Iowa’s Driftless Area

Our second week of vacation found us putting Nebraska in our rear view mirror and dead-heading for Northeastern Iowa’s driftless area. When I say that Nebraska was in our rear view mirror…I might add that one very large and ugly super-cell was also bearing down on us from Sioux City to Waterloo; I was driving as fast as legally possible to just stay ahead of this monster that ended up catching us twice, both times spilling large hailstones down upon us!

By the time we cleared Waterloo we had pushed far enough east and south to ‘get away’ from the beast that was trying to swamp us. Unfortunately many of Iowa’s communities that sit along Highway 20 got busted up pretty bad. We worked our way north and east through a maze of stunning farms and emerged in the little town of Decorah, Iowa.

I had been reading about the wonderful fishing that the area offers for a number of years and thus decided that if I couldn’t make it to Montana…why not try out the fly-fishing in this part of the world. Vickie and I started off by stopping at the Decorah Trout rearing facility and as we pulled up it started to rain…the storm had finally caught us. Trout - Driftless Area, IowaWe parked the truck\camper and made our way up to the maintenance shed to see if I could find someone to educate me on the fishing in the area. My first concern was to find out if the streams would be blown out or not; Brian Malaise, hatchery manager was there and in a bit over an hour he educated me on many subjects, handed me a dozen or so pamphlets and gave me a couple maps that over the next few days-would become my bible. Brian was in short an amazing guy. Rarely does one meet a person with knowledge and the ‘bedside manners’ to go along with it. I told him what kind of fly-fisherman I was, what kind of fishing I was looking for…and once he started…let’s just say that I felt very confident that I would be successful.

First off let’s discuss “driftless” – it is an area of northeastern Iowa, northwestern Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota; you might call it a ‘geological four corners’. The term driftless refers to silt, clay, sand, gravel and boulders (called drift) left behind by the recession of glaciers in the last ice age. The glaciers that scraped off and flattened many areas in the Midwest didn’t bother this area; meaning there was no drift left, thus we get the term-driftless.

Now that you are educated an up to speed…let me tell you a bit about the fishing; in one word, AWESOME! This unique area is about 24,000 square-miles of some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Sorry to say but while it looks much like and even has many of the same geological tendencies as southern Indiana…this little corner of Iowa just sparkles; the farms are neat, tidy and most have a creek flowing through the land. These small creeks have water that is about the mid-50 degree range which is perfect for growing big trout…and that is exactly what is going on!

My timing was a little suspect; while the streams weren’t truly ‘blown-out’…they were up, brown and hard to fish. However Brian told me that the streams clean up quickly and I also know that the big fish, especially brown trout, use the high water times to move up and aggressively feed; so my hopes were realistic but at the same time I had come a long way and for sure I was going to fish. My first day was certainly a learning curve; two maps in my hand as I drove from spot to spot. I would fish a bit, make a mental note, load up, drive some more, fish some more, make more notes, etc…I was able to catch 5 nice trout that first day highlighted by a 16 inch brown that I caught with an audience of 5 Angus cows watching on.

My second day would prove to be very eventful as I started out at Waterloo Creek where I parked the truck and moved a few feet to the still murky and very cold water. I had tied a bright yellow streamer the night before that I was in hopes would do the trick; I tied it on with 3X tippet and made a cast with my new Winston 3-weight rod and floating line. I waited a second and then began to make strips just like I would if I were home fishing for smallies. My fourth strip found resistance and I immediately set the hook with my left hand. The weight on the other end was no small fish; the line now was ripping downstream. I used my right index finger to monitor or become drag but knew that I had hooked into something big. A few seconds later, with my rod bent double, up through the stained water came my prize, a 21 inch brown trout that was clearly hooked in the corner of the mouth. Once again this is where experience and patience pays off and a minute later I slipped my net under and had claimed a real trophy of a fish.

Two of the next three casts also proved to be successful as I hooked and landed two more 15 inch browns…and I hadn’t even yet moved a step from where I started! The icing on the cake came about thirty minutes later and about 100 yards downstream as I caught a nice brook trout; when adding this to the browns and one rainbow…I had caught the Iowa trout slam; I looked at my watch and it was 7:30am Iowa time! What a morning, what an area…what a day to be out Enjoying the Great Outdoors.


    • Chet
    • January 26, 2019

    Thankful to you for sharing this. Encouraging.

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