South Pine Creek is a mythical location for many Iowa trout fishermen. I first became aware of the stream in the Hughes book, where he refuses to even map the stream because he does not want anglers to ruin it. The wonderful book Oneota Flow contains an entire chapter on the history of the stream and the fish in it. It also refers to the long hike and brush-busting needed to reach the stream. Most every source mentions that you should “approach the stream as a naturalist, not a fisherman,” appreciate its beauty, and not be discouraged if you did not catch fish.
With this in mind, my friend the Rev. T and I “approached as naturalists” after a good long weekend of catching plenty of fish in the stocked streams. I was not sure what we would find at South Pine, as recent flash floods had rocked the Decorah area.
The hike is lengthy, and involves considerable walking up and down hills. I would recommend having a copy of the small stream map on the Winneshiek County Trout Guide as well as a GPS app such as Gaia. We got surprisingly good cell phone reception, but I wouldn’t rely on Google Maps alone. We took a couple wrong turns, as the path to the stream is not marked in any way.
Once we got down to the stream, we were surprised to see a mowed path ran up and down its length. From the descriptions, I had expected complete wilderness. The recent floods had pasted down most of the grasses and plants in the entire valley, so we could see clearly to the stream. My guess is that this is not usually the case at all.
The stream itself is small and somewhat unremarkable, with mud banks. As all the descriptions say, there are many beaver ponds.
What are remarkable are the trout in this stream. After a relatively short time, I caught a beautiful and quite large brook trout (picture above, and in the video below). My GoPro video doesn’t really do it justice, this fish was an absolute monster on 2lb test and a microlight rod. It was far and away the prettiest fish I’ve ever caught. It appeared to be a male with the pronounced kype jaw.
A while later, I caught a small brown trout with parr markings. South Pine is supposedly not stocked at all, so I’m not sure why a brown was there. It may have come upstream from another stream into which South Pine empties.
Overall, T and I greatly enjoyed our time fishing this stream. We explored about half its length, going upstream from where the trail meets the stream. At a certain point, it began to get very cluttered with blowdowns and logs, and so we called it a day. We were very pleased to have witnessed the Holy Grail of Iowa trout fishing, and to have had a brief interaction with its famous native brookies.
If you do explore this place, please tread carefully, as all the literature says. The valley was remarkably clean, with only two pieces of trash being found- an old beer can and a stream map. Oddly, there were several old tires along the stream, probably pushed down by the recent floods. The walk is vigorous, but I think anyone in recently good shape should be able to complete it, given enough time. I’ll take a different approach than the Hughes book and encourage people to visit- once you see this stream and its native beauties, you may be inspired to step up your conservation efforts. I certainly was.
– September 25, 2016.
More Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/WRgQnRhLPyVeFEJj8
|Stream Name:||South Pine Creek|
|Park or Wildlife Area:||South Pine Creek WMA|
|Access:||Public access from the north end of the WMA on Spring Creek Road. Plan to walk 1-1.5 miles up and down large hills to reach the stream.|
|Pros:||The only fishable stream in Iowa which holds native brook trout. Beautiful area.|
|Cons:||Long hike. Some may dislike the special regs (artificials only, catch and release only).|
Chapter in Oneota Flow: http://bit.ly/2cC6saE
My Ratings: (out of 10)