Wisconsin Fly Fishing

Driftless Area

The Driftless Area of Wisconsin, contains some 15,000 square miles of one-time prairie and oak openings, carved by the rains of time into hills and “mountains” eroded into valleys, hollows, coulees, glens, dingles, and dells, and drained by hundreds of named spring creeks and warm-water rivers. It is a huge, rough right triangle of land, more than 100 miles on each leg, wedged between the Mississippi River and the Illinois border. The bellied hypotenuse is Interstate 90, connecting Beloit, Wisconsin, on the Illinois border with La Crosse on the Mississippi.

Some links of hills are called the Blue Mounds because at the end of day they are just that— blue mounds rippling against a washed sky. There are also names like Castle Rock and Pike’s Peak to differentiate one crenellated tower from a distant, limestone spire. There’s Wildcat Ridge, named in the 1820s for those sly beasts which roamed the hills when the settlers came up the Mississippi from St. Louis and points east. The homesteaders came in sternwheelers, sidewheelers, and by wagon from Milwaukee, to burn the oaks and plant corn. Welsh and Cornish miners came to dig lead out of vertical shafts and to burrow winter homes into the sides of cliffs.

Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. Folklore has it that it was named for those first soft-rock miners, and that is as good a story as any, although the shy and dangerous badger still mines his hidey-holes in the quiet valleys.

This gigantic triangle, part of which is appropriately named the Hidden Valleys for commercial and tourist purposes, includes portions of 14 counties. A wandering fisher will find trout in all of them, even in Rock County, which is only a couple of hours by car from Chicago.

Twelve counties are of special interest to the footloose fly-fisher. They contain 413 trout streams and more than 1500 miles of brook trout, browns, and rainbows. That’s almost enough for several lifetimes of exploration.

With so many productive spring creeks from which to choose, it’s impossible to guide you on a stream-by-stream tour, so we’ll examine streams that are suitable for fly-fishing over educated stream trout. All are classic, spring-fed hardwater streams. Many are exceedingly fertile and produce multiple hatches of aquatic insects. Don’t be put off by terms like “creek” or “river.” Some creeks are larger than some rivers and some rivers are quite modest.

Big Green River

From the heights of Mount Ida (junction of US 18 and County Road K), west of Fennimore, one can look down through green pastures, past forested slopes, and into the valley of the Big Green. To the east, only minutes away, lie the broad meadows of Castle Rock Creek and the narrow, twisting glen of the Blue River.

The Big Green, upstream from WI 133 near Woodman, has 11 miles of water, a section of which is Category 5; the remainder is Category 3, planted with brown trout. Snaking through pasture land, sometimes with one edge against a wooded limestone ridge, it is narrow, averaging 12 feet in width. A few expert early-season nymph fishers will take 30 or 40 fish in a morning. They work excruciatingly slowly upstream through the open land, casting a #14 or #15 Hare’s Ear Nymph or a Green Caddis Larva.

One March 25 on the upper Green, with the air temperature at 35 degrees and the water at 48 degrees, while I was throwing figure 8s into a powerful breeze (and sometimes 9s and maybe even 10s), the browns began to rise at noon for lunch to a goodly hatch of miserable, struggling Baetis. I took just enough trout to satisfy my ego before deciding that life was too short to suffer so for the Art of Fly-Fishing. My emerger had a dark olive/brown body with a ball of gray rabbit dubbing on top. A purist might have preferred to drop a #18 Blue-Winged Olive on the nose.

Take Spring Valley Road into the valley from just opposite the Fenmore Hills Motel and Supper Club (our usual headquarters) on US 18, 2 miles west of Fennimore. Between the two bridges on the Green it’s low-profile fly-casting with a 4- or 5-weight rod, .005 (6X) tippet, and tiny flies in the early weeks. A visitor can also find the headwaters of the Green on the Green River Road, 1 mile north of Fennimore, west of US 61, or on County Road K from Mt. Ida to Werley.

Downstream from Werley, the pools deepen and in places the brush closes in. About 3 miles of the Big Green from County Road T to WI 133 is restricted to artificials only and catch and release, Category 5. It’s probable that the significant increase there in larger trout is the result of these special regulations. At least one local angler, Roger Kerr, thinks so. He reported the best trout fishing of his life one recent June in that Category 5 section.

