The Sugar River of South Wisconsin

Verona: The sugar river begins its humble journey south as a series of small spring fed brooks whose sources are peppered across the landscape of south central Wisconsin. This area straddles both the unglaciated area of the upper Mississippi valley and the rolling hills of corn and dairy farms for which the area is more popularly known. Notable are Flynn Creek, Deer Creek, Milum Creek, Fryes Feeder, and Mount Vernon Creek, which all make up the upper sections of the watershed.

Deer Creek in central Dane county after a nice bank improvement.

While mostly shallow and often narrow enough to spit across, they support a diverse community of fishes and other widlife and come together well to form the upper sections of the watershed. Spring water here leaves the ground at 44 degrees year round, making it the coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter. Gradient and water quality here are good enough to support what the state had deemed a class 2 trout fishery. Brook, brown and rainbow trout can all be caught here, along with some rare and interesting micros. 

A beaut of a brookie 

These creeks start cold and clear, but temps and nutrient load increase rapidly as they flatten out and are joined by other small creeks that drain the farmland.  It's here that the West and North branches of the Sugar come together. This area has the standard small driftless river rapsheet- white suckers, quillback, shorthead and golden redhorse, hogsuckers, creek chubs, and trout can be caught here, along with a vast array of darters, chubs, minnows, shiners, madtoms, and sculpins.

Drifting small baits in slack pool below riffled is guaranteed to get you a few these scrappy little guys.

and some of these too.

She continues flowing south to Belleville, where we encounter the first of 3 dams on our way downstream.

A nice little park. 

Belleville: After a beautiful little spillway and some riffles, we start to see the first of many transforations of the Sugar. In some areas the hard bottom softens to sand and mud, along with some channelization and the first deep holes. Banks here also change from pastures to forest, and the water slows down in spots. Carp, pike, small and largemouth bass, black crappie, some dandy channel cats, rock bass, bluegill, walleye, bullheads, green and orangespotted sunfish, bigmouth buffalo, silver, shorthead and golden redhorse can all be found here

Is this the happiest yellow bullhead you've ever seen or what?

After flowing south through a small impoundment at the Albany Wildlife Area and being joined by more little brooks, we get the the 2nd dam in Albany.

Smallies like current

Albany: She flows more or less straight and due south for 5 miles from here. Of some historical interest is the pearl rush that started here in late 1800's.  A man by the name of Ralph Lidster found a freshwater pearl here in one of what was once a very diverse and unique population of mussells and sold it for $100.00. Not exactly chump change back then. Well, it made it into the local paper and soon mobs of people eventually hunted and shucked their way through the majority of the mussel and clams in the river.

An estimated $8 million was made by unscrupulous pearl hunters. Good news though, they're not all gone.  Check this little guy out!

Nowdays a popular activity with the locals and tourists here is to get hammered and float down the river in inflatable rubber tubes. Weekend fishing here during the dog days of summer can be frustrating. Be prepared to bring in your lines often and answer to the inevitable accostings: "Ya catchin' anything?" "Aren't you supposed to kill those?" "My dad/self/brother/cousin/friend, etc. caught a nice walleye/bass/northern, etc. down by the dam".... You get the idea. Still some good fishing though. Eventually, she slows down once again at Decatur Lake, formed by the last and most impressive dam on our trip.

 

aerial view of Decatur Lake

Lean mean Sugar river carp

Brodhead: From here, she flows wild and unobstructed through a densly forested area with no more development or dams or drunk tubers.  Everything in the upper stretches can found here along with river redhorse, grass pickerel, and white bass, as well as the more gnarly riverine species like flathead cats, drum, all 3 buffalo, all 3 carpsuckers, bowfin, sauger, and gizzard shad. A few eels have even been sampled here in the past.  

Sugar river at Avon Bottoms

AVON: The river changes drastically as is crosses the Green/Rock county line at Avon Bottom State Natural area, a lowland forest of sugar maple, oak, basswood, ash, cottonwood, and hickory. Also notable are the large sycamores which grow here at the northernmost part of their range. This stretch of river is home to some of the state's rarest fishes, including black buffalo, pallid shiners, gravel chubs, and river redhorse.  The course of the river here follows no predictable or permanent course, and is always in the process of change, snaking around high ground and later cutting shortcuts around the other side, leaving behind hundreds of small oxbows and sloughs. The shady, swampy, sometimes inaccessable nature of the landscape here has fueled local legend and lore of everything from murders and hauntings to swamp monsters. Muddy boots and ghost stories aside, some great fishing can be found here. Catifishing is especially good. From here, she flows south about 5 miles and accross the state line into Illinois, where she joins forces with the Pecatonica and onward to the Rock River, eventually draining into the mighty Mississippi. Like all rivers, the most popular fishing spots are at bridge crossings and dam spillways, but believe me when I say she reserves the best for those willing to expore....

