Our local Fox Valley Trout Unlimited chapter is blessed with having the fewest miles of trout stream of any of the remaining chapters in Wisconsin. And for this reason, we often find ourselves crossing over into other’s home waters for our adventures. Thus explains our 2019 April Angling Adventure, headquartered in Viroqua, the Wisconsin Driftless capital.
Our April Angling Adventure is an opportunity to reconnect on the water with long time friends as well as bond with new or lesser involved chapter members of Trout Unlimited. Our weekend (OK…half week or longer) camp traditionally falls on the last weekend of the catch and release early season. The timing provides a perfect balance of when the bug activity and trout fishing really begins to pick up, but before the additional harvest-focused anglers increase pressure on the streams. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a legal harvest of course, but fly fisherman do seem to have a predisposition for the increased solitude that Wisconsin’s early season can offer.
We snuck down to camp on a Thursday morning early, enjoying the sunrise through the hills along the way.
We caught the die-hards wrapping up breakfast. No time wasted pitching the tent, there’s BS’ing to do before it’s prime time on the river. We discussed options among ourselves and arrive with a few, close options. Now, for us in the environmental profession, Spring is the busy season. To that end, we were barely able to arrange time off work, much less research and plan out targets to fish over the course of the trip. So, not being terribly familiar with easements in the area, and partnered with poor cell service, we voted for a public lands option. Public lands such as county or state forests and parks are terrific because they afford some comfort in terms of access permission for newbies to both the sport and the region. And while they often see more fishing pressure than many other locations, large swathes of cross country access mean quick hikes to distant stretches of stream.
The mantra of this trip was layers, and Thursday’s fishing was a good introduction. Overcast and intermittent rain we began in is our favorite trout fishing weather because the trout are usually more active and the fisherman are fewer. However, April in the Midwest is unpredictable, as we came to find out in stronger terms later that weekend, and the cold demanded of us our favorite Patagonia waffle pants and Topo Designs coat, which doubles well as a rain coat/wind breaker and a winter coat with appropriate under layers.
We decided to start with streamers. And that’s where it ended. We hooked up with a solid fish right away and it was hot action all day on a variety of streamers including dark wooly buggers and baby brown trout sizes 2-6. The hits were hard, but short, and we missed connections with 60 to 80 fish, landing a few dozen up to 14 inches. We definitely touched a few in the 16-18 inch slot with the hit-and-misses that come and go so quick they leave you just standing and staring.
From there we headed off to consume what may be the best pizza in Wisconsin over at the Driftless Cafe. Hoo-boy, do we love pizza. You’ll just have to check out the menu for yourself so we don’t get carried away here.
The following morning, we trickled out of our tents and campers almost as if by osmosis and as if no one had the forethought to make any plans the night before. But that’s early season fishing. The fisherman move slowly in the morning because so do the fish. There’s no need to interrupt the coffee and community that begins to take shape. But make no mistake, by the time the coffee was down and sandwiches made, we were off to coulee pastures.
We started on a slow stretch with deep pools, the kind that fish of dreams come from. Perhaps, this is mid-season mousing waters. The cold water and high sun did us no favors here and we scuttled over to more classic riffle-run sequences shortly upstream.
Here, a small tributary spills a dose of warmer groundwater in at the top of the section. The warming afternoon sun broken by the rougher water was what the trout needed to turn on the feed. We didn’t clean house, but the action was steady, primarily on nymph droppers. After working our way back to the cars, we headed up the watershed to skinny waters.
The spring creek was clear and cold with feisty bookies up and down as well as browns in the deeper sections. It’s a quick fish and the high sun meant fish scattered at the thought of a fly line overhead, but we did manage to coax a few on caddis and blue-winged olives. Soon it was time to report back to camp to prepare for the potluck.
The main event was pulled turkey with all the traditional Wisconsin sides from potato salads to bourbons, but the company was pleasantly unexpected. Turns out, we had more people gathered for our rendezvous that we had even imagined. We got a chance to talk with multiple new faces who had been fishing the area the previous few days, but all of us were running around fishing too much to connect.
Dinner was followed by lackadaisical awards and recognitions with explanations perhaps best left to the in-person. While us and others retired to the campfire and spirits for the evening, a few ambitious souls went out mousing for big browns. Word is a few upwards of 18″ were netted!
The following day, the crowd thinned with the prospect of a sizable snow storm forecasted. We took our chances and headed off to the county park we fished the first day. The fish seemed to know of the impending weather. They were few and far between. Early afternoon, the snow fell and the fishing completely shut down.
We stubbornly fished a while longer and took in the unique scenery of fresh snow over spring flowers among the bluffs in the background. Spring in the valleys is great for viewing the geology before the trees leaf out. The silence from the dampening snow was warming, though not enough for the night to come.
While a few inches fell during a cold night in the tent, the storm largely missed camp. We had a memorable mental note to purchase a warmer sleeping bag for when we got home, and we made coffee and packed up before one last hurrah on the water. We were tipped off on a stretch lower in the watershed where one of our fellow TU members did well during the previous day’s storm. Interestingly, the stretch is not on the trout regulations map; this is slow deep waters in agricultural lands, and silted in. The easement is relatively new an open to a variety of recreational activities, but mustn’t be more than a quarter mile long.
Sure enough Bonnie of The Barbless Fly Fisher was into fish quickly fishing nymphs deep. Our partners continued upstream while we hiked down. On seeing some enticing cut bank corners with good cover, we took a chance on tying on a 3″ black leach pattern with tungsten eyes. Casting this fly with a 4wt was not pretty, but the Sage X has a backbone that can fling just about anything you can think of. We moved fish from every cut, bend, and cover over this short few hundred yard easement, and with a fly this size you can imagine the fish were proportional.
We landed a few and missed some monsters. This is mousing waters, and we will be back. With the easement covered, we regrouped and briefly hit one last stretch before wrapping up the trip and heading for home.
As most any typical camping or fishing trip among friends, many fish were caught, stories retold, and endless great food consumed. It’s a satiation like no other that offsets the exhaustion from roughing it and hiking through the woods for days. With hundreds of miles of trout streams to explore in the region, we can’t wait for next year’s April Angling Adventure.
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