The Bad Axe watershed is fairly big for The Driftless, consisting of the North and South forks, and perhaps a dozen feeder creeks, depending on how you count them. Despite its size, I have somehow managed to completely ingore fishing any of these creeks for the 19 years I’ve lived and fished in Wisconsin. This past Sunday, I set out after breakfast to scout a good part of this river system, and to fish at least some of it.
According to the DNR, all of these creeks hold trout at some point along their lengths, and I won’t argue with that, based on what I experienced. The feeder creeks in the system rise from springs and seeps west of Viroqua and southwest of Westby and flow in a largely westerly direction, where they all join up one by one and eventually empty into the Mississippi.
The South Fork
I started out on the South Fork and explored Hornby and Norwegian Hollow Creeks, stopping at two or three bridges on each creek. The lower part of the South Fork might hold trout, but mostly looked wide and slow with sand and silt on the bottom. In it’s upper reaches, before any other creeks merge with it, it’s quite fishy looking. And both Hornby and Norwegian Hollow were small and fast, and I was able to spot trout in each of them. All three of these creeks are definitely on my fishing list for next year.
The North Fork
I then headed north to check out Springville Branch Creek and the North Fork itself. Springville Branch looked very fishy and was gin clear, flowing over orange and cream-colored limestone gravel and bright green weeds. A very pretty stream. I did not see any trout where I stopped, which was smack dab in the middle of the tiny village of Springville, but I’d bet my favorite bamboo rod that they are in there, holding where you’d expect, spooky and skitterish and hard to catch.
Checking the map constantly, and stopping at every bridge to get out of the car and look for trout is time consuming. By now I’d whiled away four hours and it was 1:00 pm, so I headed over to the North Fork, which was the last stream on my list. I stopped at three bridges, and unlike further down on the South Fork, the North is clear and cold and moves right along with lots of weeds, rocks and gravel. At the first bridge, where the creek was at its biggest, there were a number of trout that looked to be at least 15-16 inches long holding in clear water that was perhaps five or six feet deep. I couldn’t see a way to get to them in waders, and I don’t have a belly boat, so all I could do was watch them holding in the water, twisting left or right from time to time as they fed on tiny aquatic critters.
My last stop was at a little county park just off of Esofea Road, and this is where I ended up fishing for the day. The park is nice, with a pond, lots of campsites in three different areas, and the North Fork running along its northern border. I fished along empty campsites, in classic riffle pool water. I walked downstream right next to the creek, and was surprised that I didn’t see any fish dart out as I came into view. But, once I stepped into the stream to work my way slowly back up to the car, I soon saw several fish rising just 20 feet in front of me.
I couldn’t see what bugs the fish were taking, so I tried four different flavors of grasshoppers–always a good bet this time of the year. I got a couple of looks at the hoppers, but no takers. Then I switched to caddis, and worked my way down to tiny, which did the trick. I don’t know what fly I was using; don’t remember tying it or buying it, but it was a size 18, had some brown hackle in front, and a small bit of CDC feather on the top and back. And I had four of them in one of my fly boxes. It wasn’t like taking candy from a baby, but in two hours I caught three nice browns (one was 12″ and another 13″) and three brookies (the biggest about 11″). All fish were fat and healthy looking and appeared to be wild. I switched flies a few more times hoping to increase the frequency of strikes, but the fish would have none of it and I ended up going back to that same fly, which I caught all six fish on.
The creek here was maybe 10-20 feet wide and mostly boot-top deep, with some of the pools going two or three feet deep. The water was extremely clear (and cold) and the sun was out, so underwater pics turned out well.
I’ve had birds chase after my dry flies over the years, and I remember a few times when they grabbed my fly out of mid air and then dropped it. But I’ve never experienced this with dragonflies before. Sunday, there were a lot of very large white-striped dragonflies, and they kept bumping my dry fly on my back cast. And I was having enough trouble with the wind. Eventually, one made an error in judgment and hooked itself on my fly. The fly line suddenly went straight up in the air and flew around in a couple of circles before Mr. Dragonfly tired and fell into the water right in front of me. I’ve heard dragon flies bite, so I removed the fly carefully with my mitten clamps, and continued fishing. My fly was in perfect shape, but as careful as I was I think the dragonfly bit the dust. Check out the photo below.
Enjoy the photos! (And click to see the entire photo.)