google about them.

Meanwhile magnets like BEC are packed. Good!


I went to the Big Green today and had a great day. The Big Green is no secret although I did get the specific stretch I wanted and I’ve never seen anyone else fishing it while the other access points are usually busy.

21 to hand in 3.5 hours and lost another 5 or 6. I’ll keep that little stretch to myself and the others who know about it.

Sure, you can do that well in many spots on that river but this little part is far less pressured than the rest and even holds some bigs.

I’m not worried about anyone mentioning the Big Green. It’s a great place and can clearly handle the pressure.

The cool little discoveries though... especially those that may be more fragile... should not be mentioned in a public forum like this.


Finally, the stream where we caught the same tiger is not well known and not in any of the books or on any websites as anything special. You and I know different.

Meanwhile its extremely well known and inferior neighbor is swamped with cars every day.

I think we’d both like that equation to remain as it is.




.

Edited by user Monday, March 23, 2020 2:36:55 AM(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

“Harvest eaters... release trophies.” -Gurth
Private correspondence at: jkschind "at" tds.net
NBrevitz  
#5 Posted : Monday, March 23, 2020 1:08:22 AM(UTC)
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Good post Bill. However, I will counter by saying that the 2 best spots I have for trophies in my area, Brookie wise, arent mentioned at all in the Humphrey and Shrogen book. Actually, one is mentioned, and flatly denounced...

I asked Rob Hawkins at Bob Mitchell’s about the other, and he’d never even heard of it. I landed an 18.25 inch Brookie out of this stream and he didn’t even know that it existed... This stream isn’t even 1 hour from the E Metro.
"I fish because I love to: Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness."
Hegawn  
#6 Posted : Monday, March 23, 2020 1:35:46 AM(UTC)
Hegawn
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To simplify the discussion for anybody new to trout fishing, never, ever name a stream you would be comfortable fishing naked.
"When you come to a fork in the stream, take it!" - if Yogi Berra was a trout chaser...
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