Fly-fishing the special-regulations water can produce unexpected results. It’s the most beautiful water through pasture, where the DNR has installed lunker structures. Walking downstream, Bill spooked one fish that looked to be about 14 inches. Then, you won’t believe what he did. He caught a legitimate 20-inch rainbow, on a Hare’s Ear bead head with a little bit of split shot. It must have taken him a half hour to bring her in. It was a real reel screamer. I couldn’t believe it either! Evidently our friends from the DNR plant more than browns in the Big Green. A few more browns deigned to look at our offerings after some labor, but none approached that first trophy, which, by the way, was carefully released.

Bill sums up our experience this way:”This Big Green is a wonderful river! There are so many places for big trout to hide. That’s what this river must be about-good-sized trout, not necessarily about numbers of trout. I don’t know anything quite as nice as this. All pasture, a lot of deep runs, 15 to 25 yards wide in most areas. It’s just got to have some amazingly big brown trout in it. You couldn’t find an easier stream in the whole wide world to fish. Everything’s open: It’s really neat.”

Crooked Creek

Crooked Creek in Grant County, south of the Wisconsin River, is Category 5 from WI 133 to the headwaters, a distance of 5.4 miles. Its browns are wild, that is, naturally reproducing. About 3 miles south of Boscobel on US 61 you will find Town Hall Road. You should be able to see the double-arched bridge way off to the west from US 61. There’s a DNR stile at the bridge and a superb pool. We always stop at the bridge to tease the brown trout. Or maybe they’re teasing us.

We’ve usually found trout midging under or in the shadows of the bridge. Maintain a low profile and approach from downstream.

Which reminds me of an incident. I parked the car, climbed the stile, and walked down the east bank, hunched over to keep out of sight of the feeding browns. Aha! I thought. What a way to start a day in early March. Clear skies, temperature in the 50s, no competition from other anglers, and the browns taking midges at the surface.

Fifty yards or so downstream I crossed the riffle and began a stealthy approach along the west bank. When I was close to casting range I dropped to my knees and began to inch forward, painfully.

Just then, two young guys stopped their car on the bridge, got out, leaned over to look, waved to me in friendly fashion, pulled the car off the bridge, hopped the stile, and began to flail the water.

So much for the beginning of a great day. There is such a thing as courtesy to other anglers who have already staked a claim to a promising bit of water, but I guess the kids didn’t know any better.

There are a couple of small pools downstream that you must fish on your knees, but generally the stream is narrow and deep, with water plants at the edges. Upstream to the next bridge on US 61 is pasture. It’s not posted against trespass, but you’ll want to ask permission at the white house.

We can’t leave Crooked Creek and Boscobel without leaving you with a bit of history. The old hotel in Boscobel is the birthplace of the Gideons, the folks who supply Bibles to hotel and motel rooms worldwide. It seems that one night, long ago, three traveling salesmen met in the lounge. Discovering, after a conversation that lasted into the wee hours, that they had similar religious convictions, they founded the Gideons. It’s a fair guess that they weren’t trout fishermen or they’d have been out on the streams.

Boscobel is a quiet town, with comfortable facilities for travelers. The Hotel Boscobel is now home to the Boscobel Heritage Museum and Library and is part of a historic downtown featuring many beautiful stone buildings.

Castle Rock Creek

Castle Rock Creek begins as a trickle from a ravine on the east edge of Fennimore in Grant County and winds some 22 miles northeast to its junction with the Blue River. At times past, that ravine was used as an occasional dump, so we’ve always had some doubt as to the water quality of the upper reaches.

About 6 miles downstream from Fennimore, along County Road Q, find Church Road and turn southeast to the bridge, the beginning of approximately 6 1/2 miles of designated trout water, and the head of about 1 1/2 miles of Category 5,”fish for fun” water, artificials only. The remainder of the mileage is Category 4. There may be some trout upstream of Church Road but the real action will be downstream as far as Witek Road. Access to the designated trout water is excellent because much of the mileage is under DNR easement.

Castle Rock Creek, also labeled Fennimore Fork on the trout regulations map, offers a different configuration from most other southwestern Wisconsin streams. Upstream of the first bridge on County Road Q, east of Church Road, it’s a broad pasture stream with huge, slow pools alternating with riprapped corners and a few graveled runs. There’s a short section of paving on the northwest side of the first County Road Q bridge, which provides off-road parking. Downstream to the second bridge it’s somewhat narrower and heavily riprapped, with a variety of habitat more typical of the other streams in the area. It’s possible to park at the second bridge down and, for a small fee, fish through a private campground. As I recall, the last time we fished the campground we paid our fees to the folks at Kohout Farm.

