Fishing The Driftless Area, A Pretty Well-Kept Secret

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Courtesy photo

Mike Stracco with an Elvers Creek trout he caught.


    There are many well-known fly fishing waters that, if mentioned, would bring a nod of recognition and reverence. The Catskills, Pennsylvania’s Spring Creeks and West Yellowstone would be among those rivers. Others, like the Driftless Area, not so much.

    I mentioned to a fellow angler that I had a friend from college that was fishing the Driftless Area. A blank stare came over his face, and I continued my explanation. “You know, the Driftless Area?”

More blank stare turning to a confused look. In his defense, he had never been to the Midwest, and the Driftless Area is pretty much a well-kept secret.

    The Driftless Area is mainly located on the Wisconsin and Minnesota borders, with parts of it in Illinois and Iowa. The Driftless Area is part of the headwaters for the Mississippi River.

 The name Driftless has to do with the fact that the area seems to be free from glacial drift caused from the Ice Age. The Driftless Area is one of two major biodiversity hotspots in the Midwest, and according to my friend Mike Stracco, the fishing is great.

      Mike contacted me recently after a mutual college friend shared one of my articles with him. Mike told me about his love of fly fishing and mentioned that he was going to fish the Driftless the next day. So, I asked him to send some pictures that I could use in an article. He wrote back, “You should know better than to say to a fisherman, Send me a few pictures. Do you want 100 or 200 hundred?” LOL.

    Mike lives west of Chicago, so the Driftless Area is about 2 1/2 to 3 ½ hours one way. Mike likes to plan to fish as long as he drives. Two days previous he drove three hours one way to the Blue River and fished for seven hours. On this day, Mike fished Elvers Creek, which was new to him, and caught 20 trout. Not a bad day on new water.

    I asked Mike how he got into fly fishing. Mike mentioned that he was a long-time bait caster originally from New Jersey. Mike had fished with his family growing up, living near a lake back east and they would fish when they visited family from his home in the Chicago area.

Having gone to college and played football with Mike in Chicago I knew there were not that many, if any, fly fishing waters in the area. I asked how he got into fly fishing.

 Mike said that the gentleman he bought his house from was a fly fisher. That stuck in his mind when Mike bought his oldest son fly fishing lessons as an activity to do together. The lessons were through an Orvis School on Black Earth Creek, in Black Earth, Wisconsin, which is part of the Driftless Area. The lessons were the start of a passion and fly fishing journey for both Mike and his son.

     The Fox River was the nearest river to practice on that had stocked fish, but the Fox could be a zoo, especially on opening day. Since one of the allures of fly fishing is the solitude, Mike started exploring trout waters that had less pressure and more solitude. His journey led him to further explore the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.

    Mike mentioned that he occasionally likes to hire a guide when fishing a new area. Guides are familiar with the area and are great resources for how to fish their local waters and for what flies and techniques to use. The guides are also great instructors, and it is always helpful to have another set of eyes on your casting.

    As Mike and I renewed our friendship over our enjoyment of fly fishing, I was even more moved by a father and son’s journey together through fly fishing. Mike has fished Alaska, Montana, Colorado and other notable waters with his son, Mike, who is a trained Fisheries Biologist and fishing guide.

    If you are interested in an area of the country with great fishing that offers a lot of history and biological diversity, head for the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. And by the way, both Mikes say that the go-to fly is the Pink Squirrel Nymph.

George Liset of Dover is an outdoor writer and avid fly fisherman who shares insights of his time on the water exploring New Hampshire streams and rivers as well of those around New England. George is a graduate of Wheaton College, Illinois, and the University of New Hampshire.

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