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Fly Fisherman Throwback: Locating the Brown Drake in Michigan and Wisconsin

Fly fishers planning a trip to the Midwest in early June will find spectacular angling during the Brown Drake hatch.

Fly Fisherman Throwback: Locating the Brown Drake in Michigan and Wisconsin

Michigan's Black River. (Jim Enger photo)

Editor's note: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and published before the Internet, from the Fly Fisherman magazine print archives. The wit and wisdom from legendary fly-fishing writers like Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, John Voelker, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and many more deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted here exactly as published in their day and may contain information, philosophies, or language that reveals a different time and age. This should be used for historical purposes only.

This article originally appeared in the May-June 1980 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. Click here for a PDF of the print version of "Locating the Brown Drake in Michigan and Wisconsin."


Fly fishers planning a trip to the Midwest in early June will find spectacular angling during the Brown Drake hatch. This insect is widely distributed in streams of all sizes and in many gravel-bottomed lakes.

Wisconsin offers nearly 9,000 miles of trout streams, and the state can be divided into three geographical regions, each with its own characteristic water systems that vary from limestone spring creeks to tea­colored rivers.

A fertile crescent of limestone starts on the shores of Green Bay and runs south along Lake Michigan, across the southern border of the state, and up along the Mississippi River to its confluence with the Saint Croix. This limestone band is thirty to sixty miles wide, and the streams originating in it are all small and highly productive.

Heavy industry and large population centers have hurt trout streams along Lake Michigan, but there are a number of pleasant little creeks in the Door County Peninsula and along the western side of Green Bay. The best streams in the limestone crescent lie along the southern part of the state west of Madison and up along the Mississippi. This is the unglaciated, hilly Driftless Region.

Brown Drakes are not especially widespread on these limestone streams because many have silty bottoms. However, where there are clean, gravel bottoms, the drakes are quite abundant, and large trout are often taken from these streams during the hatch.

Lying within the limestone belt is a crescent of sandstone bedrock. It is twenty to thirty miles wide on the eastern side of the state and one hundred to one hundred twenty miles wide along the southern and western regions of the state, and it extends northward along the Mississippi and Saint Croix to the shores of Lake Superior. This region is covered with deep deposits of glacial outwash and constitutes the sand counties described by Aldo Leopold. The streams meander through meadows and have dark, undercut banks that are heavily overgrown with or­ chard grass, reed canary grass, alders and willows. In the swifter portions of these streams, where bright gravel predominates, the Brown Drake population is excellent. South-central streams like the White, Willow, Pine, Roche-a-Cri, Robinson and others can provide spectacular dry-fly fishing over large trout when the drakes are hatching. The northwestern sand counties are famous for such rivers as the Bois Brule, Namekagon and White. These large north-country streams have superb Brown Drake hatches.

The north-central portion of Wisconsin is a domed area of granite bedrock that is part of the massive Canadian Shield and is overlaid with glacial till of varying thickness. This Highland Region is the birthplace of all the largest river systems of Wisconsin. Such fine trout streams as the Montreal, Pike, Pin, Popple, Peshtigo and Wolf rise in this upland area. Conifers such as white cedar, balsam fir, white pine, hemlock, white spruce and jack pine mingle with streamside hardwoods such as sugar maple, basswood, yellow birch, aspen and paper birch. Bogs are numerous and act like giant sponges to collect the rains and slowly release them to the streams, often adding a tea-brown color to the water. Gravel bottoms afford fine habitat for the Brown Drake, and fishing these north­ country streams is both productive and esthetically delightful.




Cover of the May-June 1980 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine showing an angler throwing a long cast.
This article originally appeared in the May-June 1980 issue of Fly Fisherman.

The streams of Michigan's Upper Peninsula are of the same character as those of northern Wisconsin. Rivers like the Black, Presque Isle, Otter, Ontonagon, Fox, Paint, Escanaba and Two-Hearted are well known, productive trout streams running through wild north-woods country.

Heavy industrialization and major population centers in the southern part of the state have degraded trout waters there, but the upper two-thirds of the Lower Peninsula are blessed with good trout streams. Many large rivers originate in the heartland and drain into lakes Michigan and Huron. The character of the streams is variable, but in general, most have gravel bottoms and moderate currents. The Au Sable, Jordan, Rogue, Pere Marquette, Manistee and White rivers are all ideal Brown Drake streams.

Anglers unfamiliar with Michigan's trout streams will find great assistance from these publications: Michigan County Maps and Recreational Guide ($7) and Trout Streams of Michigan ($2.95). Both are available from MUCC, P.O. Box 30235, Lansing, Mich. 48909 (there is a $.35 handling charge per item). Anglers headed for Wisconsin should get a free copy of Wisconsin Trout Streams from the Department of Natural Resources, Box 450, Madison, Wis. 53701, and County Maps of Wisconsin ($3) from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Map and Document Sales, 2B Hill Farms State Office Building, Madison, Wis. 53701.

Recommended



Gary Borger has contributed many articles to FFM, and he is author of Nymphing, published by Stackpole Books, Cameron and Kelker Sts., Harrisburg, Pa.

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