Driftless Trout Gear and Tactics
Both spin and fly fisherman will feel at home when fishing for Driftless trout. Although the vast majority of our streams are no doubt "small streams," various streams fish differently based on weed growth, water flow, and time of year. There are no "fly-fishing only" streams here, although there are some that require the use of "artificial lures only." Worms and other forms of bait can be used on many streams as well. Grab whatever gear you feel comfortable with and go fish!
Spin-fishing Rod Setups
Just about any rod in the ultra-light to medium range that is between 5’ and 7’ long will work. The rod I use most often is a 6’ “light” action. It casts lures (check out my Flowstone Spinning Lures) in the ⅛ to ¼ oz. range very well and will even throw slightly smaller and larger lures in a pinch. Ultra-light rods allow for the best fight and help you cast small lures, but if you hook into a 20” fish that’s headed for a log jam, cut bank, or that faster water downstream, you may wish you had a little more power to turn it around. A medium action rod will allow you to turn that big fish easily, but will overmatch the vast majority of the trout you’ll be catching. Even if you’re after the biggest fish and throwing ⅓ oz. spinners, a medium-light power is probably the biggest you’ll want or need. When it comes to rod length, shorter rods in the 5’ range are handy in tight spaces, but give you a little less reach over obstructions and can restrict your casting distance. Longer rods nearing 7’ allow you a little better leverage, reach, and distance, but can get hung up on your hike through the undergrowth or catch your lure in that tree branch above you. In summary, the stream you’re fishing, the size of the lures you’ll usually be using, and the size of trout you hope to catch will all be factors in selecting your rod. I use a small spinning reel - a “2000” size and 4 pound test monofilament. Reels in the 1500-2500 size range will work, as will any fishing line from 2-8 pound test.
A spincast rod will work, too, and is an especially good choice if you're fishing for the first time or with a child. You can by a brand new trusty Zebco 33 (in standard "medium" or my recommendation of "ultralight" action) for less than $30. It will already be spooled with line and you can be on the water in no time.
Fly-fishing Rod Setups
The sweet spot for fly rods (and matching line weights) in our streams are in the 2-5 weight range, with 3 and 4 weights probably being the most common. Six or 7 weight rods are occasionally used by those hunting big fish with weighted streamers. Rod length sweet spots are in the 7.5-9 foot range. Shorter rods will help keep you out of trees in densely wooded areas but tend to get your line tangled in streamside vegetation in more open areas. Longer rods in the 10’ range are great for specialized nymphing tactics, but aren’t ideal as all-around rods. Graphite rods are most commonly used, but our streams can be a great place to try a little slow to moderate action fiberglass rod as well, especially if you’re fishing a single dry or nymph. The same could be said for bamboo rods. To get a rod with specs above, you can spend anywhere from $25 to $1,000 - but remember, you’ll be casting to the same fish. You can get a great rod for $100-$250, and there are good rods for less. In our streams, the reel really doesn’t matter much as you will rarely have the space or need to get a fish on the reel, and if you do, there won’t be burning runs that you’ll need to stop with a fancy drag. There is no real need to spend more than $100 for a reel, and the $50 and under market is probably a more efficient use of your budget.
Where to Get Gear
While you’re in the area, be sure to support our local businesses. Lanesboro has a great all-around fishing shop called “Root River Rod Co.” Steve carries everything you need to outfit your Driftless fishing adventure whether you are spin or fly fishing. He carries rods, waders, flies, lures, clothes, books and even fly tying materials. He also offers guide services, builds bamboo rods in-house, and carries a selection of Flowstone Lures. Preston has an Orvis endorsed, full-service fly shop and guide service named “The Driftless Fly Fishing Company.” Mel also rents fishing kayaks and usually has a selection of Flowstone Lures behind the counter if you ask. Preston, Spring Valley, Red Wing, Wabasha, Winona, and Rochester also have more traditional “Bait and Tackle” shops as well, and many small town gas stations have a small fridge full of worms.