Written by: Len Harris, Jr.
Many folks don’t know the meaning of the term driftless. It is an area in the Midwest–comprising parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin–that was not flattened by the last glacial period. The largest part of the driftless is in southwestern Wisconsin.
Geologically speaking, when glaciers cover an area, they typically flatten the hills and scour the land. This process picks up sediment and rocks, and then deposits them elsewhere when the glaciers recede. The sediment and rocks are the drift left behind. Because the area was not flattened and the sediment was not left behind, it is called driftless. The area is unique in the region because of its bluffs and deep valleys. Just 100 miles to the south and the west, the landscape is flat and non-descript. These deep valleys hold many fish and wildlife.
Southwestern Wisconsin is sometimes called “The Heart of The Driftless” and is world renowned for its trout fishing. It is loaded with many cold springs and rivers. Surface water is purified and cooled when it filters down through layers of karst and ultimately ends up in our aquifer. Thus, the springs in the area flow at a constant 40-42 degrees year round and cool the streams in the area.
I was introduced to trout fishing by my father when I was five years old, in the spring of 1962. I his “caddy,” carrying the rod that my father was not using at the time. He typically carried a fly rod and spinning rod, and he hit each hole with both methods before moving on. Since I was too young and not quite coordinated enough with the rods, I watched and listened to my father throughout the entire year. The last day of season, my father found the perfect run to cast in, handed me the rod, and I retrieved with all my worth. Dad had scouted the run and knew there was a large trout in there. I hooked and landed a Driftless monster brown with my dad’s help. The result was a lifelong obsession with brown trout in the beautiful streams and valleys of the Driftless.
Many people go to church to feel spiritual and be in touch with the universe. I go into the outdoors to cleanse my soul. All the things in life that bother me are melted away about a hundred yards from the truck. The fish are only a bonus in the whole scheme of things.
Len Harris, Jr. is a former fly-fishing guide in the Driftless Area. Check out his blog, The Stream of Time.