The 90-degree, high-humidity-with-chances-for-thunderstorms weather forecast wasn’t encouraging, but Chuck and I decided to go trout fishing anyway. We were expecting hordes of mosquitoes as well to make the event even more inviting. As it turned out, the bugs and the heat weren’t a problem. Neither was the fact that a highway near Victory was closed, sending us on a detour over winding, steep back roads to get to our stream in Vernon County — slender, fast flowing, cold-water Hornby Creek.
As we put on our waders, rigged rods and tied on flies, the sun dipped behind a puffy cloud and the heat abated. The thigh-deep water was cold through the waders and, remarkably, there were no mosquitoes. What followed was one of the most pleasant times I’ve ever had fishing even though I didn’t catch a thing. While Chuck went downstream to fish, I worked my way upstream casting through a series of riffles and pools.
Now and then I paused to splash the cold water over my head and back. A pair of great blue herons lifted out of the water as I rounded a bend. Goldfinches bobbed through the air overhead, singing as they went. More than an hour had passed when I reached the end of the fishing easement and hiked back to where the car was parked.
Chuck had had better luck, and while he was telling me about his catches, a truck pulling a bulldozer on a flatbed stopped on the road next to the fishing access lot. We talked with the driver for a few minutes and learned that he was about to cut a driveway into the wooded hillside across the road from the stream.
Hornby Creek flows through a little-traveled narrow valley defined by steep wooded hillsides. The bulldozer was climbing straight up that hillside as we left to try another access upstream. Here was an example of one of the main threats to the trout streams of the Driftless Area — the runoff from disturbed soils on steep uplands that carries sediment into the streams. The next morning the region had torrential rains and I worried that water rushing down a freshly bulldozed driveway would have carried silt to add to what we found in some of Hornby’s slower pools.
Hornby Creek is one of the streams that has benefited from improvements by the Department of Natural Resources and funded in part by Coulee Region Trout Unlimited. The TU chapter contributed $6,000 toward stream-bank stabilization and other work, according to Eric Rauch, president of the Coulee Region TU chapter. The chapter works in Vernon, La Crosse, Juneau, Crawford and Monroe counties, where there are 231 streams with some 878 miles of trout water.
Jeff Hastings, project manager for Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort, said in a telephone interview that Hornby Creek was the first trout stream he ever fished and it also produced the biggest trout he has caught — a 24-inch German brown.
It is just one of the beautiful streams being protected and restored with federal farm program money, the support of state funds from trout stamps and the volunteer efforts and donations of Trout Unlimited — thousands of dollars of investments and hours of volunteer labor that can be undercut by thoughtless acts that contribute to upland erosion.
My memory of Hornby Creek contains no 24-inch trout, but it will be of sparkling, cold, clear waters on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, that memory also will be of a bulldozer crawling above the stream on a slope where no bulldozer should go.