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.

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Best Places to Trout Fish in the Wisconsin Driftless

Select a County:

Wisconsin's Best Trout Fishing Streams by County

1. Trempealeau County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Trempealeau County Wisconsin:

Bear Creek

Dutch Creek

Salzwedel Coulee

(Click here for map of all streams in Trempealeau County)

 

2. Jackson County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Jackson County Wisconsin:

Cisna Creek

North Branch Trempealeau River

French Creek

(Click here for a map of all trout streams in Jackson County)

 

3. La Crosse County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in La Crosse County Wisconsin:

Larson Coulee

Bostwick Creek

Little Burns Creek

(Click here for a map of all trout streams is La Crosse County)

 

4. Monroe County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Monroe County Wisconsin:

Farmers Valley Creek

Little LaCrosse River

Beaver Creek East

(Click here for a map of all trout streams in Monroe County)

 

5. Vernon County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Vernon County Wisconsin:

Reads Creek

Bad Axe River 

Bishop Branch

(Click here for a map of all Vernon County Trout Streams)

 

6. Crawford County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Crawford County Wisconsin:

 

7. Richland County Trout Streams

Top 3 trout streams in Richland County Wisconsin:

Ash Creek

Fox Hollow Creek

West Branch Mill Creek

(Click here for a map of all Richland County trout streams)

 
 

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 General Inland Season: First Saturday in May from 5:00 AM to October 15.




What fishing license do I need to trout fish in Wisconsin?


To fish for trout in the Wisconsin Driftless, you'll need: 1. A Wisconsin fishing license. A resident license if you live in Wisconsin, or a non-resident license if you live in another state. Non-resident can be purchased as a 1 day, 4 day, 15 day, or annual license. 2. Wisconsin inland trout stamp. The only option for this is an annual stamp. They can both be purchased online by clicking here. You will need to create an account and fill out a little information about yourself. They can also be purchased in person. Click here to find a list of Wisconsin hunting and fishing license sales centers.




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. Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations




What do the different trout stream classifications mean?


Class 1: 100% Wild Trout There are over 5,000 miles of class 1 streams, each having a sustained population of wild trout that are replenished through successful natural reproduction. Because it's not needed to maintain full capacity, they are not stocked with hatchery trout. Class 2: Some Wild Trout There are over 6000 miles of class 2 streams. These waters have some natural reproduction and year to year survival carryover, but not enough to sustain a stream to it's full capacity. Stocking of Brown, Rainbow, and Brook trout is utilized to supplement mother nature. Class 3: No Wild Trout There are over 1,500 miles of class 3 streams. These streams have limited trout habitat, no natural reproduction, and little to no annual survival carryover. Without annual stocking, they would be virtually troutless. Click here to see historical trout stocking summaries




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. March-May: Springtime is probably the best to time fish. With hungry trout ready to make up for reduced feeding in the winter, and several mayflies beginning to hatch, Spring can bring a perfect storm for dry fly action. June-August: Summertime fly fishing in Wisconsin's driftless can be tough. With clear skies and bright sun, the first challenge is staying hidden from the trout. The second challenge is the slowing down of aquatic insect activity. When no mayflies or caddis are present, casting terrestrials can be very effective and pure ecstacy when it works. September-October: Fall can be a great to time fish the driftless, but most of the trout will be focused on eating subsurface. This is the time of year that brown and brook trout spawn, so if you enjoy fishing egg patterns, this is the time to go. *Note, WATCH OUT FOR THE REDDS (trout spawing areas on the streambed). It is essential for the survival of the fish we love to be able to reproduce without being disturbed. October-December: Wintertime trout fishing can be slower than the rest of the year, but fishing presure is much lower, increasing the odds that you could have the stream all to yourself. We've found these three patterns to be the most effective in the driftless during the colder winter months.




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.





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