My spectacular trip to the Driftless

I knew going fly fishing in Iowa’s Driftless Area was a great way to get in touch with nature, and I learned last weekend that sometimes “getting in touch” can be quite literal.

The windshield wipers got a good workout in during the three-hour drive to Yellow River State Forest last weekend. We were showered from Ames to Cedar Falls and Manchester to Harpers Ferry.

My uncle, Bob Sodders, and I had crammed everything in the back of his white Chevy Tahoe that morning: camping supplies, fishing gear, clothes, rainwear and more clothes. Unfortunately, the rainy weather would only continue as we pitched a tent at the campground by Little Paint Creek early that afternoon.

However, were able to get in a few hours of fishing that day after setting up camp thanks to a May sun that sets later and later until the solstice. The trek out on BIg Paint Creek, a beautiful stream with clear water and flanked by limestone bluffs, started without too much excitement.

“I got one, A!” my uncle exclaimed from a about 50 yards down-river at one of the first spots we tried. He would ultimately get his hands on a lot more fish that afternoon.

I wasn’t entirely skunked, though, as I picked up a pretty little rainbow trout out of a deep hole about midway through our fishing trip.

The real excitement that afternoon wasn’t about the fish, though.

“Adam, you see that?”

“See what?”

“Look — come over here — You see him?”

“Oh yeah, look at that!”

We were on what would be the last fishing hole of the day, a bend in the river following a set of rapids. The shadow of a huge limestone bluff hung over the spot. Low on the jutting rock structure was a small crevice, and just inside stood a tiny, spotted fawn.

It stared right at us, not moving one iota from the miniscule spot of dry land it had found.

Bob and I continued our fishing, but each of us couldn’t help but keep an eye on the creature. From our vantage point, it looked as though the water around the deer was fairly deep, especially for as small as it was. After about 20 minutes, Bob turned to me.

“Should we do something?”

“I don’t know, do you think it’s really trapped there?”

“Looks like it could be.”

After some deliberation, we decided to try and do something to help, if we could do so safely and without harming the fawn. I can only speak for myself, but I think both of us had the same thought: we wouldn’t have been able to stop thinking about that fawn if we’d just left it there.

As there was a deep pool directly between us and the crevice, we had to leave the stream and go up on a patch of shore adjacent to where the fawn stood. There, I took off my fishing vest and put down my rod.

“Here, put this on, it goes on your belt,” Bob said, removing his ski pole from his own belt. I slipped it on and looked at the route between me and the fawn, from that spot a distance of maybe 10 yards.

I poked two small rocks peaking above the water’s surface to see it they could take my weight. They did, and I stepped onto a larger rock and looked for the rest of the path. The water immediately in front of the fawn, it turned out, wasn’t too deep. I was able to simply walk through it with my waders.

By this time, the fawn had gone from standing to kneeling on all fours, trying to make itself smaller. I wish I could’ve somehow told it “I’m not here to eat you!” Of course, there was no way to do that, so the fawn did the only thing that seemed right — it darted away.


It honked and splashed its way into the water at my right. At first, I thought it would make it to dry land by itself, which I was kind of hoping for.

However, a few seconds later, I could hear a gurgling sound as the fawn continued to honk and swim against the current. After looking as though it would make it onto a patch of land, it slipped back into the stream.

I made it to the creature, plucked its surprisingly lightweight, bleating being out of the water, knee-crawled up the ledge and plopped it to the ground. In an understandable panic, the fawn sprinted off into the grass above me. (See the rescue and go to:

The excitement was suddenly over. I made my way back to my uncle, who had turned on his iPhone camera and captured the whole thing. I put my vest back on, took up my flyrod and got back to fishing.

As we made our way back to the starting point and the Tahoe, Bob and I wondered aloud whether the fawn would make it. After all, it was almost certainly still feeding on its mother’s milk, not solid food.

I hope it made it.

We got back to the vehicle, where I finally got a chance to change my soaking socks. Bob knew from previous visits to the area of a small bar in Harpers Ferry called Missfitz. Now, take that name and use your mind’s eye to imagine what that bar might be like. Got that image? You’re not far off the mark.

The homemade pizza was good, and beer with a family member is always something to be enjoyed.

We made it back to camp after dinner. Some of Bob’s friends from Trout Unlimited had just arrived from Des Moines, and they set up camp at the next-door site. We all exchanged fishing stories and enjoyed the evening, despite the damp weather. When another strong bout of rain began, I decided to call it a night.

I woke up folded in a mostly-deflated air mattress, but I’d at least been able to stay warm and dry in my tent.

Bob was up earlier than me, and we went to work cleaning up the campsite and packing our things. The trip wasn’t over, though, and we decided to take a quick trip to the nearby Little Paint to wet a line.

After unsuccessfully drifting a small nymph fly under and indicator through one of the most trouty-looking spots I’d seen on the trip, I thought my luck was out already that day.

Suddenly, the indicator dropped below the surface. I struck the hook. I had a fish on.

I could tell immediately it was a brown trout based on the color I saw flashing underwater. It fought hard, and it cleverly attempted to rub against the rock I was standing on to break the line. Luckily, I was able to wrench it away from the jagged edges. Eventually, the fish came to the surface and I netted it.

I love trout of any species. Every single one has a beautiful color to it, and browns are no exception. As the name implies, they have a light-brown body, which is speckled with red and white dots. Their white belly contrasts with the brown body.

Later that Sunday morning, Bob, his friends and I met with a professional film crew to get a few shots for a Flyathon preview. The Driftless Area Flyathon is an event set for October in the park, and involves running, fly fishing and craft beer. After a few running shots, the crew had the five of us fishermen cast our lines in a few spots.

For the most part, we had minimal luck. I caught a baby brown, and one of Bob’s friends was able to get two or three fish for the camera. Perhaps the only miserable part was we were all in our shorts, a result of doing the running shots earlier. It was, liberally, 50 degrees outside with a north wind.

After we confirmed that filming was done for the day, me and Bob trekked back to the car once again, and, once again, we changed into the driest clothes we could find in our packs. Both of us knew it was time to head home.

It was a weekend of fly fishing and family time that I won’t forget, and it was a joy to be able to be out in nature. I cannot speak enough about the beauty of Iowa’s Driftless. Even for those who aren’t fly fishers, it offers great camping, hiking, relaxation and cultural activities.

I’ll definitely be putting another such trip on my calendar soon.


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or