What is the Driftless?
The Driftless is comprised of over 700 miles of fishable trout streams in Southeastern MN alone, not to mention the 13,000 miles in WI and portions of Iowa, there is no shortage of productive water to fish. The trick is nailing down the correct areas so that you don’t waste your time. This article aims to give general guidance as a starting point, and also present the FlyFishFinder app which allows for advanced filtering of over 15 layers to help you identify top spots to fish. The app has over 20,000 trout streams mapped, and 250,000 streams in total including filters like easement access, over 400,000 square miles of public lands data, trails and trailheads, designated trout sections (Midwest), species filtering, parking and more. Planning your next Driftless fly fishing trip doesn’t have to be difficult, and there is a lifetime FREE option of the app, as well as several Premium versions to choose from for a few dollars a month.
Build Your Network
The most successful anglers we know have the biggest networks. They’ve been able to fish all over the country because of this. A personal story about the benefits of building a network and how the FLYFISHFINDER platform can help you do this. Heading out from Minnesota to explore the Black Hills, my buddy and I were able to connect and link up to fish with a local guy out there who got us on some fish and gave us great pointers for that area in terms of fly selection and techniques to try. We also made a connection with a guide in Estes Park, CO and he took us up to our first alpine lake experience landing some amazing Greenback Cutthroat trout in the mountains. He gave us tips for a pit stop in WY on the way as well. These are the connections you need, and can all be accessed via our app.
Seasonality in the Driftless
The seasons do play a role in finding fishing success here in the Driftless. As a southeastern MN lifetime resident, I know the area well and the seasons we encounter from harsh winters to humid summers. My favorite season to fish is Autumn as the temperatures are dropping during the day, and fishing can be solid all day long. The leaves changing colors make for beautiful scenery as well.
Streamers are my go to around the Driftless, in particular I was introduced to the Fricks Fix invented by Ryan Frick, which originally was designed to imitate a frog from what I hear. I think it has a great profile for many baitfish you’ll find in the area as well. During the autumn season, you can find success on hoppers, nymphs and all types of dry flies as well. That is what makes this time of year so much fun to fish. BWO’s work particularly well in sizes 14-18, as well as spent caddis imitations of similar size. Yellow belly hopper imitations are a great fly to keep stocked in your box, varying sizes from size 8-14 depending on the day, temperature and weather.
This is the least busy time of year to get out and fish, and still presents great opportunities to catch many and larger fish, especially if you catch a day with some sun and a slight warm up. Stick to low and slow type fishing this time of year, though again weather dependent dries and streamers are always a viable option. Pack some warm gloves and be ready to pick ice out of your guides, but otherwise you can find a ton of solace this time of year. The season closes most water from mid October through the end of December in the Driftless to aid with the spawn. January 1st is when most trout waters open to catch and release again.
Key Areas to Fish
If you are short on time like most anglers we know, then picking the proper areas with high fish counts and good access is key. The Fly Fish Finder app will help you confidently identify areas with great access, and the types of fish you are targeting that particular day. If someone were to ask me about a solid starting point in the Driftless, I would mention Preston area as my go to. There are many miles of fishable and accessible streams in the area, with all three major trout species present. The Driftless Fly Fishing Company is right in Preston so you can shop and support locally owned businesses, and they usually are up for offering pointers and fly patterns for the area. http://www.minnesotaflyfishing.com/
For year round access we recommend Whitewater State Park and Forestville, which comes as no surprise to locals. These areas do produce a lot of stocked fish but many are of above average size, and will present plenty of shots to land fish. Whitewater has a ton of scenery, and great runs and riffles to fish within the park limits, and just outside of it as well. Keep an eye on angler easement areas when outside the park as much of this land does cross into private property.
Reach out with questions or a presentation of the FLYFISHFINDER app if in doubt of its benefits.