Quick to rise during a rainstorm and slow to fall, the creek is always slightly milky due to runoff from pasture and field and percolation through limestone. Summertime water temperatures are not likely to exceed 70 degrees. Because natural reproduction is poor and the stream is popular with anglers from Illinois and other distant places, all three species of trout are planted.

One expert advises that he’s had consistent and quite fabulous success with a Royal Coachman bucktail. A Pass Lake, or any similar white-winged caddis pattern in size #14, will do equally well if the trout are not rising to an identifiable hatch.

The gigantic pools upstream of the County Road Q bridge will have to be approached in an attitude of prayer— on your knees on the bank— not because you implore the intervention of divine beneficence, but because you will be visible against the sky to wary trout that have already tasted the metal of a hook. Stay back on a long line and a fine leader. Float your fly close to the jumbled riprap. Late in the year you’ll find mats of blooming watercress and the massed tiny pads of lesser duckweed at the margins. Drop your fly there; the trout will lie in shadow and rush to meet your fly, if they like the look of it.

Not so long ago, a DNR survey revealed 200 fish 16 to 18 inches long, and hundreds in the 10- to 14-inch class, all in the catch-and-release section. There were also a few giant browns to 24 inches near the outlet of the big spring, which pumps 3000 gallons a minute into Castle Rock. On one recent occasion, Bob Mitchell, of Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, released a 27-inch rainbow— brood stock from a hatchery, no doubt.

To fatten those superior trout, the creek contains substantial populations of scuds, leeches, and a few species of the smaller stoneflies. That thin hatch of early-April small black stoneflies is probably Capnia vernalis, known to the fraternity as the early black, but stoneflies are not common to these spring creeks, and the early black will have gone airborne by May.

You might think that so popular a stream would be under constant pressure. Yet we have been there in the early season in midweek and again during the dog days of August, and have encountered no other fishermen. May and June weekends will see a surfeit of anglers.

On an August evening under a gloomy sky, on the fourth cast against the bank of the first run downstream from County Road Q bridge, a 14-inch brown rose to take a Cap Buettner Stonefly Muddler. The brown was a veritable football in shape, deeply colored and determined to fight. Not one other fisherman was there to witness that titanic struggle.

But we admit we particularly enjoy the early weeks on Castle Rock when the barometer is rising into the green range of”good fishing.” The sun is shining. Visibility under washed blue skies is forever. Go fishing! our inner urges yell. Go, go! After all, it’s only 250 miles from home. And so our recommendation to you, dear reader: Go and enjoy the great pools of Castle Rock at least once in your life.

Blue River

blue river wisconsin
Blue River

The Blue River at Bowers Road Bridge east of County Road G twists north to the Wisconsin River through a forested valley. Go east from Castle Rock to County Road G, then south to the first road running east. That’s Bowers Road, where there is a DNR parking lot and a stile. You may also be greeted by a friendly dog who always shows up, tail wagging, to share our sandwiches companionably. We’ve named him Beggar Dog, but he’s a good chap.

Between Bowers and Biba Roads, the downstream end of the designated trout water, a fisher may enjoy the solitude of primitive Wisconsin through 6 pretty miles. Upstream toward Montfort there’s a stretch of Category 5 water; the remainder is Category 4.

Late one March, Dick Hanousek of the Twin Cities took 13 good browns from the upstream Blue with Baetis emergers in a 4-hour period. As he said,”Not bad for openers.” Those tiny blue-winged olives will be around in May and June, and on through the season.

On another March day, Bill fly-fished upstream from Bowers Road, where he caught a couple of brownies and a rainbow on nymphs. “It’s a beautiful day, in the 40s, I’d say. Overcast most of the time. I ran into a guy who fishes below that bridge. He goes in there quite often. He came out with three browns today; he thought they were rainbows. He was fishing pieces of chub. A 22-incher, a 20-incher, and a 14-incher, and they were shaped like footballs. Obviously, these fish must make a pretty good living in the winter months in these big, deep holes. He said there were many deep holes and good fish, and that he had missed a couple of bigger ones. Can you imagine it? That 22-incher had to be 6, 7 pounds!” This may be one reason why the early season has been eliminated. Only parts of some streams were protected by catch-and-release rules during the special winter season, so bait fishers could plumb the pools outside the limits.

