Iowa Fly Fisher

 Yes, fly fishing in Iowa 


Hard times on the Mississippi/Driftless

Posted on July 30, 2017 at 1:15 AM

Though I eyeballed Spring Lake (a big waterfowl refuge on the Mississippi) many times on Googe-Maps with so many good fishing venues between Des Moines, Iowa and Savanna, Illinois I never actually made it there, before now - with every river on the eastern side of the state running high and dirty - this time it was Spring Lake or bust. The Wapsipinnicon overflowed its banks wherever I crossed it, the Iowa and Cedar - barely contained, the mighty Mississippi also up, not looking good around Sabula. The Plum river at Savanna, out of its banks, but just over the dike, Spring lake lay crystal clear. Granted it's a shallow waterfowl pond and a light wind could muddy it, but for the dense weeds. Lots of lotus, but plenty of other areas with plants more easily fished through.

The Cermele Slop Buster performed really well - of course, the fully emerged lotus (top image) is impenetrable, and unfishable, but it crawled right over everything else, however no fish struck it.  I saw a bass follow and a big shortnose gar covered with black spots swam under it  - everywhere and at all times schools of baby bass and panfish scattered from the boat. Parralleling a dike separating the large lake from several ponds, I reached the control point and climbed up the dike.  Water flow from 2 ponds under 2 bridges into a central channel then through the control point into the main lake.,-90.1394829,1579m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

At the bridge on the left, an opening with a school of bass - some of them FishnDave style big - and 4 or 5 big bowfin.  Shivering with excitement, I cast the Slop Buster and every fish fled in terror.  Ahhh - so these are educated fish in gin clear water, Plan A was out the window. To make a long story shorter, I caught several small bass (and the clarity must be good most of the year because all these bass were so dark green their backs were nearly black) on a V-tie (natural looking) shad pattern with heavy weed guards.  Between that evening and the next morning, 3 bowfin struck flies and they all shook free after a brief, violent thrashing.  Was it me? setting the hook too soon, maybe? - I don't know, I tried striking to the side, and various fly styles.  I thought about it in the tent all night, but had no answer.

Camping on the Mississippi is not good.  The Mississippi "Gorge" begins just north of Savanna and I camped at Mississippi Pallisades park, more spread out and quieter than Bulger's Hollow and some of the other places I've camped along the river, but no matter where it's throw up the tent as fast as possible and get inside before the mosquitos drain the last drop of blood from your veins, and then come the trains, every hour, all night long. Whichever side of the river, you're so close to the railroad tracks the ground shakes and of course they blow the horn at every road crossing.

I don't recommend camping on the Mississippi, but i would recommend Spring Lake in spite of the challenges, spooky fish, clear water, and choked with weeds, but it is the ideal Mississippi backwater experience.  Fly fishing doesn't seem as out of place as elsewhere on the Mississippi.  Spring could be good, depending on conditions, I think all the weed-spawners, like pike, gar, largemouth bass, bowfin, and panfish spawn there.  Early summer as preemergent weeds clear and settle the water is probably best.  Late summer is tough, but I came closer to landing a bowfin on fly than I have in years around Lake Odessa, and Princeton WMA and all the other places I've tried for them.  In those places bowfin feed by following scent trails in the water, but by sight in Spring Lake - with only the fin rippling, cruising through the vegetation, eyeballing flies and small bass so curiously, they don't seem capable of that sudden blast of power, but believe me it's there.

Back in Iowa, I checked out the Green Island complex,-90.3055105,123m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en - a lot more like you'd expect (dirty and full of duckweed), but with bowfin rising every few minutes I had to try the Slop Buster again - still no luck.

Went up to Big Mill creek, everywhere I saw evidence of recent and quite severe flooding.  Even bank collapse in a few places too, but there were a few stocked rainbows and some striped shiners, green sunfish and such.  Again my hooked to landed ratio was less than stellar, but the 12' 3 wt. which I shortened to 10 ft. worked well with several different techniques and it let me stand further off the creek and still mend.  Only in one place with a couple large overhanging branches did I want a shorter rod.



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1 Comment

Reply FishnDave
11:45 AM on July 31, 2017 
Nice! Bowfin are still on my flyrod bucket list, that's cool you at least got some strikes and hookups! And you got to SEE them!