The Driftless Area is in the North. Sometimes I forget that. But just because Iowa is south of Minnesota and the Minnesota and Wisconsin sections are not in the Iron Range doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold here. And because we are up north, we get all four seasons without hesitation.
Spring is wet with stained streams and low streamside growth yielding good conditions for hungry trout and rusty anglers.
But it doesn’t take too long for the brush to kick up; by early summer, you can easily wet-wade. And in your approach to the stream, you trudge through dew-covered grasses that drenches your legs. The nettles aren’t too high yet, but give it a couple weeks. In the height of summer, the untended valleys are showing you what they are made of. Like elephants in the grass, you are blindly pushing your way from oxbow to oxbow trying to find a wade-able or cast-able section.
When August/September comes and things begin to dry out, the grasses begin to give way and hoppers kick up into streams. Dare I say, is there anything much better than the 8p, low light, magic hour on a trout stream in August when it is just dark enough for fish to get courageous and terrestrials are tumbling into the water?
As fall rolls in, the banks get more manageable. The grasses are falling down and casting is getting easier again. The browns are getting hungry and the weather is cool and refreshing.
As for winter? It is a true winter in the Driftless. Your guides are freezing. Your hands are cracking. Water is gin-clear. Fish are hungry but spook easily. Though you have less stream pressure and easier casting, winter truly tests the stealthy angler. And you never know when the wind will die down and a brief hatch will emerge.
Each season has its challenges, and each has its joys. And therein lies the beauty. Each season is unique. Fishing is fun because of the challenges. Living in the Driftless is a lucky thing. You don’t have to fly a plane to find a new experience. You just have to walk a little further downstream or wait until the next season arrives.
When 2017 came to close I saw a lot of people talk about the number of days on the water. You people are lucky enough to get out and hit that hundred day mark.
I’ve never counted my total numbers of days on the water. I definitely follow the thought process that if I’m lucky enough to be on the water im Lucky enough. That being said, it is somewhat enticing to see how many days I might make it out on the water. I suppose it gives you a frame of reference if you’re just trying to document it. And it also is a good reminder When you feel like you haven’t been fishing very much and you look back and see how much you really got out. So far, I’m at 6 days on the water. At this rate that means I could get out maybe 50 times. That sounds pretty amazing.
Winter trout season in the driftless area is always an exciting experience for me. It’s so much different than the warmer weather seasons. The water can be crystal clear and the streams can be wide-open or the next day you can have ice shelves covering long stretches of water making casting and exercise in Precision and accuracy.
And the honest truth is that getting out fishing again after a break reminds me that I’m really not that great of a flyfisherman. I’ve read enough blogs and fished in enough different locations that I’ve collected some skills that make me at least moderate I would say. However, when it comes right down to it, my nymphing seems to be mediocre at best and I often find myself spoking pools and I never seem to land as many fish as those around me.
Maybe it is social media making the appearance that everybody else is catching bigger fish more fish than me. Maybe it really is true, I just don’t catch as much as everyone else. I would like to think I’m a knowledgeable angler. I would like to think I can catch fish most days on the water even when conditions are really tough. But the truth is I’m just another average fisherman. What’s wonderful is that it doesn’t mean I don’t love it any less.
I’ve been out twice so far this year in Wisconsin. I wasn’t able to make the Minnesota fishing opener but the -10° weather makes me think that was OK. Both outings in Wisconsin we’re short. Two hours on the water each. They were familiar streams so I thought I’d be able to find some fish, but alas, both trips left me empty handed.
What is it funny that instead of being discouraged and thinking I’m wasting my time and should hold off on fishing until warmer weather, two outings with no fish has left me with fewer flies and a greater desire to get back out. Fly fishing is so addictive for me. That’s for sure.
So I’m still looking for my first fish of 2018. Heck, after well over 15 years of trout fishing or closer to 20 I’m still looking for my first 20 inch fish. Maybe 2018 is the year. Or maybe this is just the year of humility. If it is, I’m OK with that. Because, what is that we all say when we don’t catch fish? Oh yeah, “you know, it’s just so great getting out.”
You just can’t stop this guy…. I’m so pumped to get out and fish!!!! Thanks Justin for showing us the phenom that is the Driftless Area.
A New Year’s Eve, I had the opportunity to brave the subzero temperatures with a new buddy in the area who is not only an experience flyfisherman but a well-equipped ice fishermen. My icefishing experience is limited and are usually only had out one or two times here with lackluster results. This time I was headed out with the pro who knows the water in our area The Mississippi River joins with several other river systems in the area of La Crosse Wisconsin providing a great opportunity for backwater fishing. The diversity of freshwater species in the area is great and there’s always the potential that at some big fish are swimming right beneath your feet.
We jigged and used rosies (I’d never seen these before). They are like albino crappie Minnows I think.
We didn’t come up huge. We did get very cold. But that was mostly when we left the ice house. And we did manage a couple nice perch that were worth frying up. A gorgeous flakey fish with a delicate flavor.
Trout season is now open in Minnesota and it opens this weekend in Wisconsin. I wanted to get out by now but it just hasn’t happened. But the time is coming and I can’t wait.
Oh boy it is cold. The streams are open, but catch and release season opener in Minnesota/Wisconsin will be cold and most deep pools and slower runs will be frozen over.
As such, I’ll be waiting until a little later to trout fish, I think. I might go ice fishing on Sunday. If I do, I’ll be sure to share some photos. I haven’t ice fished in the area yet, so I’m excited. If you are getting out, good luck!
Also, I did see The Last Jedi…. Overall, I liked it. It was a fun movie. I raised my eyebrows a couple times here and there, but, I’m hoping episode IX will show me that The Last Jedi was the movie it needed to be…. We will see.
Justin over at Winona fly factory is back at it with some awesome Driftless Area video edits. Check out his latest effort here.