116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Well of course it was the fish, more than anything else, that lured me up the river on 17 of the 30 days from Sept. 8 to Oct. 7.
As good as the fishing was, however, there were plenty of other attractions during the first half of meteorological autumn, not the least of which was the sparkling clear water. Thanks to a nearly rainless September and early October, the Wapsie flows lower and clearer than it has at any time since the drought of 2012.
There also was the solitude. During those 17 days, I saw one motorized boat, two kayaks and a bank fisherman. The only unnatural sounds were the hum of a distant grain dryer and a faint goose hunters’ volley. The only boot marks on the banks matched the treads of my waders and those of friend Mike Jacobs, who accompanied me on an outing.
While few boats can navigate the extensive sand-bottomed shallows between the deeper holes where the fish live, an angler in chest waders finds travel, both in the water and on the extensive rock and sandbars, easy and at times even fun.
Wildlife tracks on the sandbars provide a welcome distraction from what otherwise would be a one-foot-after-the-other trudge. Hints of riverbank life can be discerned in the hand-like prints of the raccoon, the deep hoof marks of the deer, the dainty, river’s edge tracks of the killdeer and the imposing impressions left by a heron that could as well have been christened “big-footed” as “great blue.”
The tracking gets even better when you cross the river from one sandbar to another. The shallow, transparent water discloses the distinctive trails left behind by the slow-moving, single-footed mussels, which, unhidden by murky water, prove to be more plentiful than you ever imagined.
Riverbank vegetation marked autumn’s progression as the hardwoods on the bluffs, green as grass on Sept. 8, cast yellow and orange reflections on the river’s surface by Oct. 7. A lone cardinal flower, in full bloom on Sept. 8, dropped its last brilliant petal on Oct. 6.
Fall’s progression also could be seen in the fishes’ behavior.
The shorter days and cooler nights gradually lowered the river’s temperature, chilling the metabolism and fouling the mood of the smallmouth bass, making them harder to catch.
In 30 days, frequent, crisp, decisive and unmistakable bites became rare, feeble, indifferent and barely detectable.
Meanwhile, the cooling water had the opposite effect on walleyes and northerns, stimulating an almost reckless feeding binge that made them easy to catch.
Transmitted through a graphite rod, light braided line and a tungsten jig, their aggressive bites jarred the forearm, triggering involuntary hooksets that seldom missed.
You can tell you’re catching a lot of walleyes when your fingertips, from frequent contact with the fishes’ abrasive scales, cling like Velcro to the fabric of your shirt.
When the fishing’s tough, many anglers try every lure in their box to find one that works. With the voracious walleyes this fall, I searched mine — unsuccessfully — for one that wouldn’t.
On several occasions I walked away from biting walleyes in search of the elusive smallmouth — irrational behavior that I almost certainly will regret when ice ends the memorable fall fishing of 2022.