116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ROWLEYS BAY, Wis. — In my extensive experience, the 5-pound smallmouth bass is almost a mythical creature.
In more than 60 years’ pursuit of them in Iowa rivers, I have seen two — one when Department of Natural Resources fisheries personnel conducted an electroshock survey on the Maquoketa River and another jumping to freedom in the Mississippi River from a lure wielded by a dejected Dave Patterson of Atkins.
On July 6, during a three-day visit to the waters surrounding Door County, I saw a third in the hands of my son, Fred Love of Ames.
We fished with Lonney Gorman of Sturgeon Bay in his 22-foot deep-V-hulled Ranger powered by a 400-horse Mercury outboard — a safe and comfortable vessel well suited to handle the, at times, rough waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Surrounded by those cool waters, the Door County peninsula has a refreshing microclimate that during the first week of July featured mid-70s afternoon high temperatures and cross-water morning breezes that made me glad I’d thought to bring long underwear.
We started our quest for big smallmouth at Rowleys Bay, a shallow, mostly rock bottomed inlet of Lake Michigan.
With our first mate, Nate Roberts of Green Bay, standing in the bow, we slowly cruised the shallows on the bay’s north side, spotting bass in the lake’s aquarium-clear water.
Around noon, a fish bit the tube jig Fred was dragging across the bottom. When it went airborne we could tell it was a big smallmouth. That writhing, vibrating leap was the last we saw of it for a while, but it was enough to prompt Lonnie, our guide, to go live on Facebook with the encounter.
As the battle raged, we could hear Lonnie’s play by play: “We’re hooked up. We got Fred hooked up. Boy that smallmouth has got a lot of power.”
Lonney’s tackle — a MAGS graphite rod and a Daiwa Ballistic spinning reel spooled with braided line ending in a fluorocarbon leader — got thoroughly tested as the bass used its considerable heft and boundless energy to resist capture.
At one point it appeared the bass would succeed when it tangled the line in an underwater ladder affixed to the rear of the boat.
Shortly after the line came free, however, Nate netted the fish, and Lonney concluded his Facebook Live broadcast with the words: “Oh ho ho ho! That is a monster. That is an absolute giant smallmouth.”
Lonney weighed and measured the fish and declared it a 20.5-inch 5 pounder. After a few fist bumps and photographs, the fish was returned to the lake, where, to our horror, it lay gasping on its side, unable to swim away.
The shine of a happy occasion would be greatly tarnished if the catching of a memorable fish resulted in that fish’s death.
But Nate, the first mate, knew exactly what to do. He filled the live well with cool lake water and injected oxygen into it. He then held the fish upright and moved her gently forward through the oxygenated water for several minutes until he was satisfied that she had regained her strength and vitality.
Back in the lake, she thrashed her powerful tail and dove for the bottom as Nate released her.