There are a tremendous number of fly fishing opportunities in the Driftless area. I decided to focus on the Viroqua Wisconsin area, and I ended up spending all my time on one system. I fished Rullands Coulee, Timber Coulee and Spring Coulee – and even if I went back a few more times, I wouldn’t be able to explore all the water on just these streams. There are other tribs in the system I didn’t even look at. Consider there are many other systems of creeks through the Driftless area, not just in Wisconson but also in Minnesota, Iowa and a wee part of Illinois. Some of the streams, like Spring Coulee above, are well marked and there are good safe areas to pull your car off the road. In this spot, Spring Coulee is quite narrow, but because of all the brush and the small but fairly deep valley, you really have to get in there and wade the stream.
This little cut was only a couple feet across. The run below is surprisingly deep, with an undercut on the far side. I tried fishing this fast run with a dry from below, but found it very difficult to get my fly in just the right spot. This is the challenge on this little stream. It’s pretty obvious where the best fish will be – and when I fished it they were free-rising and not very selective. The challenge is getting your fly to the trout without spooking them. I fished all morning one day on this stream. I slowly worked my way upstream, fishing most of the good runs along the way. I say most because some deep undercuts are just about impossible to fish. Some of them can be approached from above, and I made a mental note of which runs to fish on the way back, but once I started working back downstream, I was getting hot and tired and I ended up cutting across the field and heading back to the motel for a nap before the evening fishing. I’d like to fish more of this little water sometime. I didn’t get anything bigger than 11 inches in this stream, but I did catch quite a few trout here and I really enjoyed this water.
For those who prefer bigger water, a short drive takes you to Timber Coulee, a stream which offers quite a variety of fly fishing experience. One evening there was a huge blue-winged olive emergence on Timber Coulee at this stretch. This run came alive with trout rising all over the place. There were two sizes of fly coming off and the trout seemed to have no use for the larger of the two. This stretch offers a series of runs-riffles-pools, and the some of the pools have considerable depth. Other stretches are quite different. One evening I fished a stretch with a bit of a rock cliff on the far side. This stretch had deep undercuts, and bushes and trees on the far bank. The biggest trout rose tight to the structure, of course.
At this time on these creeks, mid-day is the time for lunch and a nap. Morning fishing tailed off by 11:00 am and there really wasn’t much doing until about 4:30 PM. Since there were plenty of rising trout, I mostly fished dry flies. I did try nymphs and streamers at various times, and caught a few on streamers, but curiously enough, nothing on nymphs. On the other hand, soft-hackle flies, fished in the surface film or even a little below were among the best patterns.
The fellow in the fly shop told me the trout had been eating craneflies and except for the one evening when the olive hatch was overwhelming, adult crane patterns were about the best pattern I could find to fool these fish.