Six Great Trout Fishing Spots

By Brenda K. Bredahl

Trout fishing in Wisconsin shares a bit of the mystique spawned by Richard Brautigan’s infamous novel “Trout Fishing In America”. The state’s more than 10,000 miles of trout streams, creeks, and rivers are famous for cold, clean waters thick with trout and other game fish caught on the fly.

Brautigan was likely influenced by the peculiar customs long associated with sport fishing. First off, you must kiss the first trout you catch and then release it. Then there are the curious trout fishing accessories — a vest with a plethora of pockets, pit-high waders, and the creel, a wearable basket to stash your catch — and strange lexicon: hackles, presentation, dead drift, floater, midge, Woolly Bugger. It all creates a sense of, well, mystery.

The Art of Trout Fishing

Bill Hinton, a certified fly casting instructor and expert at demystifying sport fishing for beginners, says that fly fishery is an art, not a sport, as it combines hunting, hiking, wading, wildlife watching, reading the water, and mastering the aerodynamic cast. It can also involve the design and tying of intricate flies that resemble insects and the crafting of stunning fishing rods that have no place near the water.

Ideal Conditions for Trout Fishing

Perhaps the real mystique is created by the fact that less than a hundredth of 1 percent of the world’s water is cold and pure enough to harbor trout, says John Weinberg, a National Park Service ranger and president of the Lew Jewett Chapter of the Federation of Fly Fishers. The prey insects that inhabit cold waters are most vulnerable to environmental changes, so the health of predator trout serves as a kind of canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality.

Best Trout Fishing in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a haven for both novice and hard-core fly fishers and a testament to outstanding water quality for trout fishing. Here are six of Hinton and Weinberg’s favorite spots to cast off:

Kinnickinnic River - River Falls

Maybe the most famous trout stream in the state is the Kinnickinnic River, a Class I trout stream that stays vibrant through the work of Trout Unlimited, the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, and the Western Wisconsin Land Trust. With between 6,000 and 8,000 trout per mile, many access points including in the River Falls area, and a prime location about a half hour east of the Twin Cities, the “Kinni” is a favorite of fly fishers of all levels.

Namekagon River - Cable

With its beginnings near Cable, this trout fishing location is known for its wild brown and brook varieties. It’s been the inspiration for writers like Ernest Schwiebert and Gordon MacQuarrie.

St. Croix Headwaters - St. Croix Falls 

The Bois Brule flows north to Lake Superior and is world famous because five sitting presidents (Coolidge, Grant, Cleveland, Hoover, and Eisenhower) have fished its waters (and, legend has it, Rosalynn Carter without Jimmy!).

Kickapoo River West Fork - Viroqua

This trout fishing location is a 24-mile spring-fed waterway in Wisconsin’s unglaciated Coulee Country near La Crosse. The Kickapoo Valley’s other trout streams and tributaries are surrounded by hilly countryside, Amish farms, orchards, and produce stands.

Pike River - Marinette County

This is one of three designated Wisconsin Wild Rivers. The Pike is deep and cold, with stretches of whitewater rapids, waterfalls and forests, and is home to brown, rainbow, and brook trout species.

Black Earth Creek - Cross Plains

At one time Trout magazine named this one of the nation’s top 100 trout streams. West of Madison along Highway 14, the 27-mile creek, like others near urban areas, has been threatened by growth. Conservation groups, including the Black Earth Creek Watershed Association, have joined forces to protect and restore the stream’s quality for trout fishing.

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