The Central Wisconsin trout streams of the “Sand Counties” have been an enigma for me for a number of years. Earlier in my fly fishing career, I tried fishing a few of them with little success. I was used to the limestone creeks of S/W Wisconsin, and the slower, sandy-bottomed creeks in the middle of the state typically weren’t presenting obvious riffle-run sections to cast a nymph into. I was stumped.
It had been a number of years since I had even tried fishing any of those waters, mainly because my fishing time was limited and I could get to streams with more familiar features in the same amount of time, so I focused on those. However, Greg recently inquired whether I was familiar with the White River near Wautoma, WI. I wasn’t. Though, as I began reading about it, I was shocked that I hadn’t heard more about it. It apparently has a thriving population of naturally-reproducing trout. And, in a rarity for WI, it has naturally reproducing populations of brook, brown, and rainbow trout. Catching a ‘bow is a rare treat for me in WI.
The White River
I’m certainly no expert on the White, so take this all with a grain of salt. We fished a small portion of the stream just down from Hwy 21. The upstream section is not open during the early season.
Like many of the streams I’ve seen in this area of the state, the White has a pretty sandy bottom, though it seemed fairly solid – not silty. Though we only fished a short stretch, there were actually a couple of riffle-run sections with nice pools. Between the two of us (Greg and I) we managed three smallish rainbows.
The stream meanders through some fairly swampy land and is fairly narrow at this point, so one has to be calculated with his casting. However, we saw a number of trout (mostly those that I spooked by getting too close to the crystal-clear waters).
The Pine River
Our second stop was the Pine River near Wild Rose. We found a fairly lengthy section (maybe 3/4 of a mile?) that wasn’t plagued by overhanging branches, though it was in the middle of a marshy/swampy kind of area. Fishing this section in Mid-March was fabulous, as all of the grass was still brown and matted down from the winters’ snow (which had melted by now). However, I’m sure it’s not quite as fun to fish in, say, the middle of June when the grass is green and tall and just waiting to snatch a back cast.
Like the White and other streams of Central WI, we were again faced with a sandy bottom and a relatively slow, meandering river. The water was gin clear, which was to the advantage of the many 13″ + browns I spooked out from under weed edges or undercut banks. I managed to land a single 13″ brown on a green nymph (the same one I had successfully caught the rainbows on earlier in the day). The lone catch was in a deep gravel-bottomed pool. It was one of the few deep pockets I recognized before I got too close and spooked the fish away. It required a fairly lengthy cast, which is probably why I hadn’t scared it away yet.
I managed a couple of other strikes on a black woolly-bugger, but was unable to land either of the fish that looked to be over 12″ from the quick glimpses I got.
When I fish this river again (and I certainly plan to, given all of the fairly large trout that I saw), I’ll focus more on the weed edges. I looked too often for deep pools, which were hard to recognize from a distance. Most of the trout I saw were hanging under these weed edges, though some were certainly hugging the gravel in deep pools, like the one fish I did land.
Overall, I felt it was a very successful outing. It was my first trip of the year, and to come away having caught (and released) three lovely fish was gravy on top of the abnormally warm March day. I also now have more confidence that I can be successful in some of the Sand-County streams that have vexed me for so long.