For those interested micros sampled here include: 

BROOK STICKLEBACK, MOTTLED SCULPIN, REDSIDE DACE, CENTRAL STONEROLLER, LARGESCALE STONEROLLER, AMERICAN BROOK LAMPREY, JOHNNY DARTER, BLUNTNOSE MINNOW, SOUTHERN REDBELLY DACE, HORNEYHEAD CHUB, FANTAIL DARTER, CENTRAL MUDMINNOW, BRASSY MINNOW, IOWA DARTER, BLACKSIDE DARTER, FATHEAD MINNOW, REDSIDE DACE, BIGMOUTH SHINER, SPOTFIN SHINER, SAND SHINER, LOGPERCH, GOLDEN SHINER, BANDED DARTER, STONECAT, RIVER SHINER, CARMINE SHINER, SLENDERHEAD DARTER, RAINBOW DARTER, WESTERN BLACKNOSE DACE, STARHEAD TOPMINNOW, BLACKSTRIPE TOPMINNOW, WESTERN MOSQUITOFISH, PALLID SHINER, TADPOLE MADTOM, REDFIN SHINER, BULLHEAD MINNOW, EMERALD SHINER, WEED SHINER, BANDED KILLIFISH, LEAST DARTER, MIMIC SHINER, SUCKERMOUTH MINNOW

 

 

 

Species Covered: 
Bass, Largemouth
Bass, Rock
Bass, Smallmouth
Bowfin
Buffalo, Bigmouth
Buffalo, Black
Buffalo, Smallmouth
Bullhead, Black
Bullhead, Yellow
Carp, Common
Carpsucker, Highfin
Carpsucker, Quillback
Carpsucker, River
Catfish, Channel
Catfish, Flathead
Chub, Creek
Chub, Gravel
Chub, Hornyhead
Crappie, Black
Dace, Redside
Dace, Western Blacknose
Darter, Iowa
Darter, Johnny
Darter, Least
Darter, Rainbow
Drum, Freshwater
Eel, American
Goldfish
Killifish, Banded
Logperch
Madtom, Tadpole
Minnow, Bluntnose
Minnow, Brassy
Minnow, Bullhead
Minnow, Suckermouth
Mosquitofish, Western
Mudminnow, Central
Pickerel, Grass
Pike, Northern
Redhorse, Golden
Redhorse, River
Redhorse, Shorthead
Redhorse, Silver
Sauger
Sculpin, Mottled
Shad, Gizzard
Shiner, Carmine
Shiner, Emerald
Shiner, Golden
Shiner, Mimic
Shiner, Redfin
Shiner, Sand
Shiner, Weed
Stonecat
Stoneroller, Central
Stoneroller, Largescale
Sucker, Northern Hog
Sucker, White
Sunfish, Bluegill
Sunfish, Green
Sunfish, Orangespotted
Topminnow, Blackstripe
Topminnow, Starhead
Trout, Brook
Trout, Brown
Trout, Rainbow
Walleye

Comments

andy's picture

This sounds like a great river.  Thanks so much for the story!  

perkinsdonald's picture

Great write up!  Dayton is my Northern Hog sucSuc spot.

 

 

The gods do not subtract the alotted span in men's lives the hours spent in fishing.

tom's picture

That park in Dayton is awesome. One of these days I  want to wade downstream a ways from there. 

D.T.'s picture

What a cool and diverse river you got there. Really nice!

Graceclaw's picture

Definitely some tasty looking water and really neat species found throughout. This is the kind of river every roughfisherman wants in his or her backyard. Thanks for the write up, man!

Goldenfishberg's picture

Magnificent write up. I’m not a diabetic but the sugar river wants me to be. Ahh the scourge of drunken tubineirs, a vile and dispicable lot. A feller ought to carry a blow dart tube what fer poppin their drunken aquatic mobility solution.  Well you and I will need to discuss a canoe adventure on the sugar at roundup. Can not wait for roundup. Man how great is roundup?! Pretty darn great. ROUNDUP! More shameless roundup promotion. Roundup. See you in two weeks my friend! 

Ya just Can't catch um from the couch.