You have to appreciate a guide with a personality.
“So what you guys gettin’ after… Milwaukee sucks… except for this river, it’s primo… but it’s hard to fish… need jedi skills… Sully you have Jedi skills?”
So began our day with Gordon Wright in the Walmart parking lot in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Yes. That’s right. 10 minutes from catching flawless wild brown trout the only show in town is a super center, complete with 20 Oz. Mountain Dews and cheese puffs.
The stream does not look like much, and Gordo didn’t have to say it, we were already thinking it. But there was something about the flow, the cold and off color water, the wild fauna that engulfed the banks. Then there were the Jimmy Hendricksons and March browns spinning around the river waiting for their turn do dance with a partner and ensure the next generation of huge mayflies.
“You boys gonna get after it tonight?… Sully lay that caddis on the bank. Right on it man, Jedi skills… smooth it in there, primo spot. Give em’ the downstream press. Don’t go to Sheboygan, it’s awful, should be called Shebagdad!”
It took Luke Skywalker-esque hand eye to get the fly in the right spot. Sully has it, thankfully – and Gordon is as encouraging as he fishy. The art of the downstream presentation is, I would say, a lost one. Not practiced enough and underutilized. We took to it quickly realizing that to catch fish the presentation had to be drag and line free. The fish, wild brown trout, have thrived since the reconstruction of the Onion. Dozens of cribs have been implanted, leaving these stealthy predators with custom bunkers to live in. Think concrete milk crates, extending 3 feet back under the bank.
Local farmers have been a huge part of the restoration, donating land and resources and opening up their land to fly fishermen. We met one such man, Glenn, a local dairy farmer. His toothless smile was genuine, his handshake firm but tired. 50 years as a dairy farmer will have that effect. We fished amongst his 500 head of cattle, enjoying the somber yet calming saunter of his cows as they crossed the bridge upstream. A few years back they would have stomped through the stream, leaving a mess of sediment and manure; a lifeless stream below. But a group of locals, passionate about the wild trout in this stinky stream banded together to change that. It is an impressive success story reminiscent of the Field of Dreams; if you build it they will come.
Over the past decade the once small wild brown trout have flourished, and they’ve grown up too. There are 20″ fish in this stream, we moved a few in the high teens on streamers. No stocking, just smart river management and the generosity and knowledge of some great local farmers and trout enthusiasts.
We moved some flawless 6-12 inch Brownies on caddis, eliciting some memorable strikes in the process. These fish are fast, lightning fast, and unless you’re on the trigger you’re bound to miss more fish than you hook. Flip your caddis just above the edge of a crib and wait, knees trembling, for an explosion. If the water is stained and high, ssshhh, work streamers back upstream – the takes are epic and in front of your very eyes. The only question is who will be more excited, you or Gordo.
Today the Onion is a legitimate destination stream for trout in Wisconsin. I have fished small streams around the US and this little nugget will captivate you, keep you coming back for more. You might even consider missing your tee time at Whistling Straights to spend the day on this gem. Most folks come to Kohler to play Whistling Straights and her sister courses, but don’t ever make that journey without a 3 weight and a phone call to Gordon Wright. You’ll laugh your balls off and catch some of the more beautiful wild brown trout in the U.S. of A.