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Trout fishing in the Driftless Region
Trout fishing in the Driftless Region: manager Brian Otten and his kids joined blogger Len Harris for some trout fishing on a stream in Crawford County.


Len Harris has invited me numerous times to join him for a morning of trout fishing in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin he calls home. Harris lives in Richland Center, but grew up in Crawford County’s Gay’s Mills and has been a blogger on for more than a year. Since June of 2011, he’s shared dozens of trout fishing stories and hundreds of photos.

My trout fishing experience is limited to a handful of attempts as a kid with my dad and brother on the Embarrass River in Shawano County, down the road from where I grew up. We never had much luck and outside of fishing the stocked pools at the occasional outdoor show with my son, I hadn’t given it a try in 25 years.

Tips for parents ontrout fishing with kids.

So when we finally worked out the details that would bring us together for a morning of fishing last Friday, July 20 on a stream Len called ‘the best trout stream on this side of the state,’ I hoped for more fun than I had as a kid. Actually, having listened to Len’s ‘Trout Fishing 101’ seminar at the Madison Fishing Expo last winter, I expected it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The wrinkle in this fishing trip was that I’d have my six- and eight-year-old kids along. We planned that my kids would receive a lesson in trout fishing from Len while I documented the morning. Not all anglers are cut out for this duty, but Len has spent the last few months teaching his teenage daughter how to drive, so I guessed the outing with my two children would be a breeze.

Read posts from Len Harris' 'Stream of Time' blog.

More on fishing: Fishing news from around the state | Your fishing photos | Build a map | Read fishing reports | We're blogging about fishing

The kids and I spent the night before our meet-up at a friend’s home in Prairie Du Sac, a 45-minute drive from Richland Center. I roused the kids at 4:45 a.m. and helped them get dressed. I don’t know how to tie a fly, but I can give my daughter a presentable ponytail, which was needed on this muggy morning. I carried one and prodded the other to the car and made my pitch, “Behave and follow directions today and we can stop in the Wisconsin Dells on the way home for a while, okay?” They agreed, which means they’d try their best, which is about all I could expect.

We met Len before 6 a.m. at a gas station on the outskirts of Richland Center. Len had cookies for the kids, earning him instant kid-cred in their eyes. We’d ride in his vehicle the rest of the way to Rattlesnake Creek. Of course, Rattlesnake Creek isn’t the real name of this trout fishing shrine, but Harris said that’s the name every trout fisherman gives to their favorite, hidden stream.

We drove narrow back roads in a part of the state I hadn’t visited. Gone were the prairies of central Wisconsin and forests of the north, replaced by soft hills and valleys, punctuated by limestone outcroppings. We were officially in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. The boulders that litter the rest of the state wouldn’t be found here.

If I were to make a map of our trip (both by car from Richland Center to the area we fished in Crawford County and our criss-crossed path through and around the stream), it would look like the large, one-panel ‘Family Circus’ cartoons in which Jeffie or the family dog’s path is traced through neighborhood.

We passed the unexpected, to me, apple orchards of the Gay’s Mills area. Soon, Len shared the story of the relocation of Gay’s Mills. The town was originally built on a flood plain along the Kickapoo River. Now, Gay’s Mills is a town that is two towns, the old and the new. Later in the day, we’d pass through both and stop at Len’s mother’s home to clean our catch on a picnic table in her backyard.

The fishing, as you can see in the video above, was great. My kids pulled about 20 brook trout from the stream in two hours. We got wet and muddy (with all the cows around, we hoped it was mostly mud). And we caught a few that my wife, kids and I enjoyed for supper.

The fishing highlight came toward the end of our time on the stream. Fishing with a hook and worm, we found a school of trout too large to count. They faced upstream five yards or so from where we stood. The kids had been instructed to step lightly and not splash around and we had seen plenty of trout dart downstream as our shadows passed over the water from banks overhead. But we stood in the stream at this spot and my kids, now growing more impatient by the minute, began to accidentally ‘trip’ in the river and otherwise lose focus. The group of trout stood their ground, though. And we took turns fishing.

This spot in the stream was the fishing highlight, but the morning as a whole will be a highlight of the summer of 2012 for the kids and I. It was an opportunity for adventure for the three of us (under Len’s guidance), with new places to see and new things to learn. And it gave us the foundation to build trout fishing memories of our own going forward. My daughter, Mia, who wouldn’t touch her catch at the beginning of the day, was cleaning her catch later that morning. My son, Greg, whose patience was tested that morning on the stream, asked Len before our goodbyes if he could come back down to fish with him again.

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Brian Otten is the digital content manager for He can be reached at or 715-845-0702.

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