Outdoors

Getting schooled fishing on the Maquoketa River

Wildside column: Learning lessons on catching bass

Fly fisherman Mike Jacobs of Monticello fights a smallmouth bass Aug. 27 on the Maquoketa River near Delhi. (Orlan Love/
Fly fisherman Mike Jacobs of Monticello fights a smallmouth bass Aug. 27 on the Maquoketa River near Delhi. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

I am used to getting out-fished unless I go by myself, but I have seldom been as thoroughly trounced as I was on a recent outing on the Maquoketa River.

My friend and fellow river wader Mike Jacobs of Monticello taught a graduate-level course in finesse fishing on an evening when the smallmouth bass were hard to catch.

Despite the many mechanical advantages enjoyed by me, a spin fisherman, Mike, a fly angler, caught at least four bass to my one.

While I cast a weighted lure that pulls my light line along behind it, Mike casts a weighted line that delivers a light lure to a specific target.

The art of launching a fly requires time-consuming preliminary back casts. To move it through the water in a drag-free manner persuasive to fish requires hand stripping of the line.

With a spinning rod I can cast farther and retrieve faster, enabling me to make at least two casts to Mike’s one, and with weighted lures I can effectively fish water too deep and swift for Mike’s light tackle.

You would think I would catch more fish than Mike, and I sometimes do, especially when the fish are feeding aggressively. But when the fish are sluggish, as they have been most of this summer and as they were on the evening of Aug. 27, it’s advantage Mike.

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Mike was casting a concave-faced Styrofoam popper with a single barbless hook and little wiggly legs — a lure so dainty I could never cast it with a spinning rod and 8-pound test line. Almost every time he twitched it, it seemed, a bass would sip it from the river’s surface.

Never one to call attention to himself, Mike fished intently but quietly, not once saying, “Hey, look, I got another one.”

But as engrossed as I was in my own futile efforts, I occasionally stole a glance at my companion, who was always fighting a fish or releasing one. During one of the many extensive lulls in my action, I watched Mike catch five bass on five casts without moving his feet.

Of course I tried to duplicate his pattern, tying on the only popper in my travel box, a heavy, hard plastic Rebel Pop-R with two treble hooks — a lure many times larger and more intimidating than Mike’s popper. It scared more of the timid fish than it caught.

As daylight faded, some of the bass got over their shyness, and I actually caught a few on a smaller top-water lure.

At the end of the evening, Mike had convincingly demonstrated fly fishing — invented to subtly present tiny lures to wary, surface feeding trout — can more than hold its own in 21st century bass fishing.

I appreciated the lesson and did not in the least mind that it had kind of come at my expense.

Mike and I don’t compete. We enjoy each other’s success. And in that sense I had spent a most enjoyable evening.

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