Fishing Near the Cabin

The Fish are Biting in the Coulee Valley, Just About Year-Round
by Clay Riness, formerly of Rocking Trout Spring Creek Fishing Service.
Edited by John Ivanko, with permission. Not for reproduction.

Coon Valley, Wisconsin is located in a non-glaciated area known as the "driftless area". During the great ice ages, all three continental glacier sheets passed it by. Ancient receding rivers cut valleys, leaving a hilly topography. Locally these valleys are called "coulees" and the area is known as the "coulee region," or Coulee Country. Almost every coulee sports a small river or stream, and many of these creeks are small enough to hop over, especially in their upper sections.

It is often said that this area's creeks are "sidewalk to street" wide. Spring fed by an immense underground water source known as the St. Peter Aquifer, these streams are truly limestone spring creeks, high in calcium carbonate, rich with invertebrates, teaming with wild trout.

The semi-mountainous topography and agricultural background of this area (which spans the past 150 years) has promoted frequent flooding and heavy sedimentation. Much habitat reconstruction has been done on many of the streams by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and sportsman's organizations, and this has helped to stabilize creeks, provide cover, and promote healthy populations of brown trout.

By automobile, Coon Valley is approximately 4.5 hours northwest of Chicago, Illinois. The Coon Valley area has been receiving national attention as of late for its numerous spring creeks, excellent trout fishing and its easy access for the flyfisher.

While Wisconsin has 2,674 trout streams for a combined total of 9,560 miles of trout water according to the Wisconsin DNR, some of the best are in Coulee Country.

A Few of the Best in the U.S.The Coon Creek Watershed/Timber Coulee is one of the top destinations for fly-fishing. Coon Creek runs through Coon Valley and eventually into the Mississippi River at the town of Stoddard, Wisconsin. The water between Coon Valley and the mighty Mississippi is marginal. However, it holds many trout, and among them some true trophies. Sedimentation is heavy and wading difficult. Rarely fished by the flyfisher, this water is suited to the adventurer who likes peace.

As one works upstream of Coon Valley, the water gets smaller, cleaner, clearer and colder. Related feeder creeks begin to join Coon Creek. Conditions favor the flyfisherman. Access is plentiful. It is here anglers will find the waters featured in Trout and Flyfisherman magazines. Famed stretches of Timber Coulee Creek, Bohemian Valley Creek, and Rullands Creek are known for their enormous populations of small, wild browns. Of course, every now and then, there is news of a big trout too. A few years ago, Timber Coulee Creek was included in Trout Magazine's list of top 100 streams in the nation. It produces an extraordinary number of wild brown trout for its size...some speculate around 400 pounds per acre. It's delicate fishing, but the trout are lovely and the angle can be challenging. Timber Coulee trout are mighty spooky.

The upper West Fork of the Kickapoo River runs north to south and is located just east of Westby and Viroqua in the county of Vernon. The little town of Avalanche is located in the middle of an eight mile stretch of catch and release water, the only "no kill/artificials only" water in the area. This water was also featured in Trout magazine in 1995. The word is out. Although some older, outdated publications show the entire upper Kickapoo River as marginal trout water, this upper stretch is currently one of the most popular and productive trophy-regulated sections in Wisconsin. Habitat work and a catch and release regulation have improved the West Fork so much that it is being considered for Class II status and expected to eventually be a Class I trout Stream. This water has a mix of wild and stocked trout, many of them sizable. Browns dominate the river. A few rainbows and even fewer brookies are present. It is not "fly-only" water, although the use of live baits is prohibited. Good fishing can be had above and below the no-kill section as well. The farther downstream one goes, the more marginal the water becomes.

Other Notables FindsWillow Creek is arguably one of Richland county's best trout steams, located just east of Richland Center and south of Hillsboro, Wisconsin. It is on the edge of sand country, but the upper section of it is quite lovely and holds good populations of trout.

Billings Creek flows into the East Fork (main branch) of the Kickapoo between Rockton and Ontario, Wisconsin. It holds some stocked as well as wild trout. The upper section of Billings is in Monroe county and its second half is in Vernon. Access is mixed. Highway 33 crosses the stream in its lower half. Permission may be necessary upstream.

Nearly Year-round ActionAquatic insect populations are abundant and hatches are sometimes heavy in many of the streams and creeks of Coulee Country. Mayfly, caddis and midge populations are prevalent in most streams, and some stoneflies are present. Many other important invertebrate trout foods are plentiful.

From mid-March to the end of September, with a lull in the action mid-summer, local rivers provide some of the best trout fishing in the Midwest for wild and stocked browns, rainbows, and native brook trout.

Prolific insect hatches make for excellent fishing all through the regular trout season. Hot weather at the end of summer tends to make fishing difficult, however, so a change in tactics leads to spring creeks. Mid-summer, when the weather is hot and the fish on the larger rivers are sullen and well fed, some of the best fishing of the year is found on the area's spring creeks, with browns and brookies hitting hopper patterns with explosive rises. Stealth and an accurate cast are key.

Arguably the best season of all to fish southwestern Wisconsin is the fall season. Crisp temperatures, vivid colors and the return of insect hatches make for fishing action not seen since the end of May!

In spring, the question is where to head north to Coulee Country for some of the best fishing in the Midwest. The fishing is so good that Trout Unlimited launched a $370,000 Kickapoo Watershed Project as a part of their "Home Rivers Initiative" program.

Anglers interested in fishing in southwest Wisconsin will need to bring the following:

* A valid Wisconsin fishing license and trout stamp. An annual trout stamp is currently $7.25. One hundred percent of this money goes into trout habitat restoration.

* Flyrods, reels and flylines appropriate for small stream fishing...

* Balanced outfits in 3, 4 and 5 wieght are probably most applicable to inland trout fishing in southwest Wisconsin. Weight-forward, double-taper, and triangle-taper lines are best.

* An assortment of dry flies, nymphs, wets, and streamers...

* General patterns are fine to start. As you become more familiar with southwest Wisconsin's streams and hatches, you can plan for more hatch-specific patterns.

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