Trout Fishing Wisconsin's Driftless
A retreat to the Wisconsin driftless can be a breathtaking experience, as long as you know where to go and what to bring.
Catching glimpses of dimples on the water while peering through the fog lifting off a small stream while the sun peaks above the horizon can be magical.
We've put countless miles on our vehicles exploring all this region has to offer. To save you from spending your entire trip driving around or getting to the stream unprepared, we've created this resource to help out. We hope you enjoy fly fishing in the Wisconsin driftless as much as we have!
The driftless region of Wisconsin has more than 13,000 miles of trout streams running through it. Based upon our experiences with the area, we've created this page as a guide for visiting these waters.
Recommended Gear for the Driftless
The following can be used as a checklist when packing for a trip to the driftless
Rod: Any 2wt-5wt will work well. The smaller rods make casting in skinny water much easier, but it can get windy in the driftless, so bringing a 5wt weight with you can save some frustration in windy conditions
Fly box: You probably won't need to take more than one. Fill it with the patterns found here and you should have everything you need.
Leaders: Trout in the driftless are often sitting in shallow water. With a clear sky, this can made them overly skittish. Therefore, it's important to use long leaders (10-12ft) in many situations, with fine tippets ( 6x-7x). For tips on hiding from trout, check out this article.
Shoulder sling or hip pack: I prefer these over a vest because they allow for easier movement. Often times at the driftless, staying mobile and covering a lot of water is essential to finding fish.
Wading pants: I also prefer these over waders for the same reason, ease of movement. Walking the banks all day in heavy waders can get exhausting!
Wading boots: Tennis shoes will work, but properly fitting wading boots will provide greater ankle support for those days that a lot of hiking is required.
Bug Spray: The mosquitoes can get down right nasty during certain times of the year! I've also purchased and used the Simms BugStopper hoodie that works like a charm to keep those little blood suckers at bay.
Socks: Because wet wading is the way to go, you'll go through several pairs of them. Make sure to pack 2-3 pairs for each day you'll be fishing.
Wisconsin's Driftless Hatch Chart
Wisconsin's Driftless can offer some great hatches. While none compare to the famous Golden Stonefly, or Green Drake hatches in other parts of the country, the hatches here are consistent and keep enough food on the water to provide for many dry fly fishing opportunities.
Best Trout Flies for the Wisconsin Driftless
What species of trout are in the Driftless?
Brown Trout: Salmo trutta
Brown trout are not native to Wisconsin (no brown trout in the U.S. are native), meaning the trout there today got there by someone stocking them at one time. However, there are wild Brown trout in many of Wisconsin's driftless streams. Wild means they can naturally reproduce to a point that their species is sustainable without additional stockings.
Brook Trout: Salvelinus fontinalis
The majority of brook trout in Wisconsin's driftless are either wild or stocked. However, there are a few streams with native brook trout! This is a species that has made its home here since before the ice age!
Rainbow Trout: Oncorhynchus mykiss
There are very few if any wild Rainbow trout in the driftless. The conservation department stocks Rainbows in various streams each year to create more fishing opportunities for anglers
Wisconsin Driftless Trout Fishing FAQ's
When is the Wisconsin Driftless Trout Season?
Early inland trout waters: 5 am on the first Saturday in January to the Friday preceding the First Saturday in May at midnight
What fishing license do I need to trout fish in Wisconsin?
To fish for trout in the Wisconsin Driftless, you'll need:
Are barbless hooks required in the Wisconsin Driftless?
At this time, there are no regulations stating that barbless hooks must be used. It is always best to check the most current rules and regulations.
Where can I find the most recent regulations for trout fishing in the Wisconsin Driftless?
This resource published by the Wisconsin DNR provides the most up to date information on rules and regulations.
What do the different trout stream classifications mean?
Class 1: 100% Wild Trout
When is the best time to fish for trout in the Wisconsin Driftless?
Trout can be caught throughout the open season, but there are definitely seasons that are better than others.
Which airport to fly into?
While driving to the drifltess can provide beautiful scenery, sometimes because of time and distance you may be better off flying. If so, there are several municipal airports in the area, but your best bet is the La Crosse Regional Airport because you can get there from almost anywhere with a few connecting flights, and they offer car rental service right there at the terminal.
Do I need four wheel drive to get around the Wisconsin Driftless?
To access the streams, no, you will not need 4 wheel drive. However, if you are visiting in the winter months, 4 wheel drive would be essential to navigate the rolling hills if there happened to be snow on the ground.