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Boating and fishing in Driftless Wisconsin

May 6, 2016 by Eric Frydenlund

Time to get my boat in the water. Driftless Wisconsin may be best known for its soaring bluffs and plunging valleys, yet it’s the tranquil rivers and streams that tame this rugged land; and offer its most popular recreation; boating and fishing.

Boating, canoeing, kayaking, game fishing, and fly fishing attract enthusiasts from across the country. And for locals like me, from across town.

Sliding the boat off the trailer marks for me the “official” start of summer. Like planting the garden or mowing the lawn, launching the boat sticks a bookmark into the pages of my calendar through which winter cannot return. Just seeing my boat sitting in the driveway, retrieved from winter storage; presents a seasonal sign as welcome as the leaves unfurling on the trees outside our window.

With the first of May behind me, I’m watching the thermometer and river depth with the passion of an amateur meteorologist. Of course the hardcore fishermen pay no attention to cold weather and spring flooding, having already launched their boats and tried their luck fishing the cold waters below the lock & dams for walleye.

General trout fishing season opens on May 7, giving fly fishermen an opportunity to test their skills. Walking a trout stream in springtime in a pair of hip boots offers a communion with nature just short of religion. Something about feeling the tug of a fish against the pull of the current that puts life’s struggles into perspective.

Back to my boat. As good as it looks in the driveway, it looks better in the water. Fortunately, Driftless Wisconsin has more boat landings than I have hairs on my balding head. Every village along the Kickapoo River has a landing, and several are scattered along the Mississippi.

The Kickapoo is known for its canoeing and kayaking adventures. No need to bring your own.  There are excellent outfitters in Ontario, Readstown, Gays Mills, and Boscobel that will provide you the gear.  You provide the fun, which is not hard to find on a river snaking through some of the most scenic settings in the Midwest. 

tugboat 2I’ll be finding some of that fun along the Kickapoo soon. But my pontoon is best suited for the river, and there’s no shortage of entertainment on the Mississippi.  Cruising the river framed by the bluffs, watching the tugboats glide by; anchoring in a quiet backwater while eagles soar overhead; pulling up to a snag and dropping a hook and worm to coax in a pan fish.  An evening on the river settles in your mind as peaceful as the sun sinking into the Iowa bluffs.

It all seems too good to be true, as if we didn’t deserve this much of the good life. But true it is.  If you don’t believe me, time to get your boat in the water.

Outdoor recreation in Driftless Wisconsin

September 2, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

Driftless Wisconsin is known for its outdoor recreation. For someone like me that calls Driftless Wisconsin home, this seems less a reason to boast and more an invitation to get outside and have some fun.

Yet, we are so in love with our electronic devices and in “like” with our social media, we sometime fail to heed the invitation, filing it away with those promises to our friends to “get together soon.”

I write this blog – yes, upon my electronic device – sitting in my favorite chair looking out the window where the leafy ornaments of the great outdoors sway in a gentle breeze. Perhaps it’s time to set down my keyboard and, well, step outside.

If you take that leap across the threshold into the outer limits of Driftless Wisconsin, you will find this is no ordinary backyard. If we could describe the offerings of Driftless Wisconsin, it would not be flatbread on a plate. It would be Grandma’s homemade bread, risen for the occasion, heaping with texture, dwarfing everything on the table.

We’re talking ridges and valleys, steep climbs and gentle foothills, secluded ravines and expansive overlooks. We’re talking a variety of riches, savored one slice at a time.

The best way to experience this variation in the land is to feel it beneath your feet. Sidewalks just won’t do the trick. You need a trail that follows the contours, eroded by water over eons, to get the feel for the land and how it was shaped.

There’s a horse trail across the drywash from our house that I often walk with our dog, Fargo. Cut into the hillside by a logger to harvest lumber, the path now serves horses; and hikers like me.

While Fargo explores the smells of recent four-legged passersby, I explore the trail. A hard rain has cut ruts in the path, littered with limestone rubble formed in some ancient ocean, requiring one eye on the ground to navigate.

We stop and sit a spell at my favorite rock along the logging road; a limestone slab jutting out from the hill to form a bench. I dutifully replace a piece of rock broken off from the seat, snapping it into place like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a losing battle. Weather and water will eventually sculpt this rock into a different shape over time.

Fargo sits by my side, his nose twitching; taking in a slice of Driftless Wisconsin that I can only imagine.

Other Outdoor RecreationDriftless 085web

Hiking boots are not required to experience the outdoors in Driftless Wisconsin. You can trade them in for hip boots and try your hand at fly fishing on one of our world-class trout streams.

Or you can step into a boat, whether powered by paddle or outboard motor, and take in the sights from the grip of river currents that shaped this land.

About those horses that frequent our trail: they most likely carry people that spend afternoons swaying in the saddle while exploring our back country. They offer up a friendly wave going by our house; the kind of wave that’s meant to share their good fortune.

And if horse saddles are not to your liking, climb aboard a bike saddle and experience the land along our many routes and trails, earning every summit view with your legs.

We have so much outdoor fun, it takes several pages to describe. So rather than me yammering on, go here to learn more.

Don’t just read about it. Come, take it all in. it only requires that you step outside.

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