Trout Fishing in Bayfield County

Bill Heart is the President of Trout Unlimited-Wild Rivers Chapter

What is your role/who are you?

I am a trout angler and a long time Trout Unlimited volunteer member and officer. I started getting involved in Trout Unlimited over twenty years ago. I have been the Wild Rivers Chapter president on and off for twenty years and State Council Chairperson. I have also been a Wisconsin member for the Trout Unlimited National Resource Council for five years. Wild Rivers Trout Unlimited is a huge chapter by area, but not a lot of members and volunteers.

Bibon Bridge Highway 63. Photo credit: Bill Heart

In 1976 I moved up north and fell in love with the White River in Bayfield County. I have done a lot of volunteer work organized by the Department of Natural Resources on the White River that starts in Bayfield County and flows to the Bad River in Odanah on the Bad River Indian Reservation. The headwater of the White River is in the small Town of Delta in a remote area of springs and small tributaries in the White River Fisheries Area.

What has been happening with the fisheries in your area?

The biggest impact I have seen on the White River is the large storms that have been happening the last six or seven years. We are starting to get a lot of these big storm events, which is a huge change from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The water levels rise to eight or nine feet during a number of these storm events. The one saving grace for the White River is the Bibon Swamp, a huge State Natural Area that absorbs and spreads out the high water and protects much of the river from erosion. At least twice in the past three or four years I have gotten up early to check out the flooding and it has been amazing. Just below the Bibon Swamp, where the river normally flows under Bibon Road, the water was flowing over the road. At least eight to nine feet higher than normal. Even though the river was that high, there was little erosion. A small tributary on State Highway 63 has flooded the highway many times, but again, much of water is absorbed by, and spreads out in the Bibon to slow the flow, with little erosion.

Bibon bridge flooding. Photo credit: Bill Heart

Do you have hope for the future?

I have concerns, but there is still a viable fishery in both Bayfield and Ashland Counties. Many rivers do not have the luxury of the Bibon Swamp, but organizations like Trout Unlimited and Wisconsin Wetlands Association are working to “slow the flow” in the headwaters of many of the other trout streams in the area, with a lot of success. It is an expensive process, but we need to be doing much more than is currently being done. Trout are very resilient and bounce back well if they have the proper habitat. I plan to continue working with the professionals to protect the resource. It is not at that point yet where it is seriously damaged. I do not see us losing our fisheries for a long while, but there are concerns. We must get more concerned citizens and scientists to work together to slow the flow and protect out special trout waters.

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The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and do not represent official policy or position of the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.