The first photo I have of myself catching trout was taken when I was four-years-old. To say that trout fishing is in my DNA would be an understatement.
I primarily fly fish for trout, which is a pursuit that will humble you for failing to learn or for not learning to fail. Although it is not my only outdoor endeavor, it is by far my favorite. I am drawn to trout because they are a finicky species and offer me a challenge. Many aspects of fly fishing revolve around constant education of fly fishing equipment, the fish themselves, entomology, and casting a fly rod. I live for these moments on the streambank.
Trout fishing also allows me to put life in perspective, slow down and focus on the little things, i.e. the difference between a day of fishing and a day of catching. I also find trout fishing relaxing. Fly fishing is not a destination of where I need to be in the sport or what I will have to accomplish, but instead a journey of endless learning, failing and fun. In short, I fish because I simply enjoy it.
As a transplant to Iowa, I was unaware of the availability of trout fishing in Iowa until recently. Early accounts of trout in Iowa are spotty at best. But, personal accounts suggest that trout were present in local streams at the time of European settlement around the area of what is now Decorah.
The northeast corner of the state, known as the Driftless region, is home to coldwater streams capable of supporting and sustaining populations of trout. Trout have particular habitat requirements such as cold, clear and highly oxygenated water. I admire their beauty but more importantly, their resiliency over the past decades. It is remarkable to me that on any given day, you can venture to a stream in Iowa’s Driftless region and catch a trifecta of trout species. The Brown trout, Salmo trutta, native Brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, and Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, can be found throughout streams in northeast Iowa, and that’s why I love to call this place home.
Numerous private property easements and public land tracts offer anglers superb access to quality streams. I fish exclusively on publicly accessible property and have found ample opportunities to cast my fly to willing trout. I love to fish Waterloo Creek in Allamakee County, but when strapped for time, I fish closer to home on Trout Run in Winneshiek County. I haven’t found a place yet where I wouldn’t return to fish.
The Driftless region of Iowa is unique and beautiful in a myriad of ways. For me, I find that beauty in trout fishing. To be able to do the thing I love, I am grateful for primarily two things. The first is willing landowners who, through perpetual easements, have ensured that I will always have someplace to cast my line. The second is for the conservation efforts of numerous individuals and organizations that have ensured that trout have a home in northeast Iowa and will continue to do so. These efforts cannot be understated and are crucial in establishing self sustaining populations of trout species in northeast Iowa streams.
For what Iowa’s Driftless region has to offer for trout anglers is truly a rare gem. Appreciating the uniqueness of the region and the trout fishing opportunities it provides is well worth our attention, support and protection for the here and now, and for future generations to enjoy, just like I do.
Liz Siepker is the owner and guide of Driftless Fishers, LLC, a fly fishing service based in the Driftless region. She has fished all over the Lower 48, Alaska and Patagonia, though her fly fishing bucket list remains long. Liz received her casting instructor certification through Fly Fishers International and is a Hubbard’s Fly Fishing Guide School alumna. She is an active member of the Iowa Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishers International, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association and INHF.