Last Best Streams: #107.

New Englanders may not appreciate the comparison, but I can’t help noticing as I drive winding two-lane roads portions of this state look and sound and smell like southwest Wisconsin. A similar emphasis on good beer, good cheese, good cured meats. Even stream access laws, as they are, sound familiar- nothing formal, no one minds, just don’t be a dick.

It’s one of those famous, name-brand streams, fished by legends and legions, and this time of year they all say the fishing’s lousy unless you’re in the headwaters. So I scramble down an embankment and work upstream, picking pockets for native brookies like I would in Appalachia or out west.

There’s bugs. I tie on a little yellow mayfly because I see one and I’m hopeful, but nothing. There’s clouds of tiny tricos whirring overhead, in silty pools towards dark a couple big drakes lift off, headed upstream. I tie on an Irresistible to see something in the foam and glare, and because it seems at least a little regionally appropriate.

You can’t be fooled this is a wild place. You see barns and pastures through the trees, smell cow shit and cut hay. Every once and again the streamside thickets of currant and dogwood, berries ripening red and white, leaves just beginning to turn gold and purple, give way to manicured lawns and wrought-iron furniture with chicken wire tastefully wrapped around streamside birches to dissuade beavers from doing their thing. It’s a funny thing, chasing trout in some retiree’s backyard.

Then again, it makes sense to catch wild fish in wild places. The tough thing is keeping these creatures on a working landscape, balancing land use like agriculture and development, working around the needs of wildlife to make sure they still have a place.

It’s a lesson more communities can hopefully learn.

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