Driving east out of Wyoming in mid-October, farm fields in Iowa were dried and heavy with field corn on the outskirts of Decorah. The dark green F-150’s trip odometer read 5170 miles, clouds hung like giant cotton balls over the road, I was ready for a rest. Arriving at Trout River Log Cabin late in the day we had time to settle and visit the stream before sunset. As Jeff and I rolled up the drive, a small red building came into view, its door was open, a cock and 2 hens scurried about. We unloaded and walked through the yard to the rustic 19th century Norwegian-built log cabin. Jeff and I went inside and found the old schoolhouse to be in good keeping. 2 beds and a shower on the second floor, a small kitchen and bathroom on the first. We set our bags on the antique floorboards and returned to the porch.
A note from the rentals owner directed us to Trout River in a valley well below the farm. We found the A frame ladder over a barbed wire fence and followed a small trail thru deep woods to a switch back driveway and found the winding stream below. As dusk set in we saw several trout moving out of deep cuts on the turns in its slow-moving water. A red tail hawk began to circle overhead, no more trout emerged. The walk back up hill to the cabin was of course slower and quieter. Amazed by the beauty of an Iowa Driftless area forest we took in the sights and sounds and stopped for occasion huff and puff.
In search of dinner, we found our way to the center of Decorah. It was a quiet fall weeknight. First stop a brewery called Pulpit Rock. At the bar we observed a unique perspective of the college community that shares this small town with its locals. After a sampling of their fine alcohol-free “Untitled Art” Juicy IPA and a draft IPA called SAFTIG the bartender directed us to Topping Goliath Brewing Co. for dinner. We headed out, back toward our cabin on the hill and found the next brewhouse to be a far bigger enterprise. The beer there was good too, so was the burger.
Up Early at first light Jeff and I drove back to Decorah in search of coffee and a breakfast sandwich. That’s when we stumbled across Impact Coffee on Water Street. Big roasting program in the back ½ of the room, lots of couches and armchairs and cool people sipping and scheming in the front, working in corners on laptops and chatting quietly about another perfect day in Iowa. I loved it.
We met our guide Mike Rogers in a gas station parking lot on the edge of town, it was cold and windy but he didn’t care. We chatted for just long enough for him to learn what our skill level was and how the wind was going to impact the fishing. Before Mike rolled up the window to his red Toyota pickup, he mentioned a stream side pasture that would be best to start on as there would be room for Jeff to build confidence with his back cast, then we’d move to the woods where he’d seen several beaver dams “which isn’t necessarily a good thing, at all” a lot of downed trees and potential for some good trout holding spots.
Our day on Trout River went smoothly, lots of small trout to hand, we met a great young guide who shared a river that we otherwise might never have found, and he taught us the basics of nymph identification. Turning over rocks and looking for opportunities.
As our day ended, we walked out on the edge of yet another Iowa corn field, Mike suggested we visit him at T-Bock’s Sports Bar in town where he had a night shift on the floor as a waiter. The French dip might be a good choice and we might try their nachos and a local IPA on draft. On arrival Mike was beaming, his energy for life is admirable (it’s nice to be young). Not only a guide and a waiter Mike told us he has time to serve on the board of his local Trout Unlimited chapter as well.
In hindsight I’m happy to report that our visit to Decorah opened my eyes to one of America’s true hidden flyfishing gems. My 6000-mile trip from Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, NY to Michigan and on through the midwestern United States then beyond needed a final river to fish and a guide to put a definitive period at the end of our 15-day fishing adventure. Mike Rogers and the Trout River delivered with a fine double barrel day of fun and adventure.
If you have a flyfishing road trip on the drawing board and are considering the Iowa Driftless area, take my suggestion and move it from the bottom of the list to the top.