Doc Smith Creek

This 4-mile feeder shows some pretty water above its junction with Castle Rock in the pastures, but the water quality is marginal due to runoff from grazing land and high summer water temperatures. Only the lower 1.8 miles is considered trout water. We’ve had modest returns from the first 1/2 mile above the junction with Castle Rock.

Now lets takes Major tributaries to Lake Michigan for Steelhead.

Pike River

The Pike River is located in Kenosha, The Pike has a good fall run of King Salmon, Steelhead and Brown Trout. This river is a managed system and is stocked on an annual basis. This river is characterized by moderate to slow water flow and is contingent on rainfall for adequate water levels/flows.

Root River

The Root River is located in Racine, Wisconsin. The Root has a good fall run of King Salmon, Steelhead, Brown Trout and Coho. It also has a good population of brook trout.The Root River is a managed system and is stocked on an annual basis. This river is characterized by moderate water flow and a few very nice riffles, but is contingent on rainfall for adequate water levels/ flows. The Root River is one of the few rivers in the region that has three different Steelhead runs a spring, a summer /fall and a fall/winter run. The fishery is 5.7 miles long from the harbor at Racine to the Horlick Dam. The Dam is the end of the line for migratory fish, as it is not passable.

Oak Creek

Oak Creek is located in the town of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Oak Creek is meandering creek that is smaller water and is truly creek fish for trout. A small tributary by any standards, Oak Creek receives significant pressure for it’s size. If one was to drive by the creek, one would not believe that Salmon and Trout fishing is available on the creek.

Menomonee River

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Thanks to the efforts of Green Bay Trout Unlimited, the lower Oconto has some great winter fishing. In November, Green Bay T.U. released rainbow trout, which are expected to hold through the winter. Water temps are cold, so the fish tend to hit light, but nymphs fished deep produce results. Remember to use extreme caution while winter fishing. Ice shelves can and do break unexpectedly. Also watch for large sheets of floating ice. The following patterns have been producing fish: Hares Ear, Prince nymph, Pheasant Tail, Zug Bug, B.H. Brassie, and Caddis Pupae.

Other Tributaries

Barnes Creek – Pleasant Prarie, Wisconsin
Kinnickinnic River – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee River – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sauk Creek – Port Washington, Wisconsin
Black River – Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Sheboygan River – Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Pigeon River – Eroman, Wisconsin
Seven Mile Creek – Haven, Wisconsin
Fischer Creek – Spring Valley, Wisconsin
Point Creek – Newton, Wisconsin
Silver Creek – South of Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Manitowoc River – Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Little Manitowoc River – Manitowoc, Wisconsin
West Twin River – Two Rivers, Wisconsin
East Twin River – Two Rivers, Wisconsin
Kewaunee River – Kewaunee, Wisconsin
Three Mile Creek – Algoma, Wisconsin
Ahnapee River – Algoma, Wisconsin
Stony Creek – Algoma, Wisconsin
Schuyler Creek – Algoma, Wisconsin
Whitefish Bay Creek – Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
Hibbards Creek – Jacksonport, Wisconsin
Fox River – Green Bay, Wisconsin
Duck Creek – Green Bay, Wisconsin
Suacimo River – Saucimo, Wisconsin
Little Sucimo River – Saucimo, Wisconsin
Oconto River – Oconto, Wisconsin
Peshtigo River – Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Little River – Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Menominee River – Marinette, Wisconsin
Brule River – Nelma, Wisconsin

How to Books

Exploring Wisconsin Trout Streams: The Angler's Guide
  • Born, Steve (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 316 Pages - 05/31/2014 (Publication Date) - University of Wisconsin Press (Publisher)
Trout Streams of Wisconsin and Minnesota: An Angler's Guide to More Than 120 Rivers and Streams, Second Edition
  • Humphrey, Jim (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 11/01/2001 (Publication Date) - Countryman Press (Publisher)
Flyfisher's Guide to Wisconsin and Iowa (Flyfisher's Guide Series)
  • John Motoviloff (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 600 Pages - 06/07/2011 (Publication Date) - Wilderness Adventures Press (Publisher)

Wisconsin Fly Fishing Articles & Resources

Fennimore, Wisconsin Trout Fishing Guide
Fennimore, Wisconsin, southwest Wisconsin, Grant county trout fishing, Big Green river, Castle Rock stream, Blue river…

Silver Doctor Fly Fishing- Wisconsin Spring Creeks
Lots of great information on Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region from a local guide.


