Essay Location Guides Tenkara Trout & Char

Adrift in the Driftless

Article by Anthony Naples

So the 13 hour drive to southwest Wisconsin… well that drive is like a stairway to heaven… each highway mile, each bottle of Coke and each granola bar consumed at the wheel, each Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Rush, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash song, each bad cup of Pilot coffee, each flat stretch of Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois cornfield … each one brings me closer to heaven on earth. It’s all worth it. Every last mile.

Driftless. What’s that mean anyway? Well through quirks of topography the ice ages of the past somehow bypassed the area. So, the topography of the Driftless area was not flattened by glaciers and it was not covered by glacial drift (all of the boulders, rocks, gravel and sand carried along by glaciers). The result is an area that is still nicely contoured and cut by steep sided valleys. And those valleys are traced by spring creeks. The limestone karst geology feeds the creeks with nutrient rich, stable, cool water flows. The rich creeks support significant insect life and that combined with the constant cool water means good food and homes for trout. It’s not just the quality of the streams, but also the quantity and concentration. There are plenty. There are more than enough to keep you occupied for weeks, months, years even.

Anthony Naples - Adrift in the Drifltess - stream barn

Folks will argue about “tenkara-perfect” water. You probably have a picture in your mind as you read it – “tenkara-perfect”. I don’t want to argue about it…. but…

Anthony Naples - Adrift in the Drifltess - stream bend

Tiny, small, medium, large… take your pick. There are streams that you could straddle at points, but that still have the potential to yield 18-inch brown trout.

Anthony Naples - Adrift in the Drifltess - brown trout

A high-banked, slightly muddy, meandering meadow creek, passing under the careless gaze of Brown Swiss, Black Angus or Holsteins, with few trees to offer shade… that might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think “tenkara perfect”. But for me it absolutely is. Heck, I‘ve come to appreciate the streams with some cows around – it keeps the weeds down. 

These creeks may not have that high-gradient, tumbling, cascading, plunge-pool structure, you connect with tenkara. But many are nothing but fish holding structure, honestly. Bend after bend, run after run, undercut after undercut… the structure is there. It may just be a bit more hidden. But it doesn’t take much to figure it out.


Anthony Naples is based in Western Pennsylvania, and has been a positive voice in the tenkara community since 2009. He is the former proprietor of Three Rivers Tenkara, an online retailer of tenkara rods and fly fishing supplies, and currently writes on his blog, Casting Around.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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