I spent the past three days enjoying some of the best dry-fly fishing I have ever experienced in my life, in a place that I had, frankly, underestimated for many years; the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin. I spent a good part of my growing-up years in the Milwaukee area, but my family moved away before I really got into fly fishing, and I have never been back since.
But I will be back again soon.
The Driftless includes an elaborate network of clear, cold limestone creeks that carve through rural farmland. It’s one of the most picturesque fishing locales in the Lower 48. But what I like best about fishing the Driftless are the challenges it presents. Fishing these creeks demands a good casting game. It isn’t all about distance (it seldom is in trout fishing). Rather, it’s a game of accuracy and innovation. On a typical day, you’ll be challenged to use everything in your casting arsenal, from flip casts to roll casts to steeple casts to flinging your bug bow-and-arrow style. And yes, occasionally you might need to unfurl that laser 40-footer to a dish-sized target near a cut-bank, next to a thicket of willows. Do it well and you can be rewarded with a 17-inch brown trout, or in some places native brookies, that will eagerly gulp a well-placed fly. Most of the fish are in that 8-12 inch range, but occasionally the size of fish from the size of water factor is remarkable.
The Driftless is a monument to what can happen with good conservation interest and action. Wisconsin’s stream access rules afford plenty of opportunities. And the angler pressure is reasonably light. And, though I mention this here, I hope it stays that way.
So if you like throwing big double-nymph rigs and watching a strike indicator all day, don’t come here. If you like to park on pavement and fish in rivers where you hopscotch around other anglers all day, don’t come here. And if you like to catch big, fat stocked rainbows, you probably shouldn’t bother.
But if you like technical, tricky casting, solitude, and dry fly challenges in clear water, this is someplace to put on your bucket list. For more information, see www.driftlessangler.com.