Put-in off Old Stage Road

Nearby parking

Brushy launch area

View from bridge

Thick overhanging canopies to start

Many flowing pondweeds

W. Leedle Mill Road

Evidence of cleanup work

Some tree dodging but not jams

Hwy 138

Always a way through

An oak savanna

Current is always moving along

Large sand bank

Wildflowers on the banks

An unhealthy looking duck

Wild plumbs and berries

A visual representation of the current

You do need to stay on your toes

Does not look natural

Taking out by N. Casey Road

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Badfish Creek

Date Paddled: June 23rd, 2012
Put-in: Old Stone Rd.
Take-out: N. Casey Road
Distance: 7 Miles
Time: 3 hours 45 Minutes
Gradient: 6' per Mile
Water Level: Badfish Creek @ Cooksville 70 CFS (good depth)

This ‘creek’ is probably one of the best kayaking prospects in southern Wisconsin.  Quite large, the Badfish Creek should perhaps instead be referred to more accurately as Yahara West.  This was kayaked during the height of the 2012 drought, and we had little problems with navigation.  The key thing to know, of course, about this creek is that it gets a significant percentage of its water from Madison’s sewage plant (which uses elaborate canals to divert the discharge west of the Yahara before emptying into the Badfish.  Despite this…the Badfish is actually cosmetically extremely clean.  I don’t know if you would want to go swimming in it…and it is recommended to do any trips early in the morning so you are off the water by 2:00 (when Madison discharges their waste water).  But, despite this contradiction, the Badfish is one of the cleanest ‘rivers’ I’ve been on.  The bank quality is excellent and is probably due to the discharges, which keep water levels stable even during droughts.

One of the best things about the Badfish is the current.  It is quite swift, but never really dangerous for a competent kayaker.  There are many riffles that are fun to scoot through.  The banks tend to be varied…with diverse grass lands, oak savannas and forest corridors hugging the creek.  There were black raspberries and wild plum trees on the banks, which can provide snacks when in season.  Wildlife is decent in the area…we saw a doe and lots of insects (the good type–like dragonflies an damselflies–as opposed to mosquitoes/horse flies).  We saw a pretty sickly duck…and hope that wasn’t because of the water.  The pond weeds in the water are quite cool…you’ll have to see them for yourself.

The first section of the trip is probably the nicest.  You are swiftly propelled through a forest canopy and soon meet up with riffles.  You can see evidence of former log jams that other boaters have cleared away.  There is still some ‘head-ducking’ and sharp maneuvering here and there, but all in all, nothing that you have to get out of your boat for.  The Badfish then opens up a bit into more grassland…but soon returns to riffles and pockets of forest.  Near the end of the trip, it’s mostly grassland, but there are still occasional riffles.  I read reviews that described sandbars, but I didn’t really see any.

You can extend the trip by putting in earlier (see the map) but there are apparently a couple of serious log jams up there.  You can extend the trip after Casey Road (very popular) and take out on the Yahara…but I believe there might be some obstructions on this section (probably cleared out by now) and this section is not as scenic.  Again, don’t let the sewage references scare you away from this as it is very much worth doing.  Some reported smelling an odd chlorine smell…which we absolutely didn’t.  Then again we went early in the morning before the discharge…which we highly recommend.  On the subject…bathrooms are not to be found at either the main pick-up or take-out…so plan accordingly.  I believe if you want to split the trip in ‘half’ (the first half is better) you can possibly do so at Hwy 138 near Cooksville.

Editors Update — I received the following update from Dave concerning creek conditions:

I’ve paddled Badfish Creek dozens of times and assure you it is not just cosmetically clean. Since improvements were made in sewage treatment and disposal, the fish populations in Badfish have rebounded, which is why kingfishers and great blue herons are commonly seen.  

Other Badfish Creek Trips:

Starting upstream and working our way to the Yahara.

  • Hwy B to Rutland Dunn Town Line Road: (2.55 miles) A challenging section because of the steep put-in, low clearance bridge and log jams.
  • Rutland Dunn Town Line Road to Sunrise Road: (2.5 miles) A good prospect with one dam to portage.
  • Sunrise Road to Hwy 138: (1.37 miles) A good prospect with maybe a few jams, although Hwy 138 might not be a good access point.
  • Hwy 138 to Hwy A: (2.8 miles) A good prospect, but again Hwy 138 is very busy.
  • Hwy A to Old Stone Road: (1.55 miles) A good prospect.
  • Old Stone Road to Old Stage Road: (2.62 miles) Good stretch, but a lot of down trees to portage.
  • Old Stage Road to Hwy 138: (1.8 miles) Reviewed here.
  • Hwy 138 to North Casey Road: (5.04 miles) Reviewed here.
  • North Casey Road to Hwy 59 on the Yahara River: (2.54 miles) A good prospect, although I don’t think as good as the previous two section.

For a complete map overview of the Badfish and the rest of the Yahara River, click here.


View Badfish Creek in a larger map



19 Comments to “Badfish Creek”

  1. I’ve paddled Badfish Creek dozens of times and assure you it is not just cosmetically clean. Since improvements were made in sewage treatment and disposal, the fish populations in Badfish have rebounded, which is why kingfishers and great blue herons are commonly seen. Please update your review to reflect this more accurate state of affairs.

  2. Any idea what fish species are in here? Different fish in different sections? I live very close and enjoy the scenery on this creek. I’d love to wade and fish it. Thanks!

  3. Has anyone gone through Badfish creek this early in the season (Spring 2015)? Trying to figure out if the creek is clear or if portaging is necessary.

  4. Can people rent canoe/kayak for these creek trips or do we need to have our own equipment?


    1. Hi Dan,

      I haven’t heard anybody doing this but think it would be possible…especially a shorter canoe in lower water.

    2. I’ve used my Mad River solo on this stretch, plus other sections many times over the years. Love it. Just enough of a challenge.

  5. Aaron,

    The Badfish is great with a canoe, there is always enough water, but you will have to be good at controlling the boat
    to avoid obstacles and shallow spots.

  6. I did this today, and really enjoyed it. It was challenging (as noted in the report: swift current, some shallow areas, light rapids and sharp turns) but a good skill builder. And there’s a wooden ladder at the take out–how cool is that!!

  7. I did this today & enjoyed the challenge of swift current with light rapids. It took me just over 2 hours. The 5 mile bike shuttle on country roads was fine. And at the take out, there is a wooden ladder–how cool is that?!

    1. Oops, sorry for the duplicate posting. I didn’t think the first one went through as I messed up on the “I am not a robot” verification

  8. Caution: Always check the USGS gauge to see how fast Badfish is flowing.
    Normal summer flow is 100-150 cfs. At 200 cfs it starts getting to be fun. I paddled it once at 525 cfs and I needed every tool in my toolbox, in particular the backferry, to keep from getting slammed into the banks. At that level I’d say it was a solid Class II. Lots of fun, but if you don’t have basic whitewater skills paddle the Yahara instead.

How did your trip turn out? Questions? Comments? Or just say hi.

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