Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200-mile-long footpath that traces remnants of the vast glacier that once covered the upper Midwest. It is the jumping-off point for hikers, anglers, and day-trippers looking to revel in the state's multitude of slow, shallow rivers and dense forests of spruce, pine, and birch trees. The trail is not continuous: It's only half-finished, but there are connecting routes, usually rustic back roads, that lead to the officially designated trail. This makes it just right for hopping in a car (or truck) and taking a fishing road trip. More than half of all Wisconsin residents live within 20 miles of the Ice Age Trail – and all fishermen have their spot. We like three areas in particular.
The Ice Age Trail sits about 10 miles from Madison, the place to start a more comfortable fishing trip. Spend the night at the sustainably minded Arbor House, which is near the sprawl of brewpubs on State Street. In the morning, drive north on Interstate 39 to pick up the trail as it winds along Chaffee Creek and the Mecan River, a couple of easygoing, clear-water streams with the best wild rainbow trout population in the state. The sheer abundance of this species makes for effortless fishing – little experience is required to catch the fish in numbers. Stay out by the water at the Crystal River Inn in Waupaca, Wisconsin, two miles from Clear Water Harbor, where blues, rockabilly, and country bands play on a pontoon floating on the river, facing the dockside bar and restaurant.
Near the small northern Wisconsin town of Langlade, the Ice Age Trail passes by the Wolf River, a burly freestone stream known for its swift waters, lack of development (the surrounding area is owned by the Department of Natural Resources), and dense forests of spruce, fir, pines, aspen, and birch. At 150 feet across and three feet deep, the river is the spot to fly-fish for brown and brook trout. Rent a cabin at Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort ($85 to $185 per night) and torch up the fire pit to grill your catch. "Whole, bone-in, skin-on trout are better for the grill than butterflied trout or fillets," says Brett Laidlaw, a Wisconsin "trout bum" and the author of 'Trout Caviar: Recipes from a Northern Forager.'
Lastly, the Chippewa River, a wide waterway at Brunet Island State Park, is home to the muskellunge, a fierce fighting fish that can grow as long as your leg. This is a tough fish to catch – it's not called the "fish of 10,000 casts" for nothing – and you'll need patience and arm strength. "You have to realize you're always one cast away from an amazing day," says Brad Bohen, a guide who holds a world record for caught-and-released musky.