Driftless Area fly fishing.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
I am especially interested in hearing about your experiences on the Viroqua, Wisconsin regional waters, spring, summer and fall.
I fished the driftless area of Wisconsin (and sometimes Iowa) until I moved to Washington last summer. Streams are small, gradients are low (pool and riffle), hatches are mostly small bugs (BWOs, tricos, midges), lots of small summer & fall terrestrial fishing. Brown trout predominate (maybe not in Iowa where lots of rainbows are stocked), fishing pressure is high unless you like to walk a fairly long way and trout can be picky. Unless there is surface activity from larger fish, the basic rig is a smallish weighted nymph under a strike indicator fished thru the pools. A #14 scud with a #18 zebra midge trailer is a good place to start.

Learn to tell a bull from a cow, and a dairy bull from a beef bull. Good sources of info are Matt at The Driftless Angler (see the fishing reports on the shop website, but don't believe everything you read), and the books by Rich Osthoff. I think he has some videos on Youtube.

There are lots of streams to choose from. It pays to sample several. Spring and fall are usually better than the dog days of July & August. Usually April has great fishing, but this year has been very cold & wet.
Frank Stetzer
Look at my moniker! I cannot say I'm an expert, but it's the only place I've fished for trout in the past 5 years.

Unlike much of the Midwest, The Driftless area is a series of ridges and valleys. Every valley has a creek, every creek has brookies and browns (and sometimes rainbow). These are spring creeks, and having flowed through limestone karst is full of calcium, good for scuds and insects, and therefore, for trout. These creeks are usually slow and meandering, and usually small, but a creek you could jump across is still likely to hold a few 20" browns, no lie.

And although Viroqua is generally considered the "heart" of the Driftless, and it is, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of creeks farther away with plenty of trout. I live at the corner of the Driftless, in Madison, Wisconsin, and can be on a stream in 25 minutes from walking out my office front door. There are also plenty of good streams in Iowa and Minnesota.

FCS is entirely correct that you should speak with Mat at the Driftless Angler. Superb guy and his shop should get all the help you can give him to stay afloat in such a small town.

Flies: #1 with a bullet is the Pink Squirrel; I've caught fish with it every month that fishing is open (First Saturday in January through October 15). as mentioned above, scud work well, and the usual suspects like GRHE's , PT's, elk hair caddis, and don't be afraid to use big ugly articulated streamers. I've got fishing friends who use nothing but, eschewing the plentiful 10" trout for the 20" monsters. In the summer, terrestrials, hoppers, ants, beetles all work well. I also suggest the Hippie Stomper, another Driftless go-to fly at that time.

Lastly, Viroqua is an experience all of its own. All the towns around are small farming towns populated by Scandihoovian stock. Viroqua is different. First you do have the Nordics. However, in the 60's, a bunch of Amish folks moved in, and they're a big presence. Lastly, around the same time, hippies moved in, and after their communes failed, they started organic farming, which is a big deal now (Organic Valley is headquartered in nearby Cashton). The mélange makes for a unique town. Walk into the Viroqua Co-op and you'd think you were in a trendy store in NW Portland. No other place like it, at least not in the Midwest.

Have fun!


Driftless traffic...
Amazing area.

West Fork of the Kickapoo is pretty amazing all season long. From Avalanche north on Highway S.

NW of Coon Valley on Coon Creek can be good, but yeah, watch out for the occasional bull.

Wisco DNR has some great resources:

Also, don't forget about the Iowa portion of the Driftless. Open all year and streams like N and S Fork Bear, Waterloo, and French Creeks can fish pretty spectacularly.

Will second Driftless Angler for all your pink squirrel and pink hopper needs!
Oh yeah, and although not Fly Fishing related, Butch Vig, drummer for Garbage and record producer extraordinaire (Nevermind, Siamese Dreams) is from Viroqua. His dad was the town doctor and his mom was the high school music teacher, natch.
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I am in Lacrosse so, if you are going to be the area let me know.

Last August we had lots of flooding with damage to Coon Creek watershed. Other watersheds had very minor damage. There are still plenty of fish to caught, just not like before the flooding. The bull standing on the Hwy bridge surrounded by water, on all national news broadcasts, was downtown Coon Valley. Funny how national media kept calling it a "cow".

Matt and Geri at Driftless Angler in Viroqua are a good resource. They have an apartment for rent right above the shop for $90/night. If fills up fast but there are other local hotels and B&B's in the area. While most of the fish are on the small side, there are 20" fish available. Don't overlook mousing at night, that's when the big boys come out the play.

As previously mentioned, Viroqua has a vibe all it's own. Lots of great small shops and good eats.

If you have travel plans, reach out and I am sure we can find you some fish. If you are looking to relocate, a more in-depth answer is available, just email me.

Mark Koch


Active Member
So far, my impression is that the Driftless crew is a lot more forthcoming with information than we are in WA/OR. Quality of fishing must be pretty good if you aren't getting the "get out and explore" treatment.

Sounds like an awesome place to me. May have to extend my Montana road trip someday....
I've lived in Wauzeka and Lacrosse areas most of my life. I grew up fishing all the small blue lines I could find. I moved to WA 6 years ago and I'm never looking back. While yes, there are 20" fish to be found, you must be willing to sacrifice 20 gallons of your blood to the locals (mosquitoes) first.
Great place to grow up, but for me WI is only worth a fishing trip when the water is hard.

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