We conceived the idea for a ladies' trip to The Driftless area of Wisconsin in January of 2019. The group consisted of women from a wide array of backgrounds with the only common thread being the Gary Borger TU Chapter. Our destination was Viroqua, WI, in the heart of the Driftless. The goal was an independent women's trip. The attendees would do everything from tying their flies, checking their gear, booking hotel accommodations, making dinner reservations, and selecting guides. Everything a new fly angler needs to get her waders wet.
The Driftless Area
Located 261 miles NW of Chicago, 188 miles SE from Minneapolis, and 288 miles from Des Moines, you will find a first-class trout fishery. According to The National Trout Center, "The Driftless Area of the upper Mississippi River Valley is the unglaciated region of the upper Midwest. While glaciers encroached on the region from north, west, and east, the basin's geology of the region is thought to have limited the flow of glacial ice during the most recent glaciation over what is now parts of four states bordering the Mississippi River. Emerging at the base of limestone bluffs and precipitous coulees, and coursing through wooded valleys, the streams of the region provide an ideal habitat for native brook trout, and more recently, the introduced brown and rainbow. The conservation departments of all four states surrounding The Driftless area have aggressive programs in place to sustain and rehabilitate their stream trout fisheries."
Who are these Adventure Seekers, and what makes them tick?
There were five of us between the ages of 45 to 75. Evelyn Adams, Megan Berns, Myra Coddens, Dina Lissner, and new fly angler Jessie Szmergalski, make up one fish, two fish, five fisher ladies.
A retired school teacher, Evelyn first tried fly fishing 15 years ago as a way to keep her husband from continually asking her to try it. He gave her a quick casting lesson, told her to "stand here" in the Salmon River of Idaho and "cast there." It was love at first catch. Evelyn is our Driftless veteran having fished the area many times.
Mēgan is a sales and operations manager and is also Editor-at-Large for DUN Magazine. She has been fly fishing for 13 years. Toothy critters are her main target, though she admits there is something about trout fishing that you have to love. When not fly fishing she is fly tying everything from a size 20 BWO to a 6/0 Double Buford.
An analytical chemist, Myra wears many hats as a volunteer for Quilts of Valor and Reeling and Healing Midwest. She also encourages high school students to learn about conservation and ravines along Lake Michigan. Myra has been fly fishing for approximately 20 years and considers the Upper Manistee and the AuSable to be her home waters.
Dina has been fly fishing for seven years and works as a realtor in Chicagoland. She likes both trout and saltwater fishing. She volunteers her time with Project Healing Waters and Trout in the Classroom.
Jessie, our newbie, is a pharmacist and has only been fly fishing for a short time. She started fly tying first, and her passion for fly fishing took off from there.
Countdown to the Driftless
From the first conception of the trip to packing up our vehicles, we had three fly tying sessions and two more meetings going over our agenda and gear. We provided Jessie with additional help to get her ready including getting her waders, boots, and casting lessons.
Fly tying nights worked in the following fashion. Jessie, Megan, and Dina tied all their own flies, and the rest had others step in to help them. At the first fly tying night we tied the Coulee Crane Fly size 14 and the Griffith Gnat size 16 and 18. On the second night, we created pink squirrels and zebra midges 18 and 20. Our third meeting was all about the Baltz's Paranymph, sparkle Dun Blue Wing Olive (BWO), and Major Woody.
At our agenda meeting, we went over hotel accommodations, arrival times, and dinner reservations. Our last get together was the gear check. We made sure everyone was set to go on this adventure.
Farewell to Illinois
Megan and Evelyn arrived early and got in an extra half-day of trout fishing. They met up with the rest of the group that evening for dinner at a local farm to table restaurant called the Driftless Café. That night Evelyn and Megan hung out with Jessie in her room to make sure she was ready for her first trout day.
Morning came too fast, and after breakfast was a stop at The Driftless Angler to meet our guide, Geri Meyer. Geri has been guiding for nine years in the Driftless area and has two sons, both of whom were raised to be fly anglers. Kail, her oldest, offered to help us ladies free of charge. Geri started guiding purely by accident when women came into the shop she co-owns with her husband and wanted to fish with a female guide. Her passion lies in getting women excited about fly fishing.
In a unique caravan of three cars, we set out to Reeds Creek. There, Jessie got her first brown trout. It ate a purple haze dry fly right under an old picturesque bridge, a memory to last a lifetime.
It was an excellent time to be in the Driftless. The cows had recently given birth and had their calves in the fields. Lush green grass blanketed the countryside. Public access to crystal clear meandering streams was abundant.
Brown trout were the only fish to be had on the first day ranging in size from 7-12 inches and caught using 3 and 5 wt rods. Everyone caught fish on day one, and we were a happy group.
A tired bunch, we headed to dinner and a celebratory drink. Once our appetites were satiated, we headed back to the hotel. Some of us opted to go right to bed while several of us hung out and talked about our guided experience and what tomorrow would bring. We regaled tales of flies, trout, and the excellent guide work of Geri and Kail. We couldn't have asked for a better day.
The sky opened up and poured on us. Due to the severity of the storms, we had to wait them out inside the fly shop which worked out well as it gave us some time to shop. Finally, sunshine! With the water conditions resembling chocolate milk, the conditions were not very conducive to fishing. The highlight of this day was that Evelyn caught a brook trout on a double rig. After lunch, we decided to cut our day short and get a head start on the ride home.
Our primary goals throughout this whole endeavor were to put Jessie on her first trout, become more independent anglers, and make memories. Fishing is always a learning experience no matter where you go or what you target. This trip we couldn't help but wonder, do you hook the trout or does the trout hook you? We found it to be a little of both. We left with a more profound love of Driftless trout, strengthened our bond as friends, and became more confident anglers. In the words of our guide Geri, "The sport is not as intimidating as it seems. Find a friend and go for it." We did all of the above and can't wait to do it again.