The Ocooch Mountains
Written by: Len Harris
Photos by: Len Harris
The Ocooch Mountains shrouded in fog. The fog hides the "Hidden Treasures" of the Kickapoo River Valley.
Ocooch Mountains are not really mountains .They are a region of timber-covered hills, secluded valleys and sandstone formations in unglaciated southwestern Wisconsin. The name comes from a band of Indians called the Ocoche. Ocooch is generally defined in their language as a place to hunt or fish or find nourishment.This tribe is related to the Winnebagos . The tribe was wiped out by smallpox brought by the earliest white people The region's boundaries are defined by the Kickapoo River watershed. "Kickapoo" is an Algonquin word meaning "that which goes here, then there". An excellent name for the river which flows for 125 miles over 65 miles of land, with a fall of nearly 350 feet. The Ocooch Mountains are located in Crawford and Vernon counties..
The Kickapoo River begins near Wilton, Wisconsin and flows south through a deep valley cut into the hilly Driftless Zone of southwest Wisconsin. The Kickapoo empties into the Wisconsin River near Wauzeka, Wisconsin. The river is very crooked, frequently doubling back on itself as it flows through the Wisconsin landscape. The crooked path of the river is about 130 miles (210 km) long, its source at Wilton is just 60 miles (100 km) from its mouth at Wauzeka. The Kickapoo is the longest tributary of the Wisconsin River The river itself has a relatively low capacity for water, leading it to quickly and frequently flood after heavy rain.
The First dam on the Kickapoo River is located in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.
"In the year of 1847, James B. Gay, a civil engineer and a native of Indiana, journeyed to the unsettled Kickapoo Valley in southwestern Wisconsin.
James built this Mill on the Kickapoo River.Hence the name of the town "Gays Mills"
The dam in Gays Mills is the "ONLY" barrier on the Kickapoo River. Many spawning game fish migrate from the Wisconsin River up the Kickapoo and are blocked from passing upstream because of the dam.
This makes the area below this dam an "Anglers Paradise". The dam is located at the interesection of STH 131 and STH 171. The last 16 years in a row a 30 inch walleye has been landed below the dam in the first 3 weeks of May season. Many northern pike and small mouth bass are caught below this dam also.
The author with a large Northern Pike caught below the dam in Gays Mills. The pike was caught on a Mepps Black Fury Spinner size 5.
The author with a respectable walleye caught below the dam in Gays Mills
on a Husky Jerk Rapala Size 13.
The Ocooch Mountains are a favorite place for small stream trout fishing. Every small stream that empties in to the Kickapoo River is teeming with trout. The water quality in the main river and all the streams that feed it have improved in the last 10 years. There has been a general decrease in the water temperatures of 6-8 degrees in all these waterways. The decrease in the temperatures has caused a "rebirth" of the native brook trout population to this area.
This stream in The Ocooch Mountains has a thriving population of Brook and Brown Trout
Due to the rebirth of the brook trout population there is a new arrival to the Ocooch Mountains.The streams in this area have native Tiger Trout now. This interspecies cross is unusual, in part because each fish belongs to a separate genus (Salvelinus for brook trout and Salmo for browns). It happens rarely in the wild, but can be (and is) easily performed by fisheries biologists or hatchery technicians. The tiger trout is a sterile hybrid cross between a female brown trout and a male brook trout. The fish exhibits unusual markings found in neither parent. Tiger trout are rare in the wild, appearing only in areas where brook and brown trout share spawning grounds.
This resident (Tiger Trout) of the Ocooch Mountains is very rare. Feel very fortunate if you land one of these beauties
The Ocooch Mountains are calling you. Take your fishing pole and your camera. You will need both of them.