Today, the Vernon County land retains the same character as those early 19th century stories, a landscape that will challenge your legs but reward your spirit. It’s hard to imagine a more rugged land with a more gentle spirit that the Driftless topography of Vernon County, where it’s tempting to linger at the top of the ridge for a view, but advisable to head for the valley when the wind picks up.
The Norwegian brogue has softened over the years – I often sat in Borgen’s Café in Westby and listened to the ski jumpers describe their leap with passionate gestures and incomprehensible language – but the work ethic and personality of a hardy people still persists.
Viroqua has become an eclectic mix of the new and old; a thriving “Main Street” town set amid a rural farming community that has attracted artists, educators, and entrepreneurs. Mat Wagner, owner of Driftless Angler, is one of those new entrepreneurs who transplanted his life-long fly fishing passion to the Viroqua area and opened Driftless Angler in 2007.
My family purchased a full-day guided fly fishing trip for my birthday not long ago, which was rather like buying a set of encyclopedias for an illiterate, such are my fly fishing skills. But you don’t need perfect skills to cast your eyes around this seductive landscape that harbors some of the best trout fishing in the country.
Daniel Boggs, our Driftless Angler guide, headed out to Timber Coulee past the Snowflake Ski Jumping hill – where my father and I stood next to the jump listening to ski jumpers sail by in the wind – to try our luck in Timber Creek. Never mind that my casts into a significant headwind looked like a kitten tangled in a ball of string, I was able to eventually place my lure in the “dining room” of Dan’s house of trout, and catch a nice brown trout.
If you doubt my word, I still have the photo to prove it, and the lure stuck in my tattered baseball cap to remember it. And if you doubt the seductiveness of the scenery that day and everyday in Vernon County, the heart of Driftless Wisconsin, then come on over and take a look for yourself.
Where’s your best fly-fishing area (without divulging secrets) or favorite spot of Driftless Wisconsin?