Coulee Region Trout Unlimited is situated in the heart of the Driftless Area. CRTU is home to hundreds of miles of trout streams filled with wild Brook and Brown Trout. Our chapter includes La Crosse, Crawford, Juneau, Monroe, Richland, and Vernon Counties - all counties with a great number and diversity of trout streams.
The best description I have seen of Driftless streams is that they are sidewalk to street wide. The streams are generally not large and all but a few pools and the largest of streams are wadeable. The fishery is not as hatch-driven as some of the Western trout rivers but it is a spectacular dry fly fishery and one of the best terrestrial fisheries anywhere. Anglers of all types will find what they are looking for - if they do a little looking.
This is in no way a comprehensive guide but we hope it provides a good starting point for those looking to fish, recreate, eat, and stay in the Driftless Area. Mat and Geri at the Driftless Angler are another great resource to put you on the right track. To be sure, we are doing much the same that Driftless Wisconsin is doing - so go look there too! - but we have a much more trout fishing focus.
About the Driftless and How to Fish the Driftless Area:
In our humble opinions, there is no better source for how to fish the Driftless than the blog post by CRTU members Curt Rees and Mike Juran, Getting Started on Trout Fishing in the Driftless. But if you want to look a little further, we'll understand. Here are some links to articles, blogs, and pages about the Driftless Area and how to fish it.
CRTU Blog Post - Getting Started on Trout Fishing in the Driftless
Hatch Magazine - How to do a Trout Town: Viroqua
Trout Unlimited Magazine - Better Fishing in the Driftless Area
Driftless Wisconsin - Fishing
The Wading List - Fly Fishing Wisconsin: Edge of the Driftless
Rich Osthoff - Seasons of the Driftless
Driftless Angler - About the Area
American Rivers Tour - Fly Fishing the Driftless Around Viroqua Wisconsin
Casting Across - Fly Fishing the Driftless Area: Angler Research
Tenkara Angler - A Beginner's Guide to Fixed Line Fishing the Driftless Area
Links to Books:
John Motovilloff - Flyfisher's Guide to Wisconsin and Iowa
Born, Mayers, Morton, and Sonzogni - Exploring Wisconsin Trout Streams
Humphrey and Shogren - Trout Streams of Wisconsin and Minnesota
Todd Hanson - Map Guide to Improved Trout Waters of Wisconsin
Miller, Songer, and Dolen - Field Guide to Wisconsin Trout Streams
Where to Fish:
Eating, drinking, and lodging is great but let's face it, many are here for the fishing. And to be honest, finding where to fish is really the easy part. If it is a blue line on a map, odds are it holds trout. Certainly some streams are better than others but they all hold trout and are nearly all favored by some anglers. There are few streams of the Driftless that are well known outside of the Driftless in large part because there are so many good streams and none really stand out among the crowd. The two watersheds and streams people outside of the area might know are Timber Coulee (Coon Creek) and the West Fork of the Kickapoo River.
Wisconsin Trout Regulations and Opportunities Users Tool (TROUT) and Public Access Lands mapping tools are a great place to get started. While there are publicly owned lands in the area, the bulk of public fishing opportunities are on private lands eased for public fishing of which there are hundreds of miles. And Wisconsin stream access laws are quite angler friendly due to the state's public trust doctrine - but stay in the water except to pass barriers and do not fish from the land unless it is public or eased - on streams without adjacent public access.
County GIS map resources:
Where to fish is really the easy part - there are nearly 7,400 miles of designated trout streams across Wisconsin's portion of the Driftless Area, many of these fall in the CRTU membership range. Personally, I think people fret too much about what to where to fish - the fishing is generally excellent everywhere - though certainly some days are better than others, but that is fishing! Like small, intimate streams? Head upstream. Have a preference for fishing streamers in big water? Look for downstream reaches or streams like the mainstem of the Kickapoo River. In
Grab a paper copy of the Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations and the Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetter and maybe a copy of the map from Driftless Wisconsin which is available online or at many local businesses and go explore.
Where to Stay and Eat:
There are so many good options - La Crosse is hub city of the region, a city of about 53,000 residents and 20,000 students is part of a metro area of nearly 140,000 people. However the smaller towns in the Driftless - Viroqua, Soldiers Grove, Richland Center, and a host of others are what most thing of when they think of a Driftless trip. For many, Viroqua is "trout town" but there are so many other great options. Driftless Wisconsin is a great resource for places to stay, eat, and shop along with resources for finding outdoor activities, arts, entertainment, and historic attractions.