South Fork Bad Axe, Bad Axe River Watershed (BL02)
South Fork Bad Axe, Bad Axe River Watershed (BL02)
South Fork Bad Axe River (1639900)
22.03 Miles
0 - 22.03
Natural Community
Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results that use predicted flow and temperature based on landscape features and related assumptions. Ranges of flow and temperature associated with specific aquatic life communities (fish, macroinvertebrates) help biologists identify appropriate resource management goals. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.
Coldwater, Cool-Cold Headwater, Cool-Cold Mainstem
Year Last Monitored
This is the most recent date of water monitoring stored in the SWIMS system. Additional surveys for fish and habitat may be available subsequent to this date.
Trout Water 
Trout Waters are represented by Class I, Class II or Class III waters. These classes have specific ecological characteristics and management actions associated with them. For more information regarding Trout Classifications, see the Fisheries Trout Class Webpages.
Outstanding or Exceptional 
Wisconsin has designated many of the state's highest quality waters as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) or Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). Waters designated as ORW or ERW are surface waters which provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality, and are not significantly impacted by human activities. ORW and ERW status identifies waters that the State of Wisconsin has determined warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. These designations are intended to meet federal Clean Water Act obligations requiring Wisconsin to adopt an 'antidegradation' policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality - especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value.
Impaired Water 
A water is polluted or 'impaired' if it does not support full use by humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life and it is shown that one or more of the pollutant criteria are not met.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Current Use
The use the water currently supports. This is not a designation or classification; it is based on the current condition of the water. Information in this column is not designed for, and should not be used for, regulatory purposes.
Class III Trout
Streams capable of supporting a seasonal coldwater sport fishery and which may be managed as coldwater streams.
Attainable Use
The use that the investigator believes the water could achieve through managing "controllable" sources. Beaver dams, hydroelectric dams, low gradient streams, and naturally occurring low flows are generally not considered controllable. The attainable use may be the same as the current use or it may be higher.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
Designated Use
This is the water classification legally recognized by NR102 and NR104, Wis. Adm. Code. The classification determines water quality criteria and effluent limits. Waters obtain designated uses through classification procedures.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.


The South Fork of the Bad Axe River, located in southwestern Vernon County, flows in a westerly direction for approximately 18.5 miles before joining the North Fork to create the Bad Axe River. It has a slight gradient of 20 feet per mile and drains steep agricultural, pasture, and wooded land. The uppermost 1.5 miles is also known as South Bottom Creek, where a dry flood control dam traverses the stream. This structure allows normal stream flows through, but only temporarily impounds water during rain events then slowly releases it over time. A wet flood control structure which creates Sidie Hollow Lake is located just north of the dry dam on Coe Hollow and Sidie Hollow Creeks. Both structures were built in the 1960's to reduce the effects of flash flooding, common in the hilly terrain of the driftless area.

The South Fork Bad Axe River is a Class III trout stream for its entire length. The stretch of stream above the dry dam has minimal habitat for trout due to high flows during rain events.

Fish and habitat surveys, conducted between 1991 to 1994, documented a predominately sand bottom, varying abundance of aquatic vegetation and lack of undercut banks, all which provided little habitat for trout. Streambank erosion due to pasturing of livestock and high water during spring also decreased in-stream habitat quality. Brown and brook trout, smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed, burbot and a wide variety of forage fish were collected during these surveys. The reduction of streambank erosion caused by grazing livestock would improve in-stream habitat for the South Fork of the Bad Axe River fishery. The South Fork has been stocked by WDNR since 1960 with brown trout and occasionally brook trout, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. Numerous road crossings provide access to the river.

