Pine Creek

Top ten NFWS national waters to watch.

The River

Pine Creek is located in Maiden Rock Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin at the northwestern end of the Driftless Area. Pine Creek emanates from springs at the base of bluffs along the Mississippi River and flows directly into the Mississippi at Lake Pepin. The creek supports a native population of Eastern Brook Trout.

Located in Pierce County, Wisconsin, Pine Creek is a direct tributary of the Mississippi River, discharging into Lake Pepin, a 303d-listed impaired stream section. Upland and stream habitat work in the Pine Creek watershed will also have a beneficial effect on the Mississippi River. Past agricultural and logging activities have contributed significant sediment loads to Pine Creek and Lake Pepin. Sediment deposits have buried springs and caused Pine Creek to braid and meander wildly. Suitable depth, current velocity, bottom substrate, and overhead habitat are limiting for the native brook trout.

The Pine Creek watershed is part of the karst landscape of the Driftless Area, which is characterized by thin loess soils underlain by fractured limestone. As is characteristic of many streams in the Driftless Area, Pine Creek has outstanding water quality but suffers from severe stream bank erosion. In the early 20th century, poor agricultural practices and runoff from the watershed mobilized the thin loess soils at the tops of the surrounding bluffs and deposited them in the valley floor. Pine Creek is still moving these deposits today, resulting in steeply eroded and raw banks with massive deposition of fine sediment in the streambed. Recent overgrazing has compounded the erosion and sedimentation problem, which severely limits habitat and trout reproduction in Pine Creek.

Pine Creek is becoming one of the premier brook trout streams in Western Wisconsin. Trout habitat improvement activities over the past two years by the DNR, various Trout Unlimited Chapters and many other conservation organizations have restored more than 2.5 miles of the fast-flowing stream. Brook trout have responded with numbers ranging from 2,000-3,400 trout per mile. The stream is incredibly clear so anglers need to take a stealthy approach to their fishing. The beauty of the valley and stream make this fishing destination a must for any angler.

“Pine Creek is becoming one of the premier brook trout streams in western Wisconsin.”


Pine Creek Restoration Overview

In the summer of 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), three TU chapters (Kiap-TU-Wish, Twin Cities, and Clear Waters), WWLT members, and local landowners toured the stream and began planning for its future restoration.

Pine Creek flows from springs at the base of the bluffs near the Mississippi River in Pierce County south of Maiden Rock. It’s a small cold-water stream that flows directly into Lake Pepin. Like many other Driftless Area streams, it suffered from severe sedimentation and bank erosion. The brook trout population was still there but low, constrained by poor habitat conditions.

The West Wisconsin Land Trust purchased two large properties on Pine Creek, conserving them forever. The Land Trust approached the DNR and Trout Unlimited about a stream restoration project. The land has been transferred to DNR ownership. Starting in 2007, the DNR, volunteers from Trout Unlimited and Fairmount Minerals have worked to restore the Pine Creek. The project goals are to stabilize the severely eroding banks, provide in-stream cover, and provide increased trout spawning and aquatic habitat in the stream.

Funding for the Pine Creek project has come from Wisconsin Trout Stamp funds, and Embrace-A-Stream grant from Trout Unlimited, Friends of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, Trout Unlimited Kiap-TU-Wish and Twin Cities Chapters, along with Fairmount Minerals of Wisconsin. Over 750 hours of hard volunteer field work has gone into the project to date.

The steep eroding banks were graded to a gentler slope to reduce stream bank erosion. “Lunker” structures were installed to provide overhead shelter for trout, providing cool shaded habitat protected from bird predation. These heavy wooden structures were covered with rock and soil and then seeded with native vegetation. Clusters of boulders are being placed to provide varied stream habitat. The narrower, deeper stream with gravel and rock substrate has effectively restored habitat for aquatic insects and brook trout in Pine Creek.

Marty Engel, DNR Fisheries Biologist, has monitored fish in the Pine Creek restoration project area. Electrofishing has revealed that the brook trout numbers and size of individuals have increased markedly in the restored stream. Where there were once only a few brook trout in the deepest pools, now brook trout occur throughout the restored parts of the stream.

 A National Fish Habitat “Waters to Watch” projects for 2009

“The Pine Creek Project has been listed as one of ten National Fish Habitat Action Plan’s ‘Waters to Watch’ for 2009” The Stream Pine Creek is located in Maiden Rock Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin at the northwestern end of the Driftless Area. Pine Creek emanates from springs at the base of bluffs along the Mississippi River and flows directly into the Mississippi at Lake Pepin. The creek supports a native population of Eastern Brook Trout.

“The project is an excellent local showcase that paves the way for future collaborations with other landowners. It’s also a model for other chapters in the 24,000-square mile Driftless Area, a four-state region that represents the western most range of native brook trout. There are more than 600 spring creeks in the region, many of them degraded by past agricultural practices and in need of restoration similar to Pine Creek.”

~ Duke Welter, Communications, Driftless Area Restoration Effort, Trout Unlimited

Project Goals and Objectives

The overall goal of the Pine Creek Restoration Project is to restore and conserve the native brook trout population in the stream by stabilizing severely eroding stream banks, providing instream cover, and improving aquatic habitat. Pine Creek is somewhat isolated from invasive stocks of Brown Trout, since it drains directly into the Mississippi River. The overall goal of the Pine Creek Project is to restore and conserve the native Eastern Brook Trout population in Pine Creek. The restoration work on this stream will result in increased stocks of Eastern Brook Trout, in both numbers and distribution within the improved stretch. Based on similar restoration work on other streams within the county, there will also be improvements in the survivability of subsequent year-classes of fish and an increase in young-of-year and adult densities of Eastern Brook Trout.

Extensive support from the following contributors:

The Project Background and Project Goals and Objectives were largely written by Gary Horvath (Kiap-TU-Wish), as a part of the Embrace-A-Stream grant application submitted to National Trout Unlimited.

Photos were supplied by Andy Lamberson, Nick Westcott, and Gary Richardson (all of Kiap-TU-Wish) The Lower Pine Creek Temperature Monitoring and Habitat Assessment Study was designed by Kent Johnson and conducted by Kent Johnson and Andy Lamberson. Guidance on report design and layout was provided by Andy Lamberson.

The Pine Creek Project has been the chapter’s focus over the last 3 years–and the result is nothing less than spectacular.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
• National Fish Habitat Action Plan
• North American Wetland Conservation Act

West Wisconsin Land Trust

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:
• Trout Stamp Funding and Trout Crew
• Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program
• River Protection Grant

Trout Unlimited:
• Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter
• Twin Cities Chapter
• Clear Waters Chapter
• Friends of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited
• Embrace-A-Stream

Fairmount Minerals-Wisconsin Industrial Sand
McKnight Foundation
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Wild Turkey Federation

View aerial footage of Pine Creek Area

View aerial footage of Pine Creek Area


Special Thanks to Fairmount Minerals Volunteers from Fairmount provided significant help on Pine Creek. In additonal to an army of volunteers on works days, there actually were significant rainevents that washed out seeding and mulching; Fairmount stepped in to reseed and re-mulch.
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