100 Best: Kickapoo River, West Fork
Location: Southwestern Wisconsin
Type of stream: Freestone spring creek
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Browns, brook trout
Supporting Services: Viroqua, Westby
Short take: Gentle meadow river with great browns
Handicapped Access: None
Closest TU Chapter: Coulee Region
The West Fork of the Kickapoo River flows through a happy confluence of geology and climate left a world-renowned region known as the Driftless Area. Limestone provides high pH groundwater. Geologic uplift raised bedrock so glaciers flowed around the terrain rather than over it as in the rest of the upper Midwest leaving valleys in the region unfilled with sand and gravels known as “drift.” The glaciers left stream channels intact.
When I fish the West Fork of the Kickapoo, the images of tropical seas, vast sheets of ice, howling dust storms, and homesteaders walking behind horses breaking sod filter through the back of my mind. I am intent, though, on dropping my hopper, if it’s late summer, or sulphur or march brown should the month be early June, right next to the tendrils of prairie grass that trail where the stream undercuts the bank. Never wide and easy to access on state owned easements or by asking permission and closing the gate behind you, the West Fork is a river of riffles and runs and pools where browns and increasingly brookies rise with such regularity you can almost time them with a stopwatch.
The change from browns to brookies coincided with the creation of Trout Unlimited’s second home rivers initiative - the Kickapoo Watershed Project. That project spawned TU—DARE (Driftless Area Restoration Effort) which has united chapters and councils in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois along with their respective state natural resource agencies and with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a collaborative campaign to restore native brook trout to the 24,000 square mile region. Since restoration work began in the late 1990s, more than 300 miles of stream have been restored.