Outdoors

Floating and fishing with a steady bite

Wildside column: When do you move on?

Fly fisherman Doug Nauman of Anamosa plays a smallmouth bass last Sunday (9-27) during a float trip on a northeast Iowa
Fly fisherman Doug Nauman of Anamosa plays a smallmouth bass last Sunday (9-27) during a float trip on a northeast Iowa stream. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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Most anglers don’t like to leave a spot until the fish have stopped biting, which is seldom a problem since they almost always quit biting before an angler tires of catching them.

Either there aren’t that many to begin with, or you catch a few and the disturbance spooks the rest of them and you move on to the next spot.

But not during a northeast Iowa float last Sunday, when Mike Jacobs of Monticello, Doug Nauman of Anamosa and I, despite the application of intense angling pressure, could not make the fish stop biting.

Up in the state’s driftless region, where roadside signs warn of sharp curves, steep grades, falling rocks and reckless deer, the three of us caught at least 100 bass during a leisurely mile and a half float trip from one bridge to the next.

On a day with an 80 percent chance of rain, we picked that relatively short stretch so we could paddle out in a hurry in the event of a storm. Though our raincoats and waders rendered us more or less waterproof, nothing could make us lightning proof.

The stretch consisted of a few deeper pools connected by rock bottom runs and rapids.

With its clean water, modest current, adequate depth and rocky substrate, it all looked fishy.

And on a calm, drizzly day, with no wind to interfere with accurate casts or penetrating sun to elevate the fishes’ caution, the action was so brisk it took us nearly five hours to cover a section that could have been paddled in a half-hour without really hurrying.

Though the three of us were nominally together, we soon spread out, each fishing the same water in sequence.

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Under such an arrangement, we would typically alternate the lead, as the odds would favor the first angler in each hole. But that was not necessary last Sunday, when the bass greeted the offerings of the last angler as eagerly as they had those of the first.

I realized the day was going to be special early in the outing when the three of us, with me in the lead, all caught several smallmouth in the section’s first lengthy run. After Mike and Doug had passed me, I waded back to the top of the run and caught seven more on barely more than that many casts.

I considered staying there until the bass stopped biting but did not want to risk getting too far behind by companions in case we had to leave in a hurry.

In another run, a little farther along, with Doug in the lead, Mike suggested we might want to pick up the pace since the radar on his phone indicated the approach of more intense weather.

You might as well relax and catch another fish, I told him, since our pace setter apparently has to stop every other minute to land another bass.

The three of us caught one bass after another on the last run before we exited the river. While trailing the other two, I parked my boat halfway down the run and waded back to the top to see if our combined pressure had blunted the fishes’ enthusiasm. It had not. I actually caught more on fewer casts the second time through.

With the arrival of the radar-indicated heavier rain, we left the river wondering what it would have taken to make those fish quit biting.

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