The South Western corner of Wisconsin was untouched by the last glacier making for a rugged landscape. Large hills and deep valleys are typical of this part of the state. These valleys hold some of the best trout fishing in Wisconsin and also some of the most incredible scenery. Streams like Castle Rock Creek, Timber Coulee Creek, and some lesser known streams support excellent fishing, natural reproduction, and mayfly and caddis hatches. The streams in this part of the state are spring creeks which support large numbers of fish, mostly Brown Trout, but they don’t come easily. Dry fly fishing can be excellent but on heavily fished streams, emergers and lesser used flies can be more productive than standard dry flies.
Cows are a common sight here in the driftless area. Many of the hills are too steep to farm so grazing cattle is how farmers use the land. For the fly fisherman, this means that much of the fishing is through cow pastures. Pastures allow for easy casting because hanging up a back cast in a tree is rarely a problem. If the stream is well cared for or better yet, protected from cattle, the fishing can be spectacular. On the other hand, many streams are overgrazed which causes undercut banks and other stream habitat to be destroyed. The smart fisherman looks for a pasture that has a lot of grass and a stream that has good bank structure. Areas where fencing keeps cattle from accessing the stream are usually very good places to try. And always look for streams that have been improved by the DNR, Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishing Federation clubs, and local sportsman’s clubs.
For most streams, particularly the more popular ones, anglers need to use light tackle, long leaders, and stealthy approaches. My personal preference is to fish small flies with a short, lightweight rod. These streams tend to be narrow and casting accuracy is more important than casting distance. A short rod (6’6″ to 8′) in a 3 through 5 weights is a good choice for most fishing. It is nice to have a longer, heavier rod for casting hoppers and woolly buggers or for fishing the Hex hatch. Leaders should be 9′ to 15′, 5X is my usual choice but you may need to drop down to 6X and 7X while fishing small flies like the tricos. Delicate tackle does you no good if you don’t make your approach “slow and low.” Getting into casting position often means crawling on your knees. Because much of the fishing is through pastures, there is little vegetation to hide behind. High banks and large bends are good places to make your approach from.
Other South Western Wisconsin Streams: While streams like Black Earth Creek, Castle Rock Creek, and West Fork of the Kickapoo River get a lot of publicity, many lesser known streams can be very good and may give you a chance to get away from the crowds. It is always a good idea to try the tributaries of the more popular streams. It is usually worth your time to try any category 4 and category 5 sections of streams. Good streams usually have a solid bank structure. If you see a stream with broken down banks, it is likely to be heavily silted and the land around the stream is probably overgrazed.
The spring creeks are known for their prolific hatches. Midges and Blue Wing Olives hatch most of the year. Mayflies pretty much define fly fishing for most people and the hatches can be heavy on many South Western Wisconsin streams. Food is usually plentiful in these streams and the fish have a lot of choices.
- Mayflies: Some of the better hatches are: Tricos, Cahills, Hendricksons, Sulfurs, BWO’s, March Browns and Hex’s (Hexagenia limbata). Comparaduns/sparkleduns, parachutes, thoraxes, emergers, and spinners are good dry flies to use. For nymphs, I like: Pheasant Tails, Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ears, and Prince Nymphs.
- Blue Wing Olives: Never over look a BWO hatch on an overcast or rainy day.
- Tricos: The Black and White-winged curse is an early riser. Fishing spinners is usually most productive but have a few nymphs and duns. A hatch that can be demanding, long leaders and light tippets are important
- Hex: The famous Hexagenia limbata or simply the Hex can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year. Hex’s are huge mayflies, usually tied extended body on #6 hooks. They get the largest fish in the stream’s attention but they still aren’t always easy. They are a night time hatcher and seeing your fly and insuring a good drift can be quite difficult. The first time I fished the Hex hatch, I thought it should be a slaughter (a C&R slaughter that is). The only way I could get a good drift in the complex currents was to make downstream presentations.
- Hendrickson: This mayfly is the first hatch of the spring and often the best hatches occur before the season starts but this won’t be a problem with the early season. Use Comparaduns/sparkleduns, parachutes, emergers, and why not try the Light and Dark Hendricksons tied Catskill style.(Ephemerella subvaria)
- Sulfurs: The Ephemerella dorothea and the Ephemerella invaria comprise the “sulfur” hatch. This hatch occurs predominantly in June but it may start in mid-May and last until early July.
- March Brown:(Stenonema vicarium) Another early hatch, it occurs mid-May through June. These large mayflies keep banker’s hours, hatches begin at 10:00 and continue throughout the day.
- Light Cahill: (Stenonema ithaca and Stenacron interpunctatum canadense) Often hatches before or during the Hex hatch. Make sure that the fish are taking Hex’s and not Cahill spinners
- Ephoron leukon: Can be a great hatch when the water temperatures are right. Use a Blonde Wulff, Parachutes, and one of my favorites for tough fish is a Close Carpet Fly tied in white.
- Caddisflies: Are often numerous though fishermen often overlook them. My dry fly collection includes: Elk Hair Caddis, X-caddis, Iris Caddis, Emergent Sparkle Pupa, and CDC caddis. Larvae at times are important Peaking Caddis is a good one to try. Pupa can be very important and fish taking ascending pupa are often mistaken for fish taking adult caddis. Soft hackles, Sparkle Pupa, and various other pupa patterns are worth a try.
- Midges: I prefer simple patterns because they are easier to tie on the #20 through #26 hooks that are required for fishing midges. I tie them in white, cream, gray, olive, and black. Griffith Gnats are a time-tested pattern. Pupa are usually very important, fish them in the film or subsurface.
- Stoneflies: Occasionally important and can produce a fishable hatch from time to time.
- Small Black Stoneflies: Look for them during March and April.
- Yellow Sallys: These size 12-16 yellow stoneflies are a dependable hatch. Small stimulators or Elk hair caddis will work.
- Terrestrials: Are often very important, especially in the middle of the summer. Hopper create some of the most exciting fishing of the year. Also look for crickets, ants, beetles and inchworms.
- Streamers: Can often get big fish excited. A twenty inch Brown may not be able to pass up a one to three inch minnow imitation drifted in front of its face.
- Attractor Dry Flies: Try a small Royal Coachman, Hare’s Ear Parachute, Pass Lake or Adams during sparse hatches or during non-hatch times.
- Crustaceans: Scud are plentiful in most spring creeks and provide consistent fishing. Sowbugs can be numerous especially in streams with weed grown. Crayfish can be used to tempt larger fish.
West Fork of the Kickapoo River
Home of the West Fork Sportsman’s Club in Avalanche Wisconsin.
Timber Coulee Creek
Half a million dollars worth of stream improvements.
Castle Rock Creek
Castle Rock some of the most challenging fishing in Wisconsin.
Black Earth Creek
Black Earth Creek, close to Madison WI.
Big Green River
A lot done on the Big Green River.