Wisconsin: home of the Green Bay Packers and high quality dairy. Few people know that there are over 13,000 miles of trout streams spread all across the state. Over 5,000 miles of those streams are considered Class I.
In addition to the trout streams, there are thousands of lakes and rivers containing over 150 species of fish. Most fly anglers opt to pass over Wisconsin in an effort to get further west to the mountains of Colorado or Montana.
Areas like the Driftless Region and the waters flowing out of the Great Lakes provide a vast array of trout, salmon and steelhead fly fishing opportunities. These fisheries are all less than 300 miles from Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines and Milwaukee. Plan a long weekend and prepare to be hooked.
Here are 11 of the best places to fly fish in Wisconsin:
1. Bois Brule River
The Brule, a 44-mile river located in Northeast Wisconsin, is a haven for rainbow trout, brown trout, Lake Superior fed steelhead as well as salmon. It’s beautiful scenery and easy access has made it a Wisconsin staple for many years. Here is a link to the Brule Trout Fishing Regulations. The Brule River has four separate sets of regulations so be aware.
Charlie Piette, a guide at Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company, says that the Brule River is the best river in Wisconsin to fish. Drifting it with a canoe in the late summer months while throwing dries will lead to some memorable fly fishing.
Where to Fish on the Brule:
The 44 miles can be divided into two areas. The mouth of the river is found on the edge of Lake Superior. This water all the way down to Highway 2 is full of steelhead and salmon. The large boulders and bluffs create gorgeous scenery, but is best covered by walking along the banks. Below Highway 2 are where the browns and rainbows can be found. This section is best fished by a canoe.
Try this area above the Brule Dam. It’s in a Forest State Natural Area so be prepared to hike in some thicker vegetation.
Recommended Flies for the Brule River:
- Try the the “Burnt” Wulff. This is a variation of the Royal Wulff. It will work great on the Upper Brule. Anywhere from an 8-16 size hook will suffice. Use burnt orange floss and some peacock herl.
- If you’re searching for Steelhead, try the Superior X-legs. It has a size 8 hook with a copper bead. Use Grizzly Brown Marabou for the tail, Kaufman’s Brown Stonefly Dubbing for the abdomen and medium copper ultra-wire for the ribs.
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2. Rush River
The Rush River has been a fan favorite for years. The warmer water temperatures in the summer produce more food to fatten up the fish. Brown and brook trout are there to be caught. The limestone outcroppings give you something to admire in the midst of the fishing. While the fish numbers may not be as high, the size of the ones you do catch makeup for less action.
Where to Fly Fish on the Rush River
An easy entry spot is in the Rush River Wildlife Area between Baldwin and Martell. The public access point is on the northeast corner. It has 1.2 miles of river shore line for people to walk. The water flow is 130 cubic feet per second which is enough to float a canoe.
Flies to use on the Rush River
- In the spring, try a Black X Caddis anywhere between size 14-20. This is the first major hatch of the season in the area so trout can’t resist.
- You can’t go wrong with a Grey Leech. Again, anywhere between size 4-10 you’ll catch fish. It can be swung, stripped or dead-drifted.
Do you want to really dig into Fly Fishing in Wisconsin? I highly recommend the book Flyfisher’s Guide to Wisconsin and Iowa (Amazon link) A great read for planning your next trip or exploring some new water.
3. Pine River
The Pine River is one of three wild rivers in Wisconsin. It’s was signed as a wild river in 1965 and has kept its natural condition throughout the years. Since it is undeveloped, it requires some effort to find an area suitable for fly fishing. The lower 33 miles ending at the Menominee River are managed by the DNR and may be your best bet. You’ll find Brook Trout and Brown Trout as well as smallmouth bass.
Where to Fish on the Pine
The Pine River System Fishery Area is where the trout population is the most dense. From here, you’ll be on foot. Due to land owner regulations, be sure to stay in the river and you can walk as far as you would like!
If you want to float, drop in at Buena Vista Boat landing and you can float right down into the Wisconsin River. Otherwise, here is a link to parking near the Pine River System Fishery Area.
Flies to Use on the Pine
- A big Woolly Bugger anywhere from size 4 to 8 will do the trick. It can attract the smallmouth as well as the brown trout.
- In mid-summer, try any of your Mosquito flies (size 16-18) and you’ll find success. This suggestion is also a warning. Bring bug spray!
Click Here for FREE Download of a Midwest Hatch Chart. It includes up to date information on best nymphs, emergers and dries, when they hatch and proper hook size.
4. Kinnickinnic River
The Kinnickinnic River is the first river on this list within the Driftless Region. This region stretches from La Crosse to Prairie du Chien and has the highest concentration of trout in the Midwest. Also, the Kinnickinnic is one of the few streams in Wisconsin that doesn’t need to be stocked. By 1973, the DNR realized that the Brown and Brook trout were repopulating well enough on their own. It’s 25 miles long and flows through beautiful pastures with reports saying there are 5000 to 10000 trout per mile.
