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 Trout of the Willow River

By : Audrix Nowinsky

This was the fifth consecutive return trip to this scenic State Park to celebrate my birthday; located just a short jaunt from Hudson. This river holds the inland Brown Trout State Record and is a tremendous fishery.


Having arrived on Thursday the 18th we encountered the last of a cold and rainy front that was pushing through the area and by 3:00 p.m. we found sunshine and warmer temperatures were to be making our weekend rather pleasant after all.

First day set-up, sky's look good !!!

Once pitching tent, my wife Nicole, two children, and myself were off for the Willow Falls, which creates the upper boundary of the Little Falls Lake. After a leasurily 20 minute walk, we found ourselves at the base of the thundering falls on a return pilgramige to the promised land of trout...

Finding the river slightly stained from the days' previous rain, I decided to tie on a #8 B/H Wooley Bugger in black(fly-fishing being my favorite way to catch trout), while Nicole tied on a 5" black and gold Rapala. Not a bait for small trout in small creeks !

The roar of the falls is unbelievable

After 20-25 min I hadn't even had a look, nor did my wife, so we took the kids out of our backpacks, and sat down for a soda break. My wife invited me to take a few casts with her pole, so I finished my soda and got up.


My son Tristin, eating crackers and chillin' out next to the Willow Telling my wife I thought I needed bigger flies to move the fish in the stained current, I picked up her spinning rod to make a few quick casts.


"You need to give them some meat to look at ! " I yelled, as I stepped up to the edge of the roaring rapids. And with that I casted the large Rapala into the head of the chute.

It was only two cranks on the reel when I set hooks into what would be the first of three legal fish caught during our stay. ( State Regulations: 1 Trout a day; 16" Min, Artificial Only)

 First of 3 legal trout landed, this one was 17 inches and tasted delicious Landing the 17" Brown after a acrobatic fight down the chute, I measured it and moved it to a barricaded spring hole to keep lively until it was time to go and have dinner.

Now except for this one particular trip out of the year, I release all the Browns, and Rainbows I catch with the exception of mounting quality fish. But I do allow myself one trip to enjoy the rich flavor of mature river hardened trout over the campfire.

Fishing until 6:30 we caught no more fish, so we embarked on out triumphant march back to the campsite for a gourmet campfire meal of Brown Trout and raw fries.

Coating it heavily in salt and pepper, and putting it over an open flame to char and develop a smokey flavor; I then finished it in a cast iron skillet with a ľí of butter.


Dinner moments from preperation This one fish easily filled my wife and I up with the addition of some good olí spuds.



Waking up around 8:00 a.m., we ate and I was off on my own this time, hopefully heading into the "Canyon" for some unbelievable Rainbow fishing. The "Canyon" is a near unreachable stretch of river starting just above the Willow Falls and running along the back side of the town of Burkhart. It does cross a road on Cty A at the north end of the Park, but it is then a better than 2 mile walk downstream into the Canyon.

Looking back downstream to the Falls

Now fisherman beware, this is not for the ederly or young. The decent down the 150ft near shear walls is treacherous. I did puncture my waders again this year as a rock slide gave way and I slid roughly 25ft. down jagged rocks. ( but thatís the fun of Trout fishing )

With the water still off and the first stretch about knee deep, I tied on a ľ oz Panther Martin and starting hammering away. After an hour and 300 yards no fish were to be seen. Never fear as this is always the slow stretch for action and with my favorite spot coming up I knew I would connect soon enough.

Around the first bend upstream from the wash As the river narrowed and deepened, the flow slowed. As I approached the boulder that three years ago yielded a 23" Rainbow for me, my nerves grew tense. Was I to land another beauty or not ???

When I worked past it without a bite, I began to grow glum. Where are the fish I thought, as I reattached the large Rapala as I was coming up on another small falls, and began to cast.





Russ Kind with another whopper, Rainbow 5 pounds Once again the rod came alive with the pulse of another good fish, and again the German brown went sailing into the sky. In the heavy current this one felt better, but after a brief battle I landed what turned out to be only a 16 ľ" incher.

Now while this fish was legal to keep; it was only 10:00 a.m. with 2hrs till I was to be picked up. The sun was growing hot, so I released the fish unharmed for fear of it spoiling before it made it to the campfire.

One cast later, I landed a plump 15 Ĺ" Brown who looked like it had eaten so much it was going to explode. Not a bad average size I thought as I continued up the stream.

With the noon hour approaching I reversed course to head back to the wash I entered in. Catching a total of 10 fish, all were browns, which proved disappointing as I had only encountered rainbows in that stretch before.

Trailhead leading downstream to the split of the forks Getting lunch out of the way, we this time headed below the lake. Taking Brook Trout Trail downstream along the bank we entered the river abou Ĺ" upstream from where is famous river splits into itís two even more famous branches, the Race Branch, and Willow Branch.


Close-up of the trail With the river on the clearing, the afternoon sun brought a respectable hatch of #12 Tan Elk Caddis. With trout raising as close as a rodís distance. We found them to be not interested in the Spinners and Cranks we were throwing, that was until we got to a nicely shaded pocket of 6ft deep water.

A scream was the first thing I heard as I turned to see my wife set hooks into a nice trout. As if all the browns were taking lessons from the rainbows, it shot skyward as the others had done. My wife screamed with excitement as the battle progressed.




Nicole's largest trout of career 16 1/4 inches Making my way around the deep seam, I help to land and measure what was to be my wifeís largest trout of her career at 16 ĺ" inches. Excitement was in the air as we creeled the fish and began to start fishing again.

With the river widening out and getting shallower, in combination with my 10 mo. old son starting to fuss, we decided to head back to camp earley for a nice relaxing dinner and evening. That fish tasted as good as the first.


Gabe German 1997, 24 inch Brown We awoke the same time and again headed out below the lake to renter where we left off, this was to be the last stream born excursion for the weekend as we were leaving that afternoon to return home.

We found very much the same activity that morning as the hatch started to get heavier. I did manage to catch 4 smallies, but we failed to find a spotted river leopard to bite. It was 12:00 p.m and time to say goodbye.


25 inch Brown caught in 1997 Fisherman: For Reservations via the new State phone system call: 1-888-947-2757

Or Call the Park for more information: 1-715-386-5931


Audrix Nowinsky
Copyright 2000 
Reprinted with permission

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