FLY FISHING IN MARINETTE COUNTY
Story & photos copyright by Jerry Kiesow
The little yellow popper, tethered at the end of a 5X tippet, propelled by the weight-forward, floating, three weight line, landed lightly between the edges of a group of lily pads surrounding an old stump along the shores of the Peshtigo River in Marinette County, Wisconsin. After the tiny rings dissipated, I wiggled the rod tip to make the fly twitch a tad.
Fly fishing in Marinette County. Where does one begin when talking about the third largest county in Wisconsin?
First a few facts: We have 444 lakes, totaling over 12,000 acres of water. There are 304 rivers and streams which can give you an additional 920 miles of possible fishing opportunities. (Well, maybe not all those miles are fishable. We will talk about that a bit later.) Two-thirds of those miles have trout living in them. Of those miles of trout water, (approximately) 310 miles are class I, 256 miles are class II, and 48 miles are class III.
(For those who do not know what the classes mean, here it is in brief: Class I has high water quality, allowing for natural reproduction. Therefore, no artificial stocking is required to maintain a sustainable trout population. Class II has some natural reproduction, but not enough to maintain a good fishable population, so these streams are stocked to a degree. These streams do carryover all trout and can produce some nice trophies. Class III has water quality good enough to hold trout throughout the season, but not good enough for reproduction or carryover. Therefore, annual stockings of legal size fish are made, making them, essentially, put and take fishing streams. To find a map and listing of trout stream classifications, go to: http://dnr.wi.gov/fish/species/trout/streammaps.html
That said, let's start our fly fishing tour by looking at the opportunities to catch trout. We have 614 miles of trout water. However, not all those miles are fishable with flies. (Some are barely fishable with any type of equipment.) When we talk about trout water, you must understand that some of the streams, better identified as creeks, included in those total miles, portions are only a few feet wide and a few inches deep, but they have holes. Also, there are those streams that may be wide enough to wade, but have "walls" and occasionally "walls and ceilings" of alder. These are trout waters, but I do not consider them fly fishing water.
That is not a negative. These small, clear, cold waters do hold trout, which can be caught if you are creative in your approach, but mostly, these are feeder creeks, in which the young trout live and grow until they become large enough to enter into the bigger "water-world." Many of these creeks are class I. How many creeks are we talking about? I don't know, but you will run into them as you explore the county.
The rivers and streams best suited to float a dry fly during a hatch, or deep drift a nymph, are rivers wide enough to get into and feel their coolness through your waders, the sand and/or stones on the bottom of your feet, and the force and pressure against your thighs. This best describes a fly fishing trout stream.
The trout waters in Marinette County are freestone rivers – rivers that have chunks of pre-Cambrian granite of all sizes, left by the glacier, scattered along and within their banks. Between these rocks are pockets and runs. Deep pools form below rapids, and scattered here and there are shallow, sparkling riffles.
Sometimes, in this kind of water, the best way to fly fish is with a short line and precise presentations – pocket fishing, and high sticking. However, when you find the pools and flat runs, you can cast full out. As you do, you can experience almost hearing the orchestra from "A River Runs Through It" giving you the background you deserve as your loops float and flow, and your presentation is perfect.
What kind of trout can you find in these rivers, streams, and creeks? Native brook trout prevail in the smaller, colder steams. Browns and rainbows can be found, along with brookies, in the bigger rivers, like the Peshtigo.
Speaking of the Peshtigo, this main artery of the county, is really two different types of fisheries – the cold trout water and several warmer water reservoirs. The trout water is basically to the north, above county highway C. However, there is a special section of river, between Johnson Falls and Spring Rapids, which has special rules, which is also regulated as trout water. (Although these designations are true, don't be surprised if, as you cast your flies in the special section and the first few miles above highway C, if you hook into bass, panfish, and/or northern pike. Fish do not read the regulations and have a tendency to overlap habitats and living spaces. It only adds to the experience.)
So much for trouting in Marinette County. Let's shift to the warm water species – panfish, bass, etc.
I will use the Peshtigo as an example of what you can look forward to as a warmwater fly fisherman. With the exception of the special section listed above, any water south of the highway C bridge, is considered warm water country, and rightfully so. Five Wisconsin Public Service Corporation hydroelectric dams, and one BPM (Badger Paper Mill) dam in the city of Peshtigo, slow and warm the waters of the mighty river and create flowages in a variety of sizes. These flowages harbor a variety of panfish – crappie, bluegill, rock bass, perch – bass – both largemouth and smallmouth – walleye and northern pike, and the state's most famous fish, the muskie.
These flowages, and the river sections that wind and twist and turn connecting them, all provide a wide variety of fly fishing opportunities. Access to the flowages are many. Thousands of acres of land surrounding the waters is the Peshtigo River State Forest. The forest maintains public boat landings on all of the flowages and in-between. Yes, access is readily available.
The aforementioned panfish and bass offer the fly fisherman the most action. Once the water warms into the 60's, poppers cast along the miles and miles of shoreline will produce crappies and bluegills, with an occasional rock, smallmouth, or largemouth bass tossed in for good luck and additional fun.
If you are one of the fly flingers who pursue the mighty muskellunge, find some cabbage, cast away, and hang on. Each year trophy muskies are taken from High Falls and Caldron reservoirs.
Now the section of the Peshtigo that is rarely mentioned is from the city of Peshtigo downstream into the Peshtigo Harbor on Green Bay. For fly fishermen, in spring and fall you will find steelhead and salmon coming into the river to spawn. As with any of the Great Lakes tributaries, floating flies to these anadromous species is a fantastic way to catch them. Of course, you will not want to use the same weight rod that you have been using for panfish and bass – four to six weights. No, for these you want eight or nine weight equipment.
Even though I have spent most of these words on the Peshtigo, do not let that mislead you. Marinette County has 444 lakes all of which offer warmwater fisheries (a few hold trout). Many of these lakes have public access.
There are 21 parks and campgrounds in the county operated by the county and the state. Only three are not on water. There are private campgrounds with water access too.
Then we have the Menominee River, and portions of the tributaries that feed the Menominee or Peshtigo or flow into Green Bay. All hold the warmwater species.
The Menominee forms the border between us (Marinette County) and the UP of Michigan. It too has dams and reservoirs, and access points. It too has all kinds of fish for fly guys and gals to pursue. An entrepreneur from De Pere runs float trips down sections of the river designed for fly fishermen seeking smallmouth bass.
So the next time you are thinking about fly fishing, think about Marinette County. We have a lot to offer.
Oh! And if you are wondering about that little yellow popper that began this narrative, it was slurped up by a nine inch bluegill. One of many that evening. Where? Sorry, you will have to find your own.
Keep a good thought!
Editor's Note: Jerry teaches fly tying and fly fishing, and enjoys all aspects of the outdoors. In his book, "Tales of The Peshtigo Putzer," he tells some fishing tales, hunting tales, and many other yarns on a variety of outdoor activities.