Given that my last exploratory outing was somewhat lackluster, and given I’d been working my @$$ off for the last number of months at work, I decided to take a day off today and go do a little fishing. I decided to head to some streams southwest of Madison.
West Branch of the Sugar River
I lived in Madison for a year, not too long after I learned how to fly fish. In my time there, I never fished the Sugar River or the West Branch of the Sugar. From what I understand, the Sugar River watershed is something of a recent success story in stream restoration. I believe the habitat had been degraded by the usual suspects (farm runoff, overgrazing, etc.) but through efforts that have proven so effective on other Wisconsin streams, the Sugar has been restored to a thriving fishery.
At least that’s what I’ve read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tap into any of that today.
The West Branch of the Sugar is reminiscent of the better known Mount Vernon Creek which merges with the West Branch and ultimately feeds into the main branch of the Sugar. Unlike many of the streams further to the west in the state, the sugar seems to have a lower gradient, but is deceptively deep. There aren’t many riffle-run sections like you see in a lot of the trout streams near the La Crosse area, for example. However, I’ve heard that the deep pools and undercut banks of the West Branch of the Sugar and Mount Vernon creek can hold some pretty big browns.
The water looked good, and I’m sure there are fish there, but perhaps they had sought warmer spots somewhere (maybe by some springs or further downstream in deeper pools).
Despite a decent midge hatch, I saw no risers, and really no fish at all. The water was ice cold from all of the snow melt, even though the air temp was in the 50s today. It was a beautiful day, at least.
With my time dwindling, I decided to take a trip over to one of my favorite lesser-known gems that I frequented when I lived in Madison. Gordon Creek is to the west of the West Branch of the Sugar maybe by 10 or 15 or so miles, give or take. Unlike the Sugar and Mount Vernon, Gordon Creek is more reminiscent of the spring-fed creeks of La Crosse and Vernon Counties (or other counties further West in the state). There are many riffle-run type sections, and the creek is relatively shallow for the most part, with only the occasional hole that’s more than a couple feet deep.
I had decent success when I lived in the area about 10 years ago. (Wow, has it been that long?) I probably haven’t fished the creek in at least 8 years, and I was really pleased by what I saw. The stream bed was far less silty than I remembered. Much gravel and limestone was revealed now, instead. I turned over some rocks and they were teeming with scuds, sowbugs, caddis cases, and other various underwater critters.
Despite how great the stream looked, I didn’t get to see a fish. I knew there were at least a few there, as a couple times my figure spooked something out from the banks, but I got a glimpse only of its wake as it sped away from me. Again, I wonder if the bulk of the fish were somewhere further upstream or downstream in a spot where they were able to keep a bit warmer.
Regardless of my lack of success, it was a gorgeous day to be outdoors. It was also nice to explore a new stream and revisit an old favorite.