Sunday, January 13, 2008

Interview with Mat Wagner of the Driftless Angler

Mat Wagner runs an excellent fly shop in Viroqua, WI called the Driftless Angler. As you surmise from the shop’s name, it sits planted in the middle of the “driftless area” of Wisconsin, home to myriad spring creeks and a host of brook trout. Mat was kind enough to answer a few questions this off season. The Driftless Angler Fly shop is located at 106 S. Main in Viroqua, WI 54665. You can reach the shop at (608) 637-8779. Its hours are as follows: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM Friday and Saturday and 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM Sunday. Trout Fishing Western Wisconsin thanks Mat Wagner for his help.

TFWW: It’s been said that the curse of owning a fishing shop is that you never have time to fish. How often are you able to tear yourself away from the shop and wet a line?

Mat: It is true that fly shop owners do not get much time to fish during the day, however we do get to fish at prime times, first and last light if we plan accordingly. I usually get out to wet a line at least 3-4 times a week. Not full days, but a couple hours each time. Enough to keep me from twitching while listening to how good the fishing is from customers.

TFWW: Viroqua finds itself situated among some pretty great trout waters. What’s your favorite stream of the driftless area and why?

Mat: I love the tiny streams that look like trickles most of the year, but if you time them right can be phenomenal fisheries. Anywhere that I can pull trout out of a tiny waterway is special to me. Out of the big named waters, I am partial to the Timber Coulee system not only for its reliability, but for the variety with the main branch and all the tributaries.

TFWW: Much has been written and talked about concerning the floods that hit southern Wisconsin last year. What’s your take on the impact these floods had and will have in the future?

Mat: Floods are an overall positive thing. Mother Nature flushing the toilet, really. The flood cleaned out a bunch of sand and silt, re-carved the bottom and created incredible spawning habitat and insect habitat that may not be immediately evident to the angler, but within the next few seasons it will!

TFWW: What’s been the best selling fly at the Driftless Angler over the past few years and is there a fly that you recommend that often gets overlooked?

Mat: Too many anglers overlook midge pupae. Our spring creeks are LOADED with midges and they can be an incredibly effective pattern when fish are fussy or just do not seem to be feeding. The best selling fly is easily John Bethke's pink squirrel. One of the 'magic' flies that seems to represent everything and that fish love.

TFWW: How did you personally get started fly fishing?

Mat: I started fly tying before fishing. I was 13 and bored so I took a fly tying class at a fly shop near my house and was hooked after that. Luckily a good childhood friend of mine loved to fish so we spent a good deal of time on the creek just down from our houses catching trout.

TFWW: What would you consider the specialty of the Driftless Angler? What sets it apart from other fly shops?

Mat: What sets us apart is that we focus on information. We are not the style of shop that looks down on people if they do not have the 'cool' gear or ask questions we have answered a million times already. We want people to be out and fish and enjoy it as much as we do and will do our best to keep up to date on exactly what is happening in the area and share that information freely with everyone.

TFWW: What percentage of the shop’s business is devoted to its guide service?

Mat: I'd say we under emphasize our guide service right now. There is myself and a couple of part time guides who take people out, as well as working with local established guides. This being our second year, we will push the guiding and teaching services a bit more.

TFWW: Why do you do what you do?

Mat: I do what I do because I love what I do. I get paid to fish and take people fishing, what can be better than that?

TFWW: Do you think that trout streams in the driftless area are improving? What can be done to do more to improve these streams?

Mat: I know trout streams in the area are improving and continue to improve. I think the biggest hurdle to the streams in our area is to educate the public as to what we actually have here. I have talked to too many local people that never realized what a unique fishery they have out their back door.

TFWW: What are your best selling products at the Driftless Angler?

Mat: We're a fly shop and we carry lots of flies for the area. We work hard to integrate local patterns and ideas into our fly bin so that everyone can find something cool or different and catch fish on it! We're a destination fly shop, so what we sell the most of is what people need on stream, flies leader tippet tools etc. We have also received many compliments on our logo and have sold a few T-shirts with the bug on them too!