Our Rivers are Some of the Best in the Nation
Kiap-TU-Wish is responsible for some of the finest trout waters in Wisconsin. Some of the best spring creeks and hatches that you can find in the United States are in our area of western Wisconsin. Although often smaller in size and stature than some of the western waters you read about, our spring creeks provide just as much scenery and excitement.
The Kiap-TU-Wish area of service lies within the area of Pierce, Polk and St.Croix counties in western Wisconsin. Most of our finer streams lie southeast of the Twin Cities, Minnesota metro—a major metropolitan area of over 3 million people, on the northern-most edge of the Driftless Area.
The Driftless Area is a distinct landscape in the Upper Mississippi River Basin that was left unglaciated during the last glacial period ending 10,000 years ago. The term “driftless” indicates a lack of glacial drift, which are sediments left behind by glaciers. The area is characterized by karst topography, with springs, caves and sinkholes. Coldwater streams and rivers cut steep canyons prior to joining the Mississippi River. The Driftless Area encompasses southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and northwestern Illinois.
Many streams in west-central Wisconsin periodically suffer from extensive flooding, which has a major impact on our watershed. Thousands of tons of sediment are transported downstream during these events and deposit in valley bottoms and to the Mississippi River. Additionally, agriculture is the primary land-disturbing activity to the streams in our area and it is the biggest source of nonpoint source pollution, both land applied and concentrated from livestock farms.
The Brook Trout is the only trout native to the Driftless Area of the Midwest, and it was abundant in many streams prior to the 1850s. By 1900, Brook Trout were eliminated from many streams because of over exploitation and habitat degradation. Stream habitats were largely impacted when much of the natural prairie and forests were cleared for agriculture, fuels, and lumber. The reductions of natural land cover increased soil erosion and resulted in more frequent and larger floods. Upland soil erosion and flooding caused sediments to fill valley bottoms, which led to streams becoming wider and less connected with groundwater. When combined with a reduction in riparian vegetation and wood recruitment into streams, the wide, warm, and shallow streams were largely unable to sustain Brook Trout populations.
Since those earlier times, Brown Trout, which are more adaptable to variation to water temperature and stream flow, have been introduced to our streams by heavy stocking. With the help of Kiap-TU-Wish and the Wisconsin DNR restoration efforts, many of the streams we monitor now have self-sustaining populations of Brown Trout and require little or no stocking.
The restoration to the headwaters and tributaries of these streams have also helped with habitat—and in some cases reintroduction of wild Brook Trout in alignment with the “Bring Back the Natives” initiative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the national office of Trout Unlimited.
Kiap-TU-Wish Restoration Projects
In the last 20 years Kiap-TU-Wish has done stream restoration projects on the Willow, Kinnickinnic, South Fork of the Kinnickinnic, Parker Creek, Rush River, Tiffany, Eau Galle and Pine Creek, to name a few.
The most recent projects have been habitat improvements on Pine Creek near Maiden Rock, the Trimbelle River, and now the Red Cabin Site on the Kinni near River Falls.
Here’s a sampling of our most popular rivers:
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 Kiap-TU-Wish, the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, and the West 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.
The Rush River is a great trout fly fishing destination in Wisconsin. There are pools, riffles, and flat runs that hold plenty of insect life. The hatches are prolific and fly anglers can access the river at many spots along the way. It does not hold as many trout as the nearby Kinnickinnic River, but they are larger in size. This is because of the freestone nature of the stream, with slightly warmer water, which produces larger food sources for the trout. The Rush averages about 2,500 trout per mile. Brown trout inhabit the river from the CenterVille Springs to the Mississippi River. Brook trout reproduce naturally in Lost Creek and Cave Creek, a main source of increasing brook trout populations that can be found on the Rush.
The Trimbelle is a quaint little stream with prolific insect life and a decent trout population. Wisconsin has designated the Trimbelle as one of the state’s highest quality waters as Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). From a mile and a half above the mouth of the Mississippi River to its headwaters, the Trimbelle River is considered an ERW and Class II Trout Water.
Eau Galle River
The Eau Galle River is a relatively large trout stream for Western Wisconsin holding primarily stocked brown trout from Spring Valley to Elmwood, and brook trout downstream from Cady Creek. This trout water is Class II trout water that means fish must be stocked to provide a viable fishery. Below Spring Valley, the stream picks up many smaller brook trout waters including Cady, Mines, and Burkhardt.
The Willow River
Anglers may want to consider giving the upper Willow River a try near County Highway T east of New Richmond a try. This area is known for trophy 20-plus inch trophy brown trout. DNR field surveys conducted from 2005 to 2008 found consistent production of 16- to 20-inch brown trout and an occasional fish larger than 20 inches. The South Fork, a tributary stream to the upper Willow River, is often overlooked but has a mixed brook and brown trout fishery of good quality and size structure. The Park Section starts near Burkhardt, the river picks up speed and flows to the canyon of Little Falls. This area is quite beautiful and the falls is quite a sight to see. More than 5 miles of the best fly fishing water are within the park. Stocked rainbows and brown trout can surprise even the most advanced anglers, as well as the occasional smallmouth bass.