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Southwest driftless trout team

Streambank Protection Program

SouthWestern Wisconsin Trout Streambank
Waters of the Southwest Driftless Trout Team are found in the Pecatonica River and Lower Wisconsin River Basins.  Although the larger streams and rivers in the region continue to suffer from some pollution problems, many of the smaller streams have experienced dramatic improvements in water quality over the last several decades, thanks in large part to the installation of vegetation buffers, grass drainage swales in farm fields, and other agricultural BMP’s.  Although the overall biotic diversity of coldwater streams generally decreases as water quality improves, the remaining species are more environmentally sensitive and have narrower thermal tolerances.

The trout waters in the Pecatonica River and Lower Wisconsin River basins harbor predominantly brown trout. Since the late nineties, brown trout have increased with corresponding decreases in brook trout. This change is currently happening in Ash Creek, Pompay Pillar, Big Spring, and Gran Grae Creeks. Brook trout are restricted to the coldwater high-gradient forested headwaters with brown trout becoming dominant in the middle and lower reaches. The most robust brook trout populations occur in Story Creek, Mt. Vernon Creek, Primrose Branch, and Sudan Branch (East Branch Pecatonica River sub‐watershed).  Otter Creek‐Wisconsin River and Prairie du Sac Dam‐Wisconsin River watersheds predominantly support brook trout with no brown trout. Ash Creek, Hawkins Creek (Melancthon Cr), and Fancy Creek sub‐watersheds in the Pine River Watershed all have decent populations of brook trout.

Southwest Driftless trout streams are easily accessible to residents of Madison and surrounding communities, so streams with public access tend to receive heavy fishing pressure. With the improving water quality in many streams in the region and the corresponding increase in fish populations (combined with the increasing cost of travel), it is likely that some angling trips originating in Madison that previously targeted streams in Richland, Crawford, Vernon, and counties further north now occur on streams here.


  • The Lower Wisconsin River Region and the northeastern portion of the Pecatonica River Region contain some of the most productive brown trout water in the Driftless Area. Brown trout's natural habitat potential is much better than for brook trout throughout much of both regions.
  • Importantly, these streams are generally expected to maintain much of their thermal regime and are predicted to support large populations of brown trout in the future, despite a warming climate.
  • The Pecatonica River Region is in close proximity to Madison and the streams with public access tend to receive heavy fishing pressure and use. Although heavily fished, abundant brown trout with excellent size structure occur in Black Earth Creek and the Green River and Blue River systems.
  • The Pecatonica River Region lacks good quality natural habitat for brook trout, and coupled with high levels of land-use stress, provides unfavorable conditions for the occurrence of many brook trout. Brook trout occurrence is only predicted to occur in the Sugar River watershed. Models project that by the mid-century climate change will lead to the extirpation of brook trout in the Pecatonica River Region.
  • A substantial amount of stream restoration work has been completed in the region thanks to the efforts of many partner groups. There is good access scattered throughout the region; nearly all watersheds have some public access. Although there is a substantial amount of public access along Black Earth Creek, it is one of the most heavily fished trout waters in the state and demand far exceeds public access availability here.


Team Leader
David Rowe, DNR

Real Estate Specialist
Mike La Bissoniere, DNR

Highlighted streams

  • Fryes Feeder
  • Blue Mounds Creek
  • Pleasant Valley Branch
  • Mt. Vernon Creek
  • Blue River
  • Sixmile Branch
  • Big Rock Branch
  • Brewery Creek
  • Fennimore Fork
  • Pompey Creek
  • Pillar Creek
  • Mineral Point Branch
  • Gordon Creek
  • German Valley Branch
  • West Branch Sugar River
  • Kittleson Valley Creek
  • Little Sugar River
  • Elvers Creek


  • TU – Harry & Laura Nohr Chapter
  • TU – Oak Brook, IL Chapter
  • TU – Southern WI Chapter
  • Badger Fly Fishers
  • Stitzer Sportsmans Club
  • Boscobel Area Sportsmans Club
  • Upper Sugar River Watershed Association
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • River Alliance of Wisconsin
  • Southwest WI Sportsmans Club
  • Deer Creek Sportsmans Club
  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy
  • Grant County Outdoor Sports Alliance
  • Southwest WI Land Conservation Departments


The Southwest Driftless Trout Team and its conservation partners have worked to acquire stream bank easements directly from landowners within their region. These easements provide public access to high-quality trout streams and allow the DNR to manage these stream corridors to increase the health of the trout fishery for today and future generations.

From July 2014 to June 15, 2016, the Southwest Driftless Trout Team worked with property owners to purchase 21 easements in 10 subwatersheds. These transactions resulted in a total of 142.47 easement acres encompassing 52,299 stream feet (9.91 miles) at a cost of $760,740; an average of $5,340 per easement acre or $14.55 per stream foot.

Easement accomplishments