Wisconsin – South Western


The forecast for Fennimore was sunny and 70-degrees today, so my brother-in-law Chuck and I high-tailed it back over the to Big Green River for one last foray before the regular season. We drove through some rain in Madison, but Fennimore did not disappoint us. The weather was nice with varied cloud cover and the sun peaking through on a regular basis.  We arrived at the river at about 11 a.m. and were greeted by strong winds. That made casting a bit difficult, so we moved in close and worked short casts with a combination of rigs:

Tandem Nymph Rig:

  • 15-foot leader end-to-end
  • The dropper or “point fly” was a #16 tan scud that was separated from the top fly by about 18-inches of 5x florocarbon tippet
  • The top fly was a #10 caddis larva (hydropsyche) on 4x florocarbon
  • A strike-indicator was placed anywhere from 6 feet to 10 feet above the top fly
  • A micro-splitshot was occassionally used 8-10 inches above the top fly to help get down faster

Caddis Dry With a Dropper:

  • 10 and 15 foot leaders were used
  • One fly combination was a #14 Goddard Caddis with a #16 bead-head prince nymph trailing by 3 to 5 feet
  • Another combination was a #10 Elk-hair Caddis with a #10 hydropsyche caddis larva trailing by 36-inches of 5x florocarbon
  • The dry fly served as a strike indicator and a fly. All fish took the droppers with only an occassional slash at the dry fly.

Streamer Rig:

  • 10 to 12-foot leader
  • A #10 soft-hackle, black crystal bugger was cast down and across stream and then allowed to swing to the near bank before being stripped back upstream.

There were some caddis on the water and whenever the wind died down, we did see fish rising.  The caddis looked to be about a #14. We both caught some respectable brown trout. Chuck’s Goddard Caddis rig worked its magic in more than one hole in the river.

The Author's Brother-in-law Fights and Lands a Nice Brown Trout

The Author’s Brother-in-law Fights and Lands a Nice Brown Trout

I fished rigs that ran a little deeper and was rewarded with a beautiful 19-inch rainbow: a truly remarkable fish. The back of this trout was a deep, rich green and its flank was well marked including the pronounced rainbow marking. This fish gave away its size as soon as it was hooked. The battle was short-lived as it ran close by and was quickly netted.

A 19-inch Rainbow Trout Taken on a Hydropsyche Larva Fished Czech Nymph Style

A 19-inch Rainbow Trout Taken on a Hydropsyche Larva Fished Czech Nymph Style

We had a chance to look over the water from a high bank and marked some good holes. One small stretch showed well over 100 fish in two nice slots that did not span more than 100 feet of river! We rested that spot by breaking for lunch and we were rewarded with a couple of more nice Browns for Chuck upon our return.

The Author's Brother-in-law, Chuck, with a Big Green River Brown Trout

The Author’s Brother-in-law, Chuck, with a Big Green River Brown Trout

The Big Green is a great fishery and we are not the only ones fishing it. Check out this monster snapping turtle that was cruising the river hunting for fish, frogs and anything else that it could find. You don’t get this big without ample food!

Paul's Other Catch!

We Did Not Fish Alone!

There probably is not a more varied stream in SW Wisconsin than the Big Green River. Pasture Land with open room to cast. Wooded sections with overhanging limbs, downed timber and under cut banks. Fast and tumbling. Slow and silty. Deep and boulder strewn. Sandy in spots. Browns and Rainbows are the fare here and they do not dissatisfy. From the big rainbows down around Cty Tk K and Cty Tk T to the leaping browns at Collins Road, Spring Valley Road and Big Green River Road, this is stream that never disappoints us.

It is no surprise then that we are headed to the Big Green for the first trout trip of 2009. It is Saturday, April 18th. My daughter Caitlin and I drove into Fennimore last night so that we could be here to make an early morning of it. We are here to look over the Big Green River and either confirm or dispel reports that seasonal spring torrents have blown out the Big Green rendering it less than fishable.

This should be a nice father-daughter outing. The usual antics that attend our outings are left behind with my brother Joe who is not able to pull himself away to join us. Or so I think. You can imagine my complete surprise this morning when I wandered outside to discover an empty parking lot. Where is my truck? I had just hopped out to run back inside and retrieve my digital voice recorder. Caitlin knew I was coming right back. I was literally gone for less than a minute. What the hell. I left the keys in the car. Now I think the worst – has Caitlin been abducted right here on Highway 18? In fact, Caitlin pulled a fast one by hustling the FJ Cruiser well out of view leaving me to stand there to wonder what just happened. The little prankster! She rolls with laughter as we head up Cty Tk K.

Big Green River - Map 1

Big Green River – Map 1

We arrive at the bridge on Collins Road at 9 a.m. It’s a little later than we intended since Caitlin slept in a bit. The red-wing black birds call out as we walk toward the bridge to examine the water. Our shadows cut through the deep, green pool right below the bridge. The water is glassy smooth with a course of foamy bubbles breaking the surface. There are a few trout finning behind some rocks here.

