Time: 10:00AM – 2:00PM
Location: Bridge on Olstad Road.
The day finally arrived. Friday and Saturday were reserved for fly fishing adventures. On Thursday evening we arrived in Viroqua after the Driftless Angler closed for the day, so I forfeited the opportunity to obtain local intelligence. The Driftless Angler web site documented general weather and stream conditions for the entire area, and it was not specific regarding individual streams. Consequently I performed some Google searches and determined that Timber Coulee was highly regarded and within a short drive of our lodging at the Westby House Inn. The coulee was a spring creek that benefited from stream improvement projects, and access appeared to be quite good with leases obtained by the DNR from landowners. Timber Coulee represented new water for me, and I love to explore, so I decided to make it my destination on Friday.
On my way to the creek I traveled along county road P, which bordered the upper Timber Coulee. After I passed the Snowflake ski jump area, I was surprised by the number of fishermen on a Friday morning on a very small creek. After two or three miles I passed Rullands Coulee Creek, and this tributary nearly doubled the volume, but I began to worry about a stream access point. All the pullouts along the smaller upper section were occupied, and two below the confluence with Rullands Coulee also contained vehicles. I resolved to inspect the next bridge crossing, and I regretted not checking in with the Driftless Angler on Thursday.
Finally approximately 1.5 miles below the Rullands merger I turned left on Olstad Road and parked beyond a truck on the south side of the bridge. I could see a fisherman among the herd of cows above the bridge, so I hustled to pull on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod. My haste was vindicated when another car arrived with two additional fishermen, but I spotted a narrow path through tall weeds that led downstream of the bridge. I made this my gateway to Driftless fly fishing, and I hiked through the grass and weeds that reached to my shoulders for fifteen minutes until I reached a relatively wide open segment of the creek.
At this point I cut down a relatively gradual slope, and I found myself next to a short riffle between two long pools. The water of Timber Coulee was gorgeous. I had no basis of comparison, but the water was crystal clear and the flows appeared to be nearly perfect. The stream reminded me of numerous spring creeks in central Pennsylvania. All was not ideal; however, as the gnats were a major nuisance throughout my stay on Timber Coulee. They swarmed about my head in dense clouds, and they attacked my ears and invaded my glasses. They did not bite, so I avoided a DEET application and decided to ignore them as best as I could.
I initiated my quest for wild Wisconsin trout with a size 8 Chernobyl ant trailing a beadhead hares ear. This combination performed quite well for me during a Driftless Region visit in 2014, so I decided to give it another chance. During my day on the creek I added a bright green caddis pupa as a third fly for a period of time. I also removed the dry/dropper and experimented with a parachute ant, but this venture into terrestrial fishing did not yield any positive results. This surprised me given the abundance of tall grasses and weeds that lined the banks of the relatively narrow stream.
Eventually I returned to the dry/dropper with a smaller size 10 Chernobyl ant as the surface fly, and I persisted with the beadhead hares ear nymph. Given the preponderance of gnats I also knotted a mercury flashback black beauty to my line as a second dropper below the hares ear. Finally at the very end of the day I tested a Jake’s gulp beetle in the section of the stream above and below the Olstad Road bridge.
During my four hours of fishing I landed seven brown trout. Two were buttery colored twelve inch beauties, and the remainder were smaller in size but just as pretty. All but one of the brown trout that nestled in my net grabbed the hares ear, and the aberration nabbed the black beauty. The key to success was fishing the faster runs of moderate depth that flushed clear water into the deep pools. Early on I invested far too much time in large slow moving pools after observing a fair number of sporadic rises. I executed fairly long delicate casts, but even the size 18 ant was soundly ignored. In many cases I sadly watched fish scatter, when they sensed my presence. Surely my wading, or the movement of my rod, or the shadow from the overhead line put them on high alert. Unfortunately quite a few of the fleeing fish appeared to be quite nice and perhaps in the fifteen inch range.
Eventually I learned that my best chance of success resulted from focusing on the faster runs and riffles. In these locations the faster water and surface turbulence masked my presence and the plop of the flies. In addition to the seven landed fish I experienced two momentary hookups with fish that felt heavier than even my largest catches. One grabbed the hares ear nymph in a nice riffle that spanned the entire creek, and it created a significant bend in my rod, but I never caught a glimpse. The second long distance release snatched the hares ear in a current seam, and I played it long enough to recognize it as a thirteen inch brown trout.
By one o’clock I reached the bridge where my car was parked, so I crossed the road and climbed over the fence by using one of the designated ladders. I continued upstream until I was among the herd of dairy cows, and I added a couple small trout to my count during this time. Before I called it quits for Friday, I worked the head of a deep pool above the bridge, and this late effort produced a small brown trout that nabbed the black beauty. Several refusals to the Chernboyl ant prompted me to knot a Jake’s gulp beetle to my line, but it also generated only a pair of refusals.
I spooked more fish than I landed, but despite this frustration I enjoyed exploring new water in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. Catching trout in a clear spring creek on my first visit challenged my mind and provoked keen observation. Timber Coulee was a fine alternative to fishing in high turbid streams in the Rocky Mountains.
Fish Landed: 7