If you want to catch more fish and have a great time in the process, fish the West Fork, a great Driftless Area stream in Vernon Co. You will catch brook and brown trout in the 12 miles of productive trout water with mostly easy public access. It is a stream for all seasons an conveniently divides itself into three sections of varying difficulty. It was blown out by back-to-back floods in 2008 and 2009 but now it is more productive than ever.
You have read the numerous stream guides that describe the West Fork – this presentation is intended to compliment them. I like the W.F. for many reasons. It holds high trout populations and fishes well throughout the season-although in July and August, bass fishing would be more productive. The center point is the W.F. Sportsmen’s Club campground at Avalanche: www.westforksportsmansclub.org/. I camp there about 25 days per year. It is not a KOA, but it is loaded with anglers and a great place to camp, meet your fishing buddy or stop for lunch and check the weather on their WiFi. And while networking with other anglers be prepared for some world class B.S.!
The W.F. and its campground can be crowded. Numerous WI and IL TU chapters organize fishing weekends which are based at the campground. They are usually in late April and mid to late September. In mid May Project Green Teen from Madison’s M. Shabazz HS brings 30 students and teachers for a week long environmental outing. Many of us have a great time guiding the students on evening fishing trips. The fellowship and pastoral scenery may not be enough for you so there is always lots of trout to catch, mushrooms and turkey to hunt, Amish and colorful locals to meet and . . . did I mention trout?
The W.F. can be divided into three sections of almost equal length. The upper third is the easier section, and great for beginners. It is mostly open meadow with a lot of stream improvement. It starts at the campground in Avalanche and ends upstream above Bloomingdale where the stream crosses Co. P. The skinny section above Bloomingdale is almost entirely meadow and great for dry fly presentations. Below that is a long, mostly meadow section, starting at the “green gate” below Bloomingdale off Bloomingdale Rd. downstream to the “pine tree” off road parking. A few hundred yards of great water lie above and below the “Fishermen Welcome” sign visible below the high curve on S. Below that the stream runs next to the road and is not as interesting as the meadow stretch that starts at the bridge in Avalanche and runs along the base of the hills until it meets Co. S upstream from Avalanche. Try these stretches of dry fly water and you will catch both browns and brookies.
The more challenging middle third section starts just below the campground at the River Rd. bridge and ends at the Hwy 82 bridge. There are a number of parking spots along River Rd. so pick one and start fishing. Above and below the golf course bridge (parking) is relatively easy fishing and productive. Below the bridge the W.F. is more challenging with deep pools and riffles between deep soft bottom channels guarded by high banks and lots of obstructions and “frog” water. Park at the Park n Ride on Hwy 82 and fish up or head to the g olf course bridge and fish down. It is classic nymph and streamer water.
The lower section, below Hy 82 downstream to the Co. S bridge (where Scott Hollow and Elk Run meet), is wild, unimproved, debris choked from previous floods, with limited public access and one really cranky farmer. It is three times larger/wider than the Bloomingdale section. It should not be fished after May as stream access is severely limited due to a jungle of tall vegetation and a strategically placed cornfield. To avoid private land, you need to cross the stream numerous times and after May that is not much fun. Driving along this section on Co. S you can sometimes hear the anglers cursing. Like the lower middle third it has a lot of “frog” water. It is a section for the adventurous and one of my favorites. There is a short sometimes productive section visible below the Hwy S bridge where I like to spend an hour or so when returning to camp after fishing one of the great streams south of the W.F.
If you are fishing the West Fork in mid May attend the Syttende Mai Norwegian Festival in Westby. Get the latest hatch report from Matt Wagner at the Driftless Angler Fly Shop (Viroqua) or check his fishing reports online: www.driftlessangler.com/. Between May and October do not miss the Farmers Market in Viroqua (a large variety of Amish stuff is available) held every Saturday at the Vocational School parking lot one block south of the Driftless Angler Fly Shop. Motels are scarce in mid September due to a Livestock Show so call ahead if you need a motel then. My favorite motel is a quaint 50’s vintage motel just south of Viroqua called Hickory Hills Motel. It is nice and a great value.
I fish the many Coulee Country streams in the Driftless Area because they are very productive and the W.F. is one of my favorites. Fish the W.F. and you will not be disappointed.