Monday, March 16, 2015

Early Wisconsin Trout Season Slowly Ramping Up

The 2015 Wisconsin inland trout season opener featured the most pleasant weather of any of my opening weekends. Temps in the upper 40s and big bright, awful, trout terrorizing blue skies. Nevertheless, this was the opener, and I was determined to fish.

Actually "we" were determined to fish. This year I shared this hallowed occasion with my friend Dan. Besides having a famous sounding name, Dan lives on my side of the Driftless and will likely be joining me on many future outings. We're talking two vehicle attacks. Aggressive hikes are being planned!

Sharing my stubborn ambition, we thought it would be just great to spend our opening day exploring a new creek on a section neither of us have ever fished before. This was a relatively large, marsh surrounded area that would soon be impenetrable after things thaw. How clever it would be of us to sneak in there during the early season and nab some enormous, unmolested trout! It would seem no one would ever think of something so clever (besides the people in the 3 other vehicles that were there by the time we left).

It was a bust. The water was mostly brown with about an inch of visibility. There seemed to be little cover in this quick and winding, but seemingly featureless stream.

Dan brought us to a tributary to this brown creek and it looked much more trouty with some habitat work and visible trout swimming around. That is, trout swimming away from us. On our way out we met a couple of anglers. One brandishing a Tenakra rod and cigar. Oddly, after a short conversation, they just walked down stream several feet to where we had just obviously spooked the hell out of the creek and started fishing. It made me wonder how often I give up too easily. Fortunately, I didn't see them catch anything.

After a 3rd ill fated attempt near a warm water discharge further down stream (do I smell poop?), we abandoned this mean water.

Our stubborn courage started us out on water that was miles in the wrong direction. After lunch and an hour or so of driving we arrived on a creek we were both familiar with. Yet, it was still nowhere near Viroqua and what anyone would consider the heart of the driftless. Fortunately, the creek was merciful and we both got the skunk out, landing a few small brownies each.

And that was it for opening day. The next day, Sunday, I decided to embark on a solo journey into a creek that is almost literally in my back yard. Could it be true that a creek so close to home could at least puke out a few stocked holdovers on this slow sunny weekend?

No. No way. Not too surprising, but my imagination was pretty adept at assembling a "trout Eden" situation at the bottom of that off-the-beaten-path DNR wildlife area. In this case, I could just quit early and drive 10 minutes back to my house.

The following weekend I would not take such brazen risks. Trapper and Vernon County was calling and getting skunked while on the beat in Trapper's neighborhood is virtually impossible.

Vernon County is peppered with water retention dams and at the bottom of many of these dams are "plunge pools". Water spits out a big concrete tube and into a pool that sometimes looks bottomless. Out the other end of this pool a creek is born, meandering happily down the valley to parts unknown.

"But what's in the pool?" asks any fisherman...

In my experience, lots of things. Carp, bluegill, trout, suckers, turtles, portals into alien dimensions.... these are mysterious and often entertaining places.

In this case, it would turn out to be brook trout (from an alien dimension). We each caught a few and and decided to move on. We both had a creek in mind that had produced lots of fish and fun in the past. One of the beauties of this stream is that it is next door to a fine establishment that serves excellent food and Stella Artios.

After lunch and beers (birthday beers in fact, happy birthday Trap!) We descended into the fishing zone and made slow progress upstream. I didn't catch a lot of fish, but the 3 I did catch were tough browns. I do enjoy this place.

To close out the day, we drove up and over into an adjacent valley to another branch of the same system. The soaking wet gravel road tried desperately to pull me into the ditch. We reached an upper section of creek that until very recently was accessible though a small campground. We found the new land owners taking down the old campsite sign. Trapper started a conversation with them and found out that they were from the neighborhood and mutual acquaintances with many of his friends. It turned out that the area was no longer open to the public, but with their kind permission, we were able to fish.

There are a couple of things I really enjoyed about this section of creek. One was that it was in the woods. Not super dense wood, but enough trees to create a secluded tree-cave experience. Secondly, it had old stream improvements. Fresh DNR work on a creek can look and feel a bit mini-golf coarse-like. But these lunker structures were from decades ago, and are now somewhat natural feeling. Each hole produced fish and I had about a half dozen to hand by the time we made it back to chat again with the owners who were by this time finished with their work and enjoying a beer.

Looking across the property beyond the old campsite picnic shelter was wall of grass covering a very artificial looking hill. A water retention dam. And what else? A plunge pool!

Surprisingly, this pool was as new to Trapper as it was to me. When we completed the hike over to it, we found it to be an impressively large one. We moved into our separate positions and started casting.

On my first cast I brought a 12" brown trout to hand. Then another quickly after, while Trap had one on at the same time. The pool seemed massively deep, so for the first time of this outing I changed my fly set up a bit. I had been using my green turd streamer on a fairly quick retrieve. I added to this a tan scud as a trailer about 18 inches back and slowed my retrieve. It would be this scud that I would catch the remainder of the fish.

Eventually the fish stopped biting and we called it a day. I'd caught around 15 fish over the coarse of the day. It was enough action to make me feel like I was back in the game, which is great. It's only March, and the game is only getting started.


  1. I love the plunge pools too! Great post, I hope the rest year is as good as the start.

    1. Thanks Ryan.... hey, keep me in mind when it's time to go dogfish hunting!