600 spring creeks. 24,000 square miles. 4,000 miles of trout streams. Brown, brook, and rainbow trout. Dramatic limestone bluffs. Solitude. Freedom to explore the streams you choose. Driftless Love.
No better way to spend a week vacation than to be nestled within the Driftless valleys. This trip had been in the works for some time and the plan of attack was just about ironed out. There were three priorities that I set out to accomplish during this week. They included:
- Explore at minimum 15 brand new spring creeks that I’ve never hit before.
- Spend as much time exploring the streams as possible during the day; campfires at night.
- Capture the beautiful Driftless scenery and trout through picture and video.
The thing that really attracts me to the Driftless Area is the opportunity to explore. There are so many streams to choose from that there is always something new to explore and discover. Figuring out brand new streams not only improves my own fly fishing abilities, but also provides numerous opportunities to discover beautiful places that before I never knew existed.
I set out on July 27-28, targeting streams located within the Wisconsin Driftless. One of the streams hit on July 27 was a real gem. It was a narrow creek that produced some beautiful trout. In fact, some of the most beautiful brown trout I’ve seen. The spots, colors, and patterns on the brown pictured below were absolutely stunning.
On July 28, I hit two wider spring creeks. Both of these brought several nice browns to my hand, but one in particular was a real beautiful stretch of water. I covered a lot of this stream while hiking deep into its valley. Being surrounded only by dramatic bluffs, sweet rock formations, clear water, and plentiful wildlife. Glancing down at the next bend, I spotted two deer in the middle of the creek. They were splashing each other while playing in the crystal clear water, never once spotting me. This lasted a good five minutes. One of the more memorable parts of the trip.
On July 29, I began early on this same beautiful wild stretch of water, not having got enough of this stream the prior evening. Then covered a couple more streams before heading into the Iowa Driftless. I consider the Iowa Driftless a real sleeper. Having so much good trout fishing in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Driftless, it’s easy to turn your nose to the Iowa Driftless. But some of the most beautiful stretches of Driftless streams reside in Iowa.
I woke early again on Tuesday, July 30 and first targeted a stream I had been eying for some time. I made my first cast a little before 6:00 AM. Excited by this trouty-looking run, I covered its entire length then began hiking upstream along the rocky covered banks. All of the sudden, my studded wading boots slipped and before I knew it my right hand, clenched in a fist, slammed flesh on a rock. My hand almost immediately tripling in size, throbbing, and bleeding, I regained my focus and made a beeline for my car. Luckily it was earlier in the morning so it was still a manageable walk to my car. I then stopped the bleeding, wrapped my hand, and tried to piece together what exactly just happened.
It was very apparent that my hand, well two fingers in particular (ring and little finger) although the whole hand was immensely swollen, did not feel normal. So I had two choices: 1) Pack up my fishing gear, dismantle my camp, and head back home to get this thing checked out. In other words, the option that the masses would choose. Or, 2) Take a 20 minute break, regroup, refocus on the three priorities that I laid out to myself before this trip started, and get back to the challenge at hand. Well if you think back to my post on my January 1, 2013 outing, you’ll remember the words “no risk, no reward”. At the end of the day, stuff like this happens when you’re willing to hike further than most or cast in areas most would pass up. But by taking that risk, you see some of the most beautiful stretches of water and trout left nearly untouched.
20 minutes later, I threw back on my pack, situated the lanyard, and proceeded to hike deep along this stream covering a ton of ground. With my right casting hand still throbbing, I quickly learned how much casting leverage really does come from your ring and little finger. It took quite a while learning to cast with three fingers and get the fly where I wanted it, but once mastering this, trout after trout again started coming to my hand. This stream had some of the most beautiful rock formations covering its entire length. It was not surprising to learn of the extremely rich Native American history within this watershed. It was truly one of the most beautiful Driftless streams I’ve been on.
Later in the day, still on the 30th, I hit another Iowa Driftless stream I had been targeting. After getting situated, I began the hike. Down a semi-steep hill, then traversing up a steep bluff, then back down the bluff, then through some farmland…still no sight of a stream. I saw one more very steep hill ahead and told myself that I would try this last one in hope that the stream would be on the other side in the valley. After finally reaching the top, I looked way down and saw a yellow sign posted on a tree. It was the “Catch & Release Only” sign. Through a wooded section and situated within a sweet valley was a little gem-of-a-stream. My hand still throbbing, I took a few casts and quickly started landing some pristine native brookies. It was loaded with them. Who woulda thought…native brookies in Iowa. Yeah, this hike will be done again.
On Wednesday, July 31, I hit three more Iowa Driftless streams. One of these was a real keeper. It was a wide spring creek with several brown and rainbow trout. It was enjoyable wading and will be a real treat to cover once the leaves start changing colors. Later in the afternoon, it was time to head for the final destination…the Minnesota Driftless.
Thursday, August 1 saw the discovery of two more very solid streams. The first was a very pristine-looking stream that meandered within a tight valley. A highlight of this stream was very old stone ruins that was just yards away from the stream. I later learned that this used to be an old flour mill built in 1868. Pretty neat to say the least.
The second stream was a definite “wow”. This spring creek had a wider flow, extremely clear water, several trouty runs, and some of the more beautiful wild browns that you’ll see. Landed several nice browns, but lost the Big Boy while covering a lot of ground on this stream. It instantly became one of my top Minnesota Driftless streams.
Friday, August 2, the last day of my Driftless Vacation, was spent hitting several streams. I stayed at each stream long enough to scout its trout-production capability then moved onto the next. While retreating back home, I reminisced on the week and quite the week this was.
- Distance traveled in car: 930 miles
- Distance hiked along streams: 27.25 miles
- Total number of streams explored: 25 (19 of which were brand new ones)
- I can count on two hands, maybe even one the number of other fishermen seen throughout the entire week
Finally on Monday, August 5, I went to see the doctor for my hand. The x-ray came back positive for a fracture at the base of my little finger (not a hairline fracture, this thing was the real deal) and I also had an intense sprain of my ring finger. About four weeks later, I was cleared to hit the streams again. My little finger about completely healed but my ring finger still being in rough shape. Unable to straighten and difficult to bend completely. As I write, I’m currently going through some physical therapy to hopefully get this thing back to normal.
So they ask me, “Now would you really keep fishing the entire week if you knew what you know now?” You better believe it, and can you blame me?
Driftless Love through video:
Driftless Love through picture: