116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Much of the time when I appear to be fishing alone, I am not.
Often I am in the company of fish-eating birds such as herons and kingfishers and, on rarer and more delightful occasions, ospreys and eagles.
Until earlier this month, however, I had never fished with the same bird day in and day out for nearly a week.
Starting May 10 with the record heat wave that popped corn seed and mushrooms out of the ground and stimulated the procreant urge in smallmouth bass, the fishing got really good.
No matter how many times a day I visited my spot, the bass were always there, and so was the bird, seemingly so obsessed with its own relentless fishing that it did not seem to notice me.
The bird had me flummoxed for a while. In attempts to identify it, I Googled “Iowa water bird” and got photos of rails, grebes, snipes, herons, coots, cormorants, pelicans and other less common avian residents of Iowa waters — none of which matched the image of my fishing companion.
There was something familiar about its S-shaped neck, its stiletto beak and its propensity to spend 90 percent of its time under water — something I should have recognized from Minnesota fishing trips — but I could not put my finger on it until a friend identified it as an immature loon.
We don’t see many loons around my hometown. With their affinity for clear water, which enhances their ability to catch the fish that sustain them, loons have largely disappeared from breeding sites in ag-intensive Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. They remain common in the clearer waters of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, where their distinctive tremolo call is the soundtrack for “up north” living.
For whatever reason, perhaps because there probably was not another loon within 100 miles, my fishing companion remained silent. Nor did it ever fly, preferring to spend almost all of its waking hours under water.
Whenever it surfaced, it remained topside for only a few seconds, frustrating my repeated attempts to photograph it. By the time I set my fishing rod down and retrieved my phone/camera from my pocket, it was gone again.
As a last resort, I reluctantly set aside my red-hot spinning rod and stood with phone in hand, waiting for the loon to reappear. After numerous foiled attempts, with the loon repeatedly surfacing 50 or more yards away, it finally popped within range of my camera.
We then both went back to our fishing — the loon gorging on the minnows that attracted the smallmouth bass that could not leave the fake minnows on my jigs alone.
I still can’t believe how good the fishing was. On May 10 — a day when my attention was divided among fishing, hunting mushrooms and planting a garden — I caught 51 smallmouth, mostly strapping adults, in a combined two hours of fishing.
Between 10:25 and 10:52 a.m. I caught seven “picture fish,” bass at least 16 inches long. Later that same day I caught four more picture fish between 3:43 and 3:56 p.m. I sometimes wonder how many more I might have caught if I had not stopped to take their pictures.
Only slightly less torrid fishing continued through May 15, the last day I saw the loon. I was sad to see it leave, not just because I enjoyed its company but also because I knew that its departure signaled an end to a memorable week of fishing.