I’m writing this post Thursday evening, May 7, 2015, in front of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Last night, Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Derek Rose and the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the NBA semifinals as decisively as the Bulls had beaten the Cavs in Game 1. This inglorious loss has forced upon me the bleak revelation that not only will my beloved Bulls, even with Jimmy Butler and a supposedly healthy Derek Rose, not be taking Chicago to the mountain top, nor, in all likelihood, will the Cubbies,
Given the circumstances, I’ve decided to do the one thing that I know will soothe my angst-ridden soul — I will drive to Coon Valley, Wisconsin. This will put me into the heart of the Driftless Area, the home of Paul Kugat. Were it not for this kind and generous man, I doubt that I would have fallen in love with fly fishing, and I certainly would never have discovered my all-time most-enchanting little pocket of paradise on earth (excluding, of course, any time I’m wrapped in the arms of my beloved wife, Suzanne) — the quarter-mile of Spring Coulee Creek that flows along Paul’s property.
The Driftless Area area comprises about 16,000 square miles, mainly in southwestern Wisconsin, but also extending into southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa. The Ice-Age glaciers missed this part of the Upper Midwest. The downside is that this part of the upper Midwest lacks the 10-to-12-ft. overlay of the rich topsoil characteristic of most of the lower Midwest. The upside is natural beauty expressed as deeply carved river valleys through which flow hundreds of miles of spring-fed streams (or “coulees,” as the French called them) rich with brown and brook trout. Imagine a pristine, sun-spackled brook meandering through gently rolling pastureland against a backdrop of rugged, wooded hills, and you have the quintessential Coulee Country postcard.
Coon Valley is a town of about 700 straddling Vernon and Lacrosse Counties. Within 15 minutes’ drive of Coon Valley are the following world-class trout streams: the aforementioned Spring Coulee, Rulland’s Coulie, Bohemian River, and Timber Coulie, which by some counts, has more native trout per 100 feet of water than any stream in the nation. These are spring-fed, limestone Creeks notable for the amazing abundance of caddis fly, may fly, crane fly, and stone fly larvae; along with “scuds,” small, shrimp-like creatures, and numerous other aquatic invertabrates. Because numerous underground springs feed into the creeks, the trout grow fat feeding well into the winter (due to the moderating influence of the springs) on an abundant, varied diet.
And of course, all those fly larvae undergo metamorphosis and emerge as adults throughout the spring and summer in impressive hatches, driving trout into a feeding frenzy. Every time I drive to Coon Valley, it is with the anticipation that I will, a): stumble into a hatch; and, b):figure out which bug the trout are feeding on. Of the 70 or so trips I’ve made to the Coulie creeks, I’ve lucked into and “solved” hatches maybe 15 times. However, since my stroke, I’ve been to Coon Valley at least a dozen times, and although I’ve seen hatches, I’ve only managed to hook and land seven trout.
I’m turning off Spring Coulee Rd. descending down the hill to Paul’s property, where I hope to answer a pressing question: Given my state of physical impairment, can I still catch trout on a fly, even on the exquisite, fly-casting friendly pools and riffles of Paul’s stretch of Spring Coulee Creek?