It smelled fishy Tuesday as I walked from my pickup to the Maquoketa River.
Not the persistent hand-slimed reminder of a recently caught northern or cisco nor the stench that sometimes hovers over a busy fish-cleaning station or surrounds a half-rotted carp washed up on the riverbank.
This, coming off the river and held close by dense muggy air, carried the promise of fish to be caught.
At first sight, the river looked fishy too, with splashing bass in pursuit of minnows boiling to the surface — perfect for the mini-buzz bait already tied to the end of my line.
Four of my first five casts ended in the release of a smallmouth bass, and on the fifth retrieve, a bass tried twice to get it but failed.
Before I moved my feet I’d caught eight bass and had at least that many misses, which are almost as fun as catches with a top-water lure.
Following similar action at the next two pools downstream, I had caught a couple of dozen bass, all in the 8- to 12-inch range that my longtime fishing buddy Mike Jacobs of Monticello describes as “fun-size.”
While always welcome for their willing and ferocious strikes, fun-size bass lack the heft and might to mount a memorable resistance to capture.
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Fun size is fine when you’re handing out Snickers on Halloween, but most anglers like to catch the occasional king or queen.
Toward that end I tied on a reliable big bass lure, the Whopper Plopper, which presents a larger target and creates much more disturbance as it choogles across the river’s surface.
The Plopper, with its two large treble hooks, only made it more difficult to unhook and release the fun sizers that struck it on every cast.
Since the calendar said “smallmouth spawn time,” I theorized the big bass were all off laying eggs somewhere I did not know about.
So I went somewhere I do know about, the Wapsipinicon near Quasqueton, and caught some grown-up bass.
Lying close to a bank washed with modest current, the bass struck a jig tipped with a plastic grub almost daintily, but their reaction when they felt the hook bespoke giant economy size.
In 10 minutes I caught and released four of them and sniffed my fragrant hands all the way home.