Suggested flies for SW Wisconsin Fly Fishing by Expedition …
wisconsin fly fishing patterns…

underwater pictures of trout and nymphs

Farm Streams
Here in the upper Midwest there are literally thousands of small creeks, many of which are little more than drainage ditches flowing through the fields and farms of the area.

Wisconsin Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide, SB: Amatobooks.Com
WI Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide

Badger State Trout Fishing

Fish Wisconsin
Places to stay near great fishing locations by lakes, streams and rivers. Some accommodations have fishing guides and some are right along the water.

Fishing the Dry Fly Wet
by Gary Borger; A new wrinkle on some old flies will catch you more trout…

Fly Fishing for Muskie
…fishing, fly fishing for muskie is definitely considered out on the edge…

Go Wisconsin Fishing
Wisconsin Fishing Information and Resources

Great Lakes Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers

Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council
Wisconsin section

Inland Trout Species of Wisconsin

Kinnickinnic River

One of the Midwest’s largest site dedicated to fishing – provides fishing reports, topographical maps, a lake database, message boards, articles, fishing tips and tactics, moon charts, etc

Small Stream Fly Fishing Wisconsin

Steelheading our our Great Lakes’ Tributaries
Wisconsin’s best spring steelie streams

Suggested Flies for SW Wisconsin Fly Fishing

Suggested Flies for SW Wisconsin Fly Fishing

Wisconsin Game and Fish

Wisconsin Resorts and Lodges featuring Fly-fishing

Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance

Wisconsin Stewardship Network

Wisconsin Trout Fishing
I lived in Illinois within an hour of the Wisconsin border for years before I discovered the superb trout fishing waiting just a few hours drive to the north…

Wisconsin Trout StreamsCoon
short descriptions of many Wisconsin trout streams

Wisconsin’s Best Smallmouth Streams

Wisconsin’s Tributary Smallmouths

Wisconsins Magnificent Bois Brule
by Matt Supinski

Wisconsin Fly Fishing ClubsCoulee Region Trout Unlimited

Fox Valley TU

Frank Hornberg Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Green Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Kinnickinnic River History
from Kiap-TU

Ojibleau Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Westfork Sportsmans Club

Wisconsin Trout Unlimited

Chicagoland.com Wisconsin Forum

Wisconsin Hatch ChartsAquatic Insects of Wisconsin

Caddis Hatches of Wisconsin Spring Creeks

Guide To Midwest USA Hatches

Wisconsin Hatch Chart
from Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co

Wisconsin Spring Creek Mayflies

Wisconsin Spring Creek Midges

Wisconsin Spring Creek Stoneflies

Woolys Fly Box hatch chart
a rough sketch of various insects in northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin

Root River Map
By Local guide “The Fat Man”

Root RIver map
from Gumbos Fishing Page (www.elilabs.com/~rj/fishing/home/index.html)

Wisconsin lake maps
1,820 lake maps of Wisconsin from huntfishcampwisconsin.com

Wisconsin Lake Maps

Wisconsin Lakes with DNR Lakemaps

Wisconsin Fly Fishing PhotosTight Lines Fly Fishing Co. Wisconsin Photo Album

Wisconsin photos
from www.latitudenorth.net

Wisconsin Fly Fishing ReportsBentlys Outfitters Reports

Coullee Region reports

DNR Root River Report

Fly Fisherman MidWestern States reports

Kiap Stream Reports and Discussion Site
from Kiap-TU

Madison Lakes report

The Steelhead Site
Good Forum on fishing the great lakes tribs in Wisconsin

Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co’s online reports page

Western Wisconsin reports

WI fishing reports from The FLy Fishers

Wisconsin (Lake Michigan / Superior Tribs) reports
from Rambling Reports (www.ramblingreports.com/)

Wisconsin Fly Fishing Forums

Chicagolandfishing.com Forums – Wisconsin forum

Lake-Link.com – Wisconsin Fishing Reports

Wisconsin Fly Fishing Shops

Eagle Sports Center
702 Wall Street, Eagle River, WI 54521, (715) 479-8804

Laacke and Joys
1433 N. Water St. Milwaukee, WI 53202 414-271-7878

Midwest Fly Fishing Outfitters
Brookfield, WI 53089 (414) 299-9022

The Fly Fishers
9617 W. Greenfield Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53214 414-259-8100

Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co. Online Store
1534 Mid Valley Dr, De Pere, WI 54115 (920) 336-4106

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