Wisconsin’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.
Less than a hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is cold and pure enough to harbor trout. 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.
Trout fishing has some peculiar customs. 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 mystery for this part-sport, part-art pastime, which combines hunting, hiking, wading and wildlife watching.
Wisconsin's Finest Trout Fishing
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 our favorite spots to cast off:
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.
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 – Solon Springs
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.
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.
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.