The upper-portion is much easier to access and holds more fish. Follow County Road FF heading towards Minneapolis from River Falls and you’ll see plenty of access points. Otherwise, there is access in Kinnickinnic River State Park. Use Blue Winged Olives or Midges when fishing. These will give you the best results.
5. Kickapoo River West Fork
The Kickapoo is another river in the midst of the Driftless Region. While the water is catch-and-release, it holds some nice brown trout. Since most of it flows through pasture, be careful with your approach to the river. It’s best fished from the banks because wading will spook the trout. Rarely will the trout hit in the middle of the stream. Throwing nymphs up along the banks will draw the trout out enough to eat. There are Trico hatches late summer into fall and Little Black Caddis hatches early in the spring. A Blue Winged Olive will also help land fish.
6. Black Earth Creek
Black Earth Creek is a great stream in close proximity to Madison. It supports a self-sustaining brown trout population, but the lower section is stocked with rainbows. Fly anglers will likely fish in the artificial lures and flies section of the creek. You can find this section near South Valley Road in Mitchell and follow it until Park Street. Also, access can be found at the Festge County Park. Season doesn’t open on this creek until March 5 and will end in September. Go ahead and throw some hoppers, ants and beetles. The summer months provide some fishing that every dry fly angler dreams about. Wet wading is the best way to fish this stream throughout the summer.
7. Pike River
The Pike River is another one of the three wild rivers in Wisconsin. It’s mouth goes straight into Lake Michigan. The US Hwy 141 bridge, the County Hwy K bridge and the Pike River Road/Barker Road bridge in Marinette County provide public access points. It’s extremely difficult to canoe so be prepared to wade throughout the day. This river can be frustrating. Without any dams, water levels are susceptible to rising and dropping at unpredictable times. Lake Michigan run salmon and steelhead can be found all throughout it. Brown trout are also able to be caught all season long. Use some X-Legs Variations or Beadhead Hares Ear Soft Hackle. A Golden Stone could also find you some fish. All of these hooks are size 12 or larger.
8. Castle Rock Creek
This is likely the most complicated body of water to fish on this list, but well worth your time. It can be found east of Fennimore and it flows right into the Blue River. This river also winds its ways through pastures and fields so use some stealth when you approach. The section from Church Road downstream to the second bridge on Highway Q is artificial lures only. Blue-Winged Olives and Little Black Caddis are great options to use on the creek. When dusk is hitting, throw on a big streamer and you could get that big strike you’re searching after. Hiking along the banks gives you wide open casting lanes and fun opportunities to hit that perfect spot.
9. Root River
The Root River, located 20 miles south of Milwaukee is another great option for Lake Michigan run steelhead and trout. There is a fish-weir dam that traps fish for the hatchery. It can be a popular spot to fish due to the proximity to Milwaukee, but there are always fish to be caught. The beauty of this river is that it’s easy to fish. Open casting lanes and deep pools give beginner anglers a glimpse into what it takes to find these fish. Lincoln and Colonial parks are good places to access. Be sure to wade this river. It’s difficult to canoe! Any sort of egg fly size 10 to 12 will work great. Also, a Tunghead Stonefly size 12 is a great option.
10. Timber Coulee
Another great stream in the coveted Driftless Area is the Timber Coulee. It’s located right outside of Coon Valley and 45 minutes east of La Crosse. It can be difficult to cast due to the overgrown brush and vegetation, but patience always pays off. Throw on a size 6-8 hopper in the summer and you’ll find yourself catching some big browns.
Rainbows are also plentiful throughout the stream. Small Elk Hair Caddis flies will also produce quality fish. Parts of it run through an open pasture so again, stealth is key. Tying on a dry-dropper is not a bad idea on this stream. A Beadhead Prince Nymph is a solid option for the dropper.
11. Lower Wisconsin River
The Lower Wisconsin is a great warm water fishery. Any angler knows the joy of fighting a smallmouth bass or pike in a river. You can get access to this river at the VFW launch in Prairie du Sac or the Highway 12 Launch in Sauk City. Fish this any time May through October and you’ll find success. Use any white fly like a 3M Minnow or Boogle Bug to catch the smallmouth. Pike can be caught using Jared’s Outlaw streamers. This is a great chance to try fly fishing from a canoe. The wide river and slow moving water makes an anglers life easier.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Wisconsin
With the rivers listed above, there are two options for fly rods. In the larger rivers like the Brule or Lower Wisconsin, guides would recommend an 8 or 10 weight rod with 1X to 3X tippet.
Read about my recommended rods in this article. Recommended Fly Fishing Rods
Your best bet in the smaller rivers like the West Fork Kickapoo River or Castle Rock Creek are 4 or 5 weights less than 8 feet long with 5x tippet. These creeks require more technical casting. Be sure to check out our Midwest Hatch Chart for the best fly options. These flies will work great in the Driftless Region as well as the rivers flowing out of the Great Lakes.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Wisconsin
- Fishing Wisconsin- Wisconsin DNR: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/
- Wisconsin Fishing Directory: https://www.travelwisconsin.com/things-to-do/outdoor-fun/fishing
- Arrowhead Fly Fishers: http://arrowheadflyfishers.com