Do Something New: River Smallmouth Float Trip

I recently took a day trip on the Mississippi to do some fishing. It’s something I hadn’t done before, but had been considering trying on the many fishable rivers in the area. 

It’s good I did, because it will probably stand as one of the highlights of the entire summer. To tell the truth, the plan was so simple, it really couldn’t fail: just me, my kayak, the river, and any smallmouth bass that were in the mood for a tussle. 

As it happens, it was my neighbor who put the destination on my radar. Apparently he’s into fly fishing and has been down the river with some co-workers. He told me Clear Waters Outfitting (https://www.cwoutfitting.com) does rentals and a shuttle service, which was new information to me. He made it sound good, so I pushed it up my list of priorities. 

A few weeks later I called to make a reservation on their shuttle, and they helped me determine which day trip would best suit my needs. I opted for the shortest, a 5-mile float, because of fishing recommendations. 

The day itself could not have been much better. It was not too hot, there was a moderate breeze, and the sky was brushed with high, feathery streaks of white. The river— though fairly low— pushed past at a good clip while I loaded my kayak and applied sunscreen. 

I shoved off and began casting to shoals and current breaks, trying to figure out where the smallmouths might be and what they found most attractive. The current felt even more swift once fully at its mercy, and I thought my little trip could be shorter than I’d planned. It wasn’t long before a couple islands and sandbars caught my attention and begged for more thorough treatment.

Maneuvering to a logical landing place seemed easier than it was. The gently sloping gravel bars made it difficult to reach to dry land, and my right foot was soaked when it slipped off a mossy little rock. That was the first and last time I thought about that, however. 

I tossed a Jitterbug a couple times into the slackwater behind the bar. Minnows, crayfish, and little bass could all be seen in mere inches of water just beyond my toes. Just as doubt began to creep in, a fish splashed downstream at a distance that looked barely attainable— even with a cast best classified as “wild abandon.”  

I let it rip.

That fish hit before I could even flip the bail over and start reeling. She jumped a couple times and made a hasty run into the main current. Our tug of war tipped in her favor for a moment. Then she turned back and began to relent just as quick.

At 16 inches, it was probably my biggest smallmouth ever. Most bronzeback junkies would sneer, no doubt, but I’ve rarely fished for them and can’t remember one bigger or more muscular. 

Screw ‘em

The float resumed. Smallies came from here and there without rhyme or reason to any of it. Trying to find a “pattern” was useless.

Eddy? Yep. 

Scattered weeds? Nope. Then yep. 

Shallow gravel on the margin of the current? Sure. 

Those bass loved that Jitterbug, small crankbaits, and especially the Heddon Torpedo. And since they were lurking everywhere, I didn’t waste a moment not casting or reeling. 

The best spot came near the end. There were multiple gravel bars, channels, and boulders nestled in an outside bend. From there came more bass—including the second biggest of the day—and a 26” northern pike that made a dolphin leap out of the water when it struck the Torpedo next to the kayak. 

I hollered. Maybe with colorful words.

In the end it was good, but not the kind of blowout bass fishing I believe it could have been. Strikes were plentiful, but catches were fewer and most of them were small fish. 

Still, that didn’t matter; it was exactly what I expected. That stretch of the river was refreshingly pristine in appearance, and encounters with other people were mercifully few. There was no minute I wasn’t supremely enjoying myself. In fact, I nearly forgot to eat the lunch I brought along, and that’s saying something. 

If that sunscreen hadn’t been expired, I might have been tempted to use the “P word” to describe my day: 

Perfect. 


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