In case you haven’t heard, Minnesotans like to boast about our state. We’re proud of our natural resources, cities, hot dishes and the fact that we’re unfazed by cold weather. As a fly angler who lives in this state, I’ve got more to brag about … the endless supply of fishing opportunities.
If you head up north, you’ll find yourself catching various species of salmon and trout that are moving inland from Lake Superior. You can also head to the central part of the state to fish one of our many lakes, (after all, we call ourselves the Land of 10,000 Lakes) to catch that elusive muskie or just some feisty crappie and largemouth. But if you’re hoping to meet me out on the water, you’ll have to head southeast towards the Driftless Area.
The Driftless Area, simply referred to as the Driftless by locals, is a hidden gem for Midwest anglers. Spanning primarily parts of Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa; the Driftless area boasts unique geographical features that the rest of the region does not have.
When glaciers moved through the Upper Midwest, they flattened the surface of most of the land and left behind rich deposits of sand and silt, (called drift) which provided much of the great flat land for our states to plant crops. The Driftless, however, sat in a little pocket that managed to remain untouched by the glaciers’ flattening effects, hence the name. This area features rolling hills, towering bluffs, and deeply cut valleys that are littered with hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, and I’m sure you can guess what’s in those streams; an abundance of beautiful trout.
There are four species of trout that can be caught in the Driftless:
1) The buttery brown trout, imported to North America in the late 19th century, remains wild, self-sustaining and naturally-reproducing. They are the most common trout that you will catch in this area.
2) The beautiful brook trout (technically a char but often called a trout), with their dark, rich colors, are the only native trout in the Driftless. They are often smaller and harder to find, but catching one is a sign of great water quality and rewarding to the angler.
3) Rainbow trout were also introduced to the Midwest streams and rivers, and are occasionally stocked by the DNR, although they often fail to establish longstanding populations.
4) Finally, an angler is extremely lucky to come across the hybrid tiger trout, which is a result of a female brown trout and male brook trout reproducing. These fish have a high mortality rate, but they can be caught on occasion in the Driftless rivers!
Although my husband and I live in the heart of Saint Paul, Minnesota, we are lucky enough to be able to throw our gear in the truck and be fishing in the northern part of the Driftless in only 30 minutes. When we have a full day or weekend, we will often drive farther south into the Driftless for an overnight trip. The towns and communities cater to fly anglers, with little local fly shops set up in the downtowns and rental cabins tucked away in the hills. Many of the streams have easements that are open to the public and the farmers provide gates to easily move through their fields.
The streams are small and technical, requiring accuracy and creativity. I am, by no means, an advanced angler, but fishing these streams has forced me to improve my casting and get clever with my techniques. In terms of flies - anything goes; streamers, hoppers and dry flies are my personal favorites. I could go on about the Driftless, but you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
Since I’m married to a diehard angler, I’m often asked if I “actually enjoy fishing.” I always get to respond, “I LOVE fishing.” My husband introduced me to the sport over six years ago when we first started dating. I fell in love with it almost immediately after he handed me a bait-caster and a ‘frog’ and showed me how to lure largemouth bass out of the lily pads. After a few years, he decided to switch over to the fly rod for a better challenge, and my competitive self insisted I needed to make the switch too.
Fly fishing is elegant, challenging and rewarding. I’m fortunate to have the Driftless as my playground and a husband who encourages me to keep growing and learning this sport.