116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As an angler who mostly wades rivers, sometimes walking and wading several miles in a single outing, it behooves me to travel light.
Besides my spinning rod, which is always in hand unless I put it down to release or photograph a fish, all my other essentials are either stuffed high and dry into the top of my waders or, in the case of my scissors and forceps, hung from a lanyard around my neck.
To record a fish worth remembering, I stuff my cellphone/camera into a front jeans pocket, where it’s hard to retrieve but more or less protected when I trip over an unseen log in one of my semiannual face plants.
I don’t carry water or insect repellent, though I will, before entering the river in the hottest, buggiest parts of the season, drink heartily and spray my hat and any other articles of clothing outside my waders’ protection.
If you took everything it would be nice to have, you would not have room for what you need, which is a selection of lures to cover all the likely scenarios.
Over many years of trial and error and recommendations, the lures I carry have evolved, but they still fall into three main categories: jigs tipped with plastics, topwaters and crankbaits.
When I first started seriously targeting smallmouth bass, I relied heavily on crankbaits. Though my collection included many brands, my go-to lure was the Cotton Cordell Big O, the two-inch model in brown and orange crayfish colors. I once owned more than 100 of that exact model, purchased in an irrational fear that the now 50-year-old lure would no longer be made.
The shallow-running square-bill is less snag-prone than deeper-diving models — a trait well suited for the rivers of Eastern Iowa — and its near-frenzied vibration as it moves through the water attracts game fish.
Though I still carry them, they are now my last resort because of their treble hooks, which in the act of removing them from the fish’s mouth greatly increase the chance of injuring the fish or myself. Removing them with the care required can also be frustratingly slow when the fish are eager to be caught.
The crankbaits are now reserved for emergencies, which arise when jigs and topwaters fail or when the river is too high and swift to effectively present them.
I used to shy away from jigs because they seemed to snag too easily and often in the rocky bottomed river stretches where the fish live. That, I later learned, was because my jigs were too heavy. I have since switched to light tungsten jigs, which when retrieved downstream with the current, seem to skim the bottom, nicking the rocks without lodging in them. Trimmed with soft, lifelike plastic representations of minnows, worms and crayfish, jigs appeal to the predatory instincts of game fish, and are now my preferred way to catch them.
Among the hundreds of soft plastic lures available today, the three that I won’t go fishing without are the Keitech Easy Shiner three-inch minnow, the Berkley PowerBait four-inch grub in green pumpkin and the Luck-E-Strike four-inch purple and blue ring worm. If fish won’t bite any of the three, it’s time to mow the lawn.
I like the feel of a fish striking a tungsten jig and in fact hanker for it as I write this. Transmitted through braided line and a graphite rod, it comes across as a mild electrical impulse that somehow registers in your brain as a sound. When you feel and hear that toink, you don’t need to think about setting the hook.
The art of river fishing with a jig or crankbait is presenting it as close to the bottom as you can without snagging it on the bottom. With a topwater lure, you don’t have to worry about that. Plus topwater strikes, which can be seen and heard as well as felt, are as exciting as fishing gets.
For many years I fished under the misapprehension that topwaters, which select for bigger fish, were effective only in low light conditions in the heat of summer. I have since learned that bass will strike them in the spring and fall, as well as in summer, and at any time during the day. I also have learned I don’t need all those big plastic boxes full of big plastic poppers and propeller baits gathering dust in my basement. For the past several years I have relied almost exclusively on the comparatively tiny and inexpensive Strike King Mini-Pro Buzz.
The Mini-Pro Buzz casts great distances with ease. It seldom fouls and can’t be snagged unless you throw it in the trees. Its single hook simplifies catch and release. Though fish generally slurp it from the surface, at times they attack it with startling viciousness.
Notwithstanding that good anglers tell me that a jig tipped with a minnow or half a nightcrawler will often out-fish a jig tipped with a plastic imitation, I never carry live bait. It’s too bulky and troublesome for a light traveler.