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Outdoors

A tale of 2 rivers, lots of bass

Wildside column: Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa offer different experience

The largest of 33 smallmouth bass caught Aug. 6 in the Maquoketa River awaits its release along the stream’s rocky bank. Fast action propelled the Maquoketa’s fun quotient to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
The largest of 33 smallmouth bass caught Aug. 6 in the Maquoketa River awaits its release along the stream’s rocky bank. Fast action propelled the Maquoketa’s fun quotient to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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During the recent dry spell, my two favorite rivers, the Wapsipinicon and Maquoketa, have fallen to wader-friendly levels, presenting an increasingly rare opportunity to fish both on successive days.

After fishing the Wapsi on Monday morning and the Maquoketa on Tuesday morning, I am happy to report both provided pleasant, if not spectacular, experiences — though the outings were markedly different.

While the Wapsi was so murky I couldn’t see my feet in knee-deep water, the Maquoketa was so clear I could see the flashing flanks of green-gold fish in the deepest pools.

Since smallmouth bass feed primarily by sight, the clarity differential probably contributed to my catching more bass in the Maquoketa than in the Wapsi.

Though I had not intended an experiment, I fished likely sections of both rivers for 2 1/2 hours with the same tackle and techniques.

Those one-time snapshots were of course far from scientific, but the equivalent efforts under nearly identical weather conditions enabled me to draw the following conclusion: If you want to catch a lot of bass, go to the Maquoketa; if you want to catch a big bass, go to the Wapsi.

During each outing, I deployed my three surest-fire bass detectors — an eighth-ounce jig dressed with a plastic paddle-tail minnow imitation, the Cotton Cordell Big O crankbait in brown and orange crayfish colors and the Strike King Mini Pro-Buzz Bait.

Anticipation turned to impatience Monday morning when it took more than 40 casts to catch my first bass.

After the crankbait whiffed, I replaced it with the jig and finally felt the forearm-tingling toink that triggers the brain’s loftiest pleasure center. The bass went airborne on the hookset, revealing a broad-backed brawler who doggedly resisted but finally succumbed to a sandbar photo opportunity.

The slow fishing persisted until it tapered to nothing when the sun climbed over the trees and drenched the river in brilliant sunlight. By then, I’d caught 11 bass, seven of which were at least 15 inches long. I left the river pleased with the proportion of big to small bass but disappointed at the number of fruitless casts between bites.

In the clear water of the Maquoketa on the following morning, the action was much faster, but the average size of the bass was much smaller.

There the crankbait was useless, its hooks fouling with moss on every other cast. The jig caught a couple of bass before a northern bit it off, to be replaced by the buzz bait, which proved to be a bass magnet.

The little 1/8 ounce buzzer caught 31 bass and attracted almost that many misses which, while not as exciting as a catch, are preferable to an unnoticed retrieve.

Of the 33 bass caught, four were at least 15 inches long, with the majority in the 9- to 12-inch range.

Despite its high percentage of larger bass, the Wapsi’s paucity of bites yielded a mediocre fun quotient of 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.

The Maquoketa, with its pretty water, fast action and occasional nice fish, rated an 8.

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Though neither river yielded the peak angler experience — lots of big bass — one or the other, or both, will if the dry spell continues.

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