116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you've fished much, you've either said or heard it said after an unproductive day on the water, 'That's why they call it fishing and not catching.”
During the first week of open water in the false spring of 2021, it has been the other way round for me: catching fish with very little actual fishing.
By my definition, at least, fishing entails a search to discover both the location of the fish and a lure presentation that will deceive them into striking. Successful fishing yields not only the excitement of the catch but also the satisfaction of solving a puzzle.
But typical March river conditions - high, swift, dirty water - limit such searches. Swollen with snow melt, the river affords few spots amenable to fishing, and those spots are so confined that a few casts exhausts their possibilities.
So, rather than 'fishing,” the exercise consists of spending a few minutes checking a few spots several times a day. The fish are either there or they're not; they either bite or they don't. It's shore dabbling, not fishing.
My shore dabbling began March 8 when the ice went out of the Wapsipinicon River above the rock arch rapids in Quasqueton - for me, one of the surest and most welcome signs of spring.
On March 10 I got my first bite of the open water season. It was so faint I barely felt it and even then was not sure it wasn't just my tungsten jig bumping a submerged rock.
Following my indecisive hookset a decidedly golden-yellow fish rolled to the surface and freed itself, leaving me with the impression I had hooked a common carp - which, in my limited understanding of aquatic animals, was the only such pigmented species of fish residing in the Wapsipinicon River.
A few hours later, I threw the same lure into the same spot and hooked and landed a predominantly yellow smallmouth bass - my first fish of the open water season and an addition to my limited understanding of aquatic species.
Having caught thousands of smallmouth bass, I know their coloration can change to suit their moods and surroundings; that their complexion can range from green to bronze to brown and even black; and that their normally dark eyes can at times evince a malevolent red.
But, while I had seen yellowish smallmouth in other bodies of water, I had not until March 10 seen one in the Wapsie.
On March 11, throwing the same minnow imitation in the same spot, I hooked and lost another large yellow smallmouth bass, and on March 13, again in the same spot, I caught my second large yellow smallmouth bass of the season and of my life.
Since yellow smallmouth have been so rare in my experience, and since all four contacts were with a large fish in the same spot, I assume it was always the same fish.
Once I caught a large smallmouth with a distinctive deformation of its back - the result, I presumed, of a long-ago northern attack. After I released it, I paused long enough to regain control of my excited nerves, which also was long enough, apparently, for the hump-backed bass to return to its previous ambush spot, where I caught it again on my next cast.
That experience, coupled with my recent repeated contacts with the yellow bass, suggest either bass have short memories or my lure presentations are too realistic for even a sore-mouthed bass to resist. I am going with the former.
In either case, the opportunity to catch the same big bass more than once underscores for me the value of catch-and-release angling.
I will not be surprised if I catch the yellow bass yet again before the end of shore dabbling season, which has reinforced my belief that catching without fishing, while not wholly satisfactory, beats fishing without catching.