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In Praise of Overlooked Places

Just what is meant by "overlooked", I am not exactly sure. What I mean by this but it ranges from Wisconsin being overlooked when it comes to a place to fish trout to that tiny little spot that does not look like much and most anglers walk by but you almost always catch a nice fish or two there.

Argentinian anglers in Wisconsin
"The Argentinians" - a group of anglers I spent nearly a week with at the West Fork Sports Club. They were on their way to Alaska - Wisconsin was an afterthought.

On a really good day of fishing a few years ago, a tiny little spot along the bank yielded a solid 17 inch Brown Trout when I was just about ready to call it quits. I had covered nearly a mile of stream and was in no man's land - it was going to be a long walk through some tall grass back to the car and it had already been a really good day. But I saw this tiny little undercut - maybe 3 foot of bank - and thought it is worth a cast before the walk back to the car. It was separated from the improved waters by maybe 50 feet but I can only imagine that most anglers stopped when they got to the end of the "good water". That little undercut moved the day from really good to a day that was quite memorable.

The idea for this post came to me in fishing a spot the other day (yes, now months ago) that is a well-marked public access that is rarely fished. There was no trail to get me through the tall grass to where I wanted to start fishing - I saw that as a good omen. The water that I really like is maybe 100 to 150 meters of stream and it is a bit of a walk from the access point. It is just the perfect late summer grasshopper spot. I fish it maybe a couple of times a year - usually once fairly early in the season to remind myself how much better it gets later in the season.

It does not really look like much - it is a small stream, it gets really weedy, and there are no big deep pools. In fact, I would be surprised if there is a mid-thigh deep hole in the entire reach. Part of it being overlooked is certainly that it is a small stream - maybe 10 feet wide on average. It gets really weedy - did I mention that yet? I find that part of the charm but it certainly would - and does - turn off a lot of anglers.

Current seam
That little current seam along the right side is (almost) always good. This time, it resulted in two larger than average fish on back to back casts.

Fast Forward a Few Weeks...


Maybe I had this post - and a desire to complete it - on my mind today (20th of August) when I traveled to a tiny little stream that I very rarely fish. I had a hunch it could be really good and I knew the odds of anyone fishing it were exceedingly close to zero. It is tough to fish - it is in a rotationally grazed pasture that looks like it has been at least 2-3 weeks since it has last seen a cow. The average width is maybe 3 or 4 feet, that is probably an overestimate. As I walked through the pasture from the access stile to get to the stream, I was kicking up gobs of hoppers, a few of which would land in the stream and instantly they were getting smashed. It was going to be a good day!

Much of the time, Driftless trout fishing is a bit of a delicate affair - relatively small flies and fine tippets fished on long leaders. This was 180 degrees from that, there was nothing delicate about it. I was fishing probably 2X tippet as I cut my leader back to about 6 or 7 feet. With a foam hopper tied on, the goal was often to crash it through the grasses that protected the stream. The photos don't do it justice. It was difficult and at times impossible to get a fly to the water. But when you did, hold on!

Every once in a while the stream widened to maybe 4 to 6 feet and on rare occasion, I could make a 20 or even a 25 foot cast. Every little shaded undercut or place that was mid-shin deep held trout and those trout were willing.

I had a hell of a day - and maybe fished 100 to 150 meters of stream. I have no idea how many fish I actually brought to hand - at least 30, probably over 40. It was just one of those days where you lose count early and just roll with it. Had I hooked up with every fish that hit my fly, that number would have risen to at least 60 or 80, probably more. The hits were often explosive - they probably missed or blew the fly out of the water as often as I missed the hook set. Or at least I will tell myself that to make me feel better about all the missed hook ups.

Tiny Driftless stream
A REALLY small stream - just hitting the stream and getting through the grass was a challenge.

On a stream this small, the pools and runs are short and close together. Every few meters was another likely looking spot. Every little undercut held a fish - which I often proceeded to pull the fly out of its mouth right before it hit it. In the gin clear water, I could see them coming from several feet away. Often they were throwing wakes - their dorsal fins out of the water - trying to get to the fly. But you got one shot at them, miss them or hook one and disturb the pool / run, and you were done. They were eager but they were not fools.

Rock outcrop
I'm a sucker for a rock outcropping - even though on this day, it resulted in no fish.

I overdosed on fun today in a tiny little overlooked stream of which there are hundreds just like it around the Driftless Area.


Overlooked?


Certainly Wisconsin is not the first place that pops into many fly anglers' for trout fishing. The Driftless has probably become the best known area trout fishing area in the state - the Bois Brule River - the River of Presidents - maybe the best known of the state's trout waters. My guess would be that few trout anglers outside of the Midwest have heard or know much of either. Fewer yet would know anything about the central sands or other areas of the state. I am OK with that.

We don't have the history of the Eastern US - the Catskills, Maine's landlocked salmon rivers and famed flies, or Pennsylvania's limestoners. Nor do we have the romance of the West's big rivers, wide open spaces, and of course, their mountains. What we tend to have an abundance of are relatively small, intimate streams. It's not for everyone, I get it.

There are a number of relatively well known Driftless streams - the West Fork of the Kickapoo, Timber Coulee, the Kinni and Rush, Black Earth Creek - streams that have made books like Trout Unlimited 100 Best Trout Streams. Within the Driftless, there are hundreds of miles of lesser known - and rarely fished - streams. Even within the watersheds with better known streams and even on the better known streams themselves, there are overlooked places. You just have to be willing to fish them.

Driftless Brown Trout
A better than average Driftless Brown Trout from a public place that does not see a lot of anglers.

Want to get away from people and fish over fishes that see few flies - go where others are not willing to go. This typically means moving further upstream or into small tributaries and moving into more forested, brushier reaches. If it is difficult to make a cast, that will reduce anglers by approximately 78% (a number I just made up...but I'm probably close). Already many anglers see Driftless streams as too small to be worth fishing...

common carp
Common Carp - now there is a sport fish!

I suppose we could talk about moving away from trout as well. Smallmouth Bass have certainly received a lot more of many fly angler's attention in recent decades and all the cool kids are chucking big ass streamers at musky these days. How about carp? I mean how much fun and challenge are they? I've yet to meet a White Sucker specialist but why not? Great fight on the fly rod! Decades ago I thought I had my first 20+ inch Brown Trout only for it to be a White Sucker on my pheasant tail nymph. I now feel more than a bit bad that I was so disappointed in my catch at the time.


I don't know that there is any greater point to this post but a bit of an off-season appeal to you - and to me - to think a bit outside of the box. To try something a little different. To explore a place you have driven by who knows how many times to get to "better" water. To make a cast or two to a place you have often walked by on your way to that big pool.

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