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Rushing down the Rush and the Kinni

Gerry Keithley of River Falls fishes on the Rush River. Dan Wilcox photo

Wisconsin is blessed with over 10,000 miles of trout streams. Some of the best trout streams in the Midwest are right in our neighborhood.

The Kinnickinnic and the Rush rivers are beautiful limestone spring creeks that start in the former prairie country in St. Croix County and pick up speed coursing through limestone canyons to the join the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers respectively.

Both rivers have good cold base flow from groundwater inflows. Feeder creeks and springs tributary to both rivers and provide good habitat for spawning native brook trout.

Robert Traver, Upper Peninsula Michigan angler and author of the novel Anatomy of a Murder, wrote in his book "Trout Madness," "I fish mainly because I love the environs that trout are found..."

It's easy to fall in love with the Kinni and the Rush rivers because of their sublime beauty. Trout fishing is a contemplative sport, and the gorgeous scenery along our neighborhood rivers is an inspiration to many not only to fish but just to be there.

Our record-breaking warm March with no snow caused an early flood on the Kinni and the Rush. Both rivers crested with snowmelt runoff on March 11 at about bank-full, a river discharge event that occurs once every year or two.

A bank-full flow scours the channel and the banks, moving sediment from silt-sized to large rocks. An inch of silt was deposited in the Rush River floodplain in places where the river overtopped the banks. The Kinni undermined a big cottonwood tree in the lower canyon and it fell across the river. Undeterred, the river scoured its bed under the big cottonwood, presenting an obstacle to canoeists.

By Saturday, March 13, water level on the Rush River had receded about two and a half feet. Members of the Wisconsin Canoe Militia (a disorganization of friends and avid canoeists) floated down the Rush River from Stonehammer Bridge to Langer's Bar at Highway 72. The Rush was still about a foot and a half high, perfect for canoeing.

Normally the middle reach of the Rush isn't very navigable with lots of jagged limestone rocks. That day most of the rocks were covered with water making for a fast and enjoyable float trip.

Last weekend was remarkably warm for the beginning of April. Gerry Keithley and I fished on the Rush below El Paso. It was a beautiful late afternoon on the river, warm enough to fish in shirtsleeves. Tiny midges were hatching and the trout were feeding on them.

Gerry managed to tie on a tiny midge imitation fly and promptly caught and released a couple trout. I tried a small bead-head nymph and caught and released a bright brook trout as my old dog Badger watched from the bank.

As we drove up out of the canyon on the way home we saw an impressive big rooster pheasant with a long tail strutting his stuff along the road. He must have been really good-looking because a couple of hen pheasants came running up to him as he wandered through a brushy fencerow into a hay field.

Whether floating in a canoe, angling for trout, hiking along their banks or just being there watching the wildlife and the scenery; our neighborhood rivers provide some of the best of outdoors enjoyment. Landowners in the watersheds, the DNR, the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsmans' Club, Pheasants Forever, and the West Wisconsin Land Trust have worked together to protect the Rush and the Kinni. Their efforts will enable future generations to enjoy the Rush and the Kinni as much as we do.

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