About 40 feet below the bridge, the river takes a 45 degree bend to the right as it goes through a very shallow riffle. Another 100 feet below that, and it bends back to the left at a small tree (more of a bush) that is leaning over the river. As the river turns this corner, it makes a beautiful seam, pushing water into the far bank. There is a squared-off boulder sitting well above the water just before the river gets to the next tree. There is a beautiful seam from the tail of that riffle to that squared-off boulder and fish can be taken on both sides of this seam. Further downstream I see that the river takes a sweeping bend to the right before disappearing from view.

Looking Down Stream From Bridge at Collins Road

Looking Down Stream From Bridge at Collins Road

Upstream of the bridge, there is a shallow mud flat that gives way to that deep pool filling up the gorged out space below the bridge. Directly below the bridge and to the right, there are some nice sized rocks with several respectable trout sitting along the rock ledge. They quietly drift into the dark water perhaps sensing our presence. There is a nice foam line leading right to the spot that they just vacated – I will remember that. About 50 yards upstream, the river bends to the left and I can just see the first shallow riffle at the top of the bend dumping into a small bathtub-sized pool. I have fished this stretch many times. I remember near the beginning of my fly fishing days back in the early 90’s, walking along this bank above the bridge and stepping on a spot where a gargantuan trout – a 20-inch class brown trout – drifted out from below the undercut bank and disappeared beneath the bridge. That fish has always fascinated me about this spot and it is part of the charm in returning here now.

We decide to head downstream to that first nice seam just below the riffle water. On the way, we stop and spend a good hour in the riffle examining the insects. We turned over various rocks and saw lots of cress bugs – some going from as big as #10 and all the way down to #16. There were mayflies writhing about by the hundreds under some rocks and most of those were in the #18 size and smaller. We did find some caddis larva including both rhyacophilla (aka green rock worm) and hydropsyche. These last two bugs are some of my favorites to tie and we spent some time photographing them. They were consistently in the size 14 range. Caitlin found one particularly nice specimen of rhyacophilla and we got some exceptionally nice photos as it came out of its pebble/rock case when we turned the rock over to examine it.

Examining Insects in Riffle below Collins Road Bridge

Examining Insects in Riffle below Collins Road Bridge

Cress Bug

Cress Bug

Rhyacophilla (aka Green Rock Worms) in Cases

Rhyacophilla (aka Green Rock Worms) in Cases

Matching the Hatch - Hydropsyche Larva

Matching the Hatch – Hydropsyche Larva

We wrappep up in the riffle with a short video that shows how rich this river is in terms of aquatic insects:

Once we completed our little acquatic study, we headed down stream and fished that nice piece of water below the riffle. We hooked a few and landed one here. The smaller trout are more difficult to land: they don’t have much weight to them and when they dart all over the river, they slip off.

Another Big Green River Brown

Another Big Green River Brown

Next, we moved down to Cty Tk K and T to one of our favorite spots. The map below breaks this section into several pieces. I will cover this entire section as part of this blog, but only a couple of spots today. As always, this stretch was pretty good to us.

Big Green River - Map 2

Big Green River – Map 2

The big ones got off today: barbless hooks and I pulled a line trying to keep one big monster out of the weeds and rocks. So a couple of 15-inch or larger fish got away on us. One of these  larger fish jumped right out of the water when I did not expect it to. In such a case, you need to drop your rod to get the tension off the leader or else it will break from the weight of the fish. The risk though is that when you drop your rod tip to reduce the pressure and avoid the break, that the fish will be able to throw the hook more easily – especially if it is barbless and can just slip out. There are many things that can go wrong out here and we have seen them all! We did get a couple of very satisfactorily fat 13-inch fish and one 14-incher. We used a #10 hydropsyche larva with a #16 cress bug trailing it. Fish took both bugs about 50/50. We got pushed off the river around 2 p.m. by a little wind and rain – gave us an excuse to go get lunch and then look over another stretch of river.

Big Green River - Fish On!

Big Green River – Fish On!

Big Green River Brown Trout

Big Green River Brown Trout

We had lunch at Frederick’s on the corner of T and Hwy 18 in Fennimore. If you go there, try the turkey club sandwich – it is fantastic and we bought an extra one to split between us. After lunch, we head to the bridge at the junction of Cty Tk K and Cty Tk T. Looking upstream, we can see that a significant embankment on the left fell away due to spring’s high water – not uncommon. There is a smaller creek coming in here as well and we plan to extricate a couple of browns from that water before heading up into the woods upstream. This is a spot that we are familiar with from past years as well. This is section ‘b’ in the Map 2 above.

We have two different rods rigged up for this section. The first is a 5-weight rigged up with a 10 foot leader terminated in a #10 hydropsyche larva. Trailing behind this by about 15-inches is a #16 olive mayfly nymph. The other rod is a 4W rod rigged up with a 10 foot leader and a #16 elk hair caddis. We work our way up through the woods taking a few smaller trout before wrapping up the day and heading into Fennimore for a fish-fry and beers.

