Outdoor Life Online Editor

And you thought you had to travel all the way to Montana for a true spring-creek trout adventure. Not so. Southwestern Wisconsin, a rolling upland spared by the last great glaciers, abounds with cold spring creeks that flow from nutrient-rich limestone. After decades of silting and degradation, many creeks are being rehabilitated into first-class trout waters. Fishing organizations, including Trout Unlimited, assist the state in revitalizing stream channels and installing lunker structures, which stabilize stream banks and provide critical refuge cover for small-stream trout. Public access is excellent, with many easements across private land and legal wade-fishing on virtually all streams. The picturesque hardwood hills smack of New England, and there are literally hundreds of enchanting valley streams to explore in a dozen counties adjacent to the Mississippi and lower Wisconsin rivers. To get an inkling of what a tremendous concentration of spring creeks this is, check out the maps on pages 18, 22 and 23 of the Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations and Guide available from the Wisconsin DNR.

How good is the fishing? Some rehabilitated streams support several thousand wild (not stocked) brown trout per mile. The fishing for adult browns in the 11- to 15-inch class is superb, even by Montana standards, and some bragging-size browns are present. Lately, I’ve been catching fat brook trout, including a few in excess of 15 inches, on a growing number of streams. Most anglers flock to a few well-publicized, special-regulations streams, like the Big Green and Castle Rock near Fennimore and the West Fork of the Kickapoo near Viroqua. My advice is to explore as many streams as possible. Walking your tail off on new water (sometimes miles at a time) will quickly pay dividends. I enjoy great fishing on dozens of uncrowded streams each season.

Milwaukee Map Service’s road map of southwestern Wisconsin is invaluable for navigating back roads. You can make your base at one of many affordable motels or quiet campgrounds.

Fishing is catch-and-release with artificial lures and barbless hooks from March through the last Sunday in April. The general season opens the first Saturday in May and runs through September (special regulations apply on some streams). April sees hatches of blue-winged olives, caddis and midges and is prime time for hunting big browns in lower watersheds with streamers, spinners and small crankbaits. May and early June bring pleasant weather and good hatches. Hopper and beetle imitations fish well in July and August, especially on cool headwaters. In September, as streams cool, browns and brookies adopt their spawning hues and move upstream in search of gravel, and the fishing and scenery are excellent. Vernon County has spring creeks galore. Crawford and Richland counties rank among my favorites, but there are many superb spring creeks for ambitious anglers to explore in neighboring counties. Most streams are within 200 miles of Chicago, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, making southwestern Wisconsin an exciting and convenient haven for Midwestern trout bums.

When to Go: Wisconsin’s trout season lasts from March through September, but the best fishing is had in the early and later parts of the season.