I fully expected to bump into Mowgli and Baloo, bopping their way through the jungle. Or to have some hideous children-of-the-corn moment. Or to simply lose my way in the sea of seven-foot black-eyed susans, never to be found again. It was delicious.
I'd asked Mac, somewhat skeptically, if waders were really necessary. My early glimpses of the sweet little stream seemed to belie the need to get wet, and it was bloody hot, but he had nodded and I reluctantly suited up. Good thing too, for without that slick outer surface I might still be out in that deep Wisconsin meadow, tightly wrapped in bright green tendrils.
Instead I slithered my way through the growth, pausing in the occasional gaps of matted grasses formed the night before by bedding deer, listening to the constant drone of bees, enjoying nose-to-nose stare downs with curious hummingbirds, and following the sound of running water - often the only clue that a stream was near.
Mac and I had arrived late on a bright afternoon to my favorite kind of trailhead (an empty one), strung our rods, and continued on foot down the dirt track that bisected the small Driftless area valley. In time we turned off-road and waded into the lush deep grasses, bushwhacking our way to the small spring-fed stream that also split the area, though considerably less directly than the roadway. Waterways scoff at straight lines.
From deep in the tall grassed edges we drifted dries in the occasional pools and three-foot wide runs, Mac floating his nice little hopper ties and I with a tight-cut, tan caddis. Often the stream would disappear under the grasses, usually to reappear as it gathered itself in troughs created beneath tumbled trees or where it pushed up against the valley’s western walls. It was tough sledding early, while the sun lingered high, but as it dropped and the shadows deepened, life returned to the pools, rewarding our stealth and steeple casts with a few tentative strikes, then more vigorous interest in the terrestrial imitations we offered.
The final hundred yards of water, below the feeding spring, yielded us three nice brown trout, skinny as their home stream, the last a surprising twelve incher that, despite the narrowness of the waterway, danced acrobatically in the fading light.
We ended our fishing day back near the trucks, absently pitching bugs under the bridge, nicking small brookies as they dimpled the stream in the bright moonlight. Having satisfied ourselves that enough was enough, we wandered back, dropped a tailgate, and sat in the dark with a warm Wisconsin ale. I had a three-hour drive ahead of me that evening, back to Chicago, and Mac an hour return to his Madison home, but neither of us felt the immediate need for the road, happy to spend a moonlit hour listening to the gurgle of the stream and talking quietly of nothing in particular. It was the end of my trip, my short two days on Driftless water, and I was in no hurry to leave - delighted to have just spent a casual evening on a truly unique trout fishery with a fine new friend.
And thankful to have emerged from the Wisconsin heart of darkness, alive, and able to fish another day.