From: Koperski, Cindy. 2002. The State of the Bad Axe - La Crosse River Basin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI

Date  2002

Author  Cynthia Koperski

Historical Description

Bad Axe River, South Fork, T12N, R7W, Section 12. Surface Acres = 43.7, Miles = 18.5, Gradient = 20.4 feet per m1le.
Flowing in a general westerly direction, this clear, hard water stream joins the North Fork south of Romance. That portion of the stream above the junction of Coe Hollow Creek and heading in Section 11 is sometimes known as South Bottom Creek. From Purdy upstream, the river is Class III brown trout watero The remainder of the South Fork is considered smallmouth bass water. Other fish species include sauger, white crappie, black bullhead, carp, and several minnow and other forage species. During the winter aerial groundwater survey, open water was observed from Purdy upstream to the junction of
Hornby Creek, and scattered open water areas from there upstream along the South Fork. Sand is the dominant bottom type, with some rubble and gravel along with small amounts of silt, boulder, clay, and detritus. Several road crossings provide access. Wildlife includes beaver, muskrat, and nesting mallards. teal, and wood ducks. Migrant diving and dabbler ducks also use the river.

From: Klick, Thomas A. and Threinen, C.W. 1973. Lake and Stream Classification Project. Surface Water Resources of Vernon County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1973

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

South Fork Bad Axe, Bad Axe River Watershed (BL02) Fish and Aquatic LifeSouth Fork Bad Axe, Bad Axe River Watershed (BL02) RecreationSouth Fork Bad Axe, Bad Axe River Watershed (BL02) Fish Consumption

General Condition

The South Fork of the Bad Axe River was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new biological (fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scores) sample data were clearly below the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water was meeting this designated use and was not considered impaired.

Date  2017

Author  Ashley Beranek


Wisconsin has over 84,000 miles of streams, 15,000 lakes and milllions of acres of wetlands. Assessing the condition of this vast amount of water is challenging. The state's water monitoring program uses a media-based, cross-program approach to analyze water condition. An updated monitoring strategy (2015-2020) is now available.

Compliance with Clean Water Act fishable, swimmable standards are located in the Executive Summary of Water Condition in 2016 . See also 'monitoring' and 'projects'.



Control Streambank Erosion
The South Fork of the Bad Axe River fishery would benefit from the reduction of streambank erosion.

Management Goals

Wisconsin's Water Quality Standards provide qualitative and quantitative goals for waters that are protective of Fishable, Swimmable conditions [Learn more]. Waters that do not meet water quality standards are considered impaired and restoration actions are planned and carried out until the water is once again fishable and swimmable

Management goals can include creation or implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load analysis, a Nine Key Element Plan, or other restoration work, education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below online.


Monitoring the condition of a river, stream, or lake includes gathering physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data. Comprehensive studies often gather all these parameters in great detail, while lighter assessment events will involve sampling physical, chemical and biological data such as macroinvertebrates. Aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish communities integrate watershed or catchment condition, providing great insight into overall ecosystem health. Chemical and habitat parameters tell researchers more about human induced problems including contaminated runoff, point source dischargers, or habitat issues that foster or limit the potential of aquatic communities to thrive in a given area. Wisconsin's Water Monitoring Strategy was recenty updated.

Grants and Management Projects

Monitoring Projects

Watershed Characteristics

South Fork Bad Axe is located in the Bad Axe River watershed which is 195.49 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (40%), agricultural (29.60%) and a mix of grassland (24.60%) and other uses (5.80%). This watershed has 468.27 stream miles, 489.81 lake acres and 2,552.28 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked High for runoff impacts on streams, Not Ranked for runoff impacts on lakes and Low for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of Low. This value can be used in ranking the watershed or individual waterbodies for grant funding under state and county programs.However, all waters are affected by diffuse pollutant sources regardless of initial water quality. Applications for specific runoff projects under state or county grant programs may be pursued. For more information, go to surface water program grants.

Natural Community

South Fork Bad Axe River is considered a Coldwater, Cool-Cold Headwater, Cool-Cold Mainstem under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model resultsand DNR staff valiation processes that confirm or update predicted conditions based on flow and temperature modeling from historic and current landscape features and related variables. Predicated flow and temperatures for waters are associated predicated fish assemblages (communities). Biologists evaluate the model results against current survey data to determine if the modeled results are corect and whether biological indicators show water quaity degradation. This analysis is a core component of the state's resource management framework. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Mainstem streams are moderate-to-large but still wadeable perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon, transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are common to absent, mainstem species are abundant to common, and river species are common to absent.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Headwaters are small, usually perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon (<10 per 100 m), transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are abundant to common, mainstem species are common to absent, and river species are absent.