Paul.

Some of my earliest and best fly fishing memories are of Castle Rock Creek in Grant County, Wisconsin. This creek is located just outside of Fennimore and is labeled Fennimore Fork on most maps. My brother Joe and I were intensely devoted to that creek between 1993 and 1999 and we still stop by to look it over each year – walking its banks and remembering. Back then, we fished it from early morning until dark. Sometimes we would return after dark to see if we could raise a larger trout on a muddler minnow stripped through its big pools. Be careful if you do the same – the banks are intermittent at times and it would be pretty easy to take a mis-step. We also worked this water throughout the season: we fished it early in the season; we fished it in the heat of summer; and we fished it just before the season closed. We even named various sections for our own purposes. “Stilly’s Run” was a reliable piece of water below a shallow riffle in the first bend below the big spring – it seldom disappointed us as we swung a #14 or #16 olive scuds downstream to fool the rainbow trout that lurked there. The “big spring” is located just north of Church Road on Cty Tk Q.

Castle Rock Creek

Castle Rock Creek

This is also the spot that I brought my kids to at the ages of 7 and 9 to put them through their paces with a flyrod. My daughter Caitlin idolized me back then. To be honest, I think she still does. She would follow my instruction to the letter when pursuing her trout. I remember one early spring as we walked across frosted grasses to get to the creek – it was cold. I told Caitlin that she had to crawl on her belly to the edge of the creek and be careful not to spook the trout. Then I watched in amazement as she reached the creek in this fashion, snagged her fly on a submerged piece of wood, and then carefully pulled back on her fly line, snapping off the fly so as not to disturb the water. Wow, some lucky guy is going to owe me big some day.

Caitlin shows off a Rainbow that she caught at Stilly's Run

Caitlin shows off a Rainbow that she caught at Stilly’s Run

Castle Rock Creek is a great place to take a kid – not because it is easy to catch trout there (because it is not), but because the creek runs through open pasture and there is plenty of room to cast a fly rod and provide some instruction. This gives a beginner the chance to get their line on the water and practice their technique – both in the air and in the water. In addition, the creek is very shallow at some of the riffles making for easy crossing. Kids love the feeling of walking through moving water: it’s an adventure. And those same shallow riffles provide a chance to turn over rocks and examine the aquatic insects that the trout love to eat.

Caitlin and Daniel at Castle Rock Creek

Caitlin and Daniel at Castle Rock Creek

Castle Rock is a spring creek in the truest sense. The section that we like to fish along Cty Tk Q has a large spring flowing in from the south and the water is crystal clear there. As I said earlier, the creek runs through farm land and we are sometimes disappointed when the farmer’s freshly plowed field combines with an early spring rain to muddy things up. However when Castle Rock Creek is clear, it is a flyfishing dream – showing off deep aqua-maring pools as it meanders along undercut banks. Most of the hatches here are caddis in the #18 to #14 range. The “little black caddis” comes off from late April into May and reliably brings up fish. Mayflies range from the smallest that you can imagine to some that reach a #14 size, although we have rarely seen these larger species. Leeches and small bait fish can be mimicked with various streamer patterns. There are also crustaceans like scuds and cressbugs in the mix so most of your spring creek flies get the job done.

Castle Rock Rainbow

Castle Rock Rainbow

We have caught some big trout here – both rainbows and browns. I’m talking in the 18” to 21” range. In our early years, Joe and I used to approach this water with a competitive spirit. Who would land the first fish? Who would catch the most fish? Who would catch the biggest trout of the day? We kept a close tally (or at least I did). I remember the stretch of water just above the farmer’s bridge where we have each caught some bruisers by swinging bigger streamers down through the fast water above the bridge and then stripped them back up along the banks. One year, Joe hooked a truly spectacular rainbow trout in that section. As he played it, I jumped into the creek, net in hand, to help land it. It got off at the net and a 10-year shadow came over me – did I intentionally bump the fish off the line or was I really trying to net it? I truly was trying to net that fish. One lesson was learned here for sure: to each his own. It is your battle to win or lose and, once won, it is even the sweeter that you conquered your prey yourself!

The author with Castle Rock Creek trout in hand

The author with trout taken on Castle Rock Creek

Accomodations
If you go to Fennimore to fish Castle Rock Creek or any of the other amazing streams in this area, you can find accomodations as follows.

Fenmore Hills Motel: http://www.fenmorehillsmotel.com
The Fenmore Hills Motel is just outside of Fennimore on Hwy 18. You have to drive through Fennimore and continue west to find it and it is easy to find. These are spacious rooms and we like this location for easy access to the Big Green River early in the morning.

Eagle Creek Inn: http://www.eaglecreekinn.com
Another choice is the Eagle Creek Inn on mainstreet (also Hwy 18) in Fennimore. The Inn has a nice bar and restaurant and excellent food.

– Paul

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