Monday, September 12, 2016

Mississippi River: Kleptomaniac

My relationship with the Mississippi River has been a love/hate one this year.  I love the great fishing it has provided me and the beautiful scenery as I travel along the Great River Road along the Wisconsin border as I travel to my fishing spot.  I hate that it has become a kleptomaniac, stealing from me the last two trips.  My last time on the Mississippi, I lost a new spinning combo, which you can read about in my article Old Man River.  We'll get to the latest item robbed later.

The adventure began, as per usual, with a plan.  I was talking fishing plans with my friend Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com.  After some discussion, we decided to meet again at the Mississippi.  My cousin, who is familiar with the waters, suggested an area near where we were fishing before.  My home boss (wife) approved and took it as an opportunity to make plans with family out of town.  I began preparing for a weekend fishing marathon.

Saturday morning we meet at the launch.  There is a slight chill in the air and it is overcast.  Recent rains have the water a bit high, but that usually isn't problematic in the ever changing environment of the Mississippi.  After performing our unload-and-rig rituals, we launch and glide through the calm morning water.

As we emerge from the narrow piece of water connecting the landing area to larger water, we realize the morning water was calm because we were sheltered by trees and a dike at the launch.  The choppy water tells us we are in for a ride.  We fish our way to our destination, about 3/4 of a mile paddle away.  Though it takes a lot more paddling than usual, we are able to work through the wind and light current.

The backwaters a maze, I use my Navionics app to confirm a path to our destination.  On one of our last turns, we come across an area with an interesting swirling pool of current caused by several large trees down in the water.  Chang gets a topwater hit along the side of the pool, but it doesn't hook up.  I toss my spinner bait and also get a hit-and-miss.  Interested to find out more about this water, I position my kayak to allow the current to push me up against the down tree and begin casting into the pool.

5th Bass in a Few Minutes
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
I immediately land a largemouth bass.  Then another, and another.  I'm giggling (yes giggling) with amazement and joy.  We couldn't believe I had pulled that many fish off one spot in such a short time.  Nothing huge, but the river bass put up a great fight.  The largest was 17" with a nice girth.  In the end, I end up landing 7 fish from the spot before the bite slows and we decide to move on.


Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
As we near the open body of water we are destined for, the wind is noticeably worse.  It is blowing at our backs, but we are concerned about our ability to get back.  The constant blowing is causing rolling whitecaps on the open water.  Not ideal conditions for paddling fishing kayaks rigged for a day-long trip.  We take a few moments to enjoy the beautiful spot.  Other than the wind, it is a picture-perfect day.  Skies are clear blue with small puffy clouds.  In the distance we can see the beautiful bluffs along Wisconsin's border.  We notice the longer we take to enjoy the scenery, the further away it blows us so we paddle back to the shelter of the sloughs.

After a hard paddle into a strong headwind, we take a short paddling break once back in the calm of the slough.  Are arms are burning, but we still manage to cast and work our lures.  On our way back to the honey hole, Chang notices a small channel of water off the side of our path.  He yells to me that he is going to check it out.  A few minutes later, I hear a "Wooooo!", which is the universal sound for "I caught a nice one!".  I paddle in his direction and find him landing a nice 16 inch bass.  The bass today aren't terribly long, but have a nice girth and weight to them.  Fun to catch.  I give my spinner a toss.  First cast I land a respectable Northern Pike.  We continue to work the new area and both get a few weak hits, but don't land anything.

As we work back into the larger part of the slough, we are fishing to the loud growl of a duck boat scouting the area.  A bass boat with two adults and a child is working the area as well.  Chang quickly lands a Northern Pike.  The wind is picking up, so we seek the shelter of the woods.  Out of the wind, we take a short break for a Wisconsin lunch of champions (cheese, crackers, and beef).  I show Chang a lure I've been using since I was a kid, a Moss Boss and tie it on as we drift deeper into the slough.

As Chang works down trees, I start exploring a small channel.  Spotting schools of bait fish churning up the water, I start working the vegetation at this intersection.  The channel forms a vegetation point.  A slow current runs past this branch of water, offering a perfect spot for the predators we seek.  

The pole with the Moss Boss is laying on my deck, lure dangling gently in the water.  I use my spinner bait to search for the fish.  I work the edge of the vegetation, edge of the current, and across the channel.  I end up luring a Northern Pike out of the current into the vegetation.  It hits my spinner bait hard, but doesn't hook up.  I reel it faster to give it another toss and the pike grabs the spinner again as I'm pulling it out of the water, but only got the skirt.  I wasn't expecting a large pike to jump next to my kayak.  As I'm processing what happened, my Moss Boss pole flips up and nearly enters the water.  The pike hit the tail of the Moss Boss that was dangling in the water.  Again, no hookup.  A few more casts and the pike is no longer biting, so I continue working into the channel.  

About 20 yards from the previous Pike, another grabs my Moss Boss through the vegetation and slices through my 50 lb braid with ease, taking the Moss Boss with it.  I immediately follow it up with my spinner bait and a pike hits it hard (possibly the same one but the Moss Boss is no longer with it).  I don't call myself a pike fisherman, but I don't mind catching them.  They put up a great fight, and this one was my best pike fight so far.

It comes out of the water thrashing, splashing water and Mississippi scum everywhere.  I start yelling with excitement as Chang paddles my way.  As I go to pull the pike closer to my kayak, it flops off.  It was a nice size pike and I'm slightly disappointed I didn't land it, but we carry on.

We encounter another landing in the next slough and get out to take a break.  A kind bank fisherman arrives.  As I submit my catches to tourneyx.com, we converse with the fisherman.  We talk about our day, his fishing tactics, and answer the usual questions about our kayaks.  Chang takes off, eager to work an area he spotted near the launch.  As he works the bank near me, I recite the standings in the Northcentral Great Lakes Kayak Bass Fishing tournament he and I are competing in.  I still hadn't caught up with him, but getting closer.  The bank fisherman takes interest in the tournament and asks how the online tournament works, etc.  I oblige and then launch to join Chang.

Working the area near the launch, I spot a log down in front of a section of water about 2 feet wide.  It is covered by brush and has a slow current running through it, feeding a field of lily pads beyond.  Sometimes you just get a feeling that a fish will be there.  I had that feeling, and it was correct.  The bass blows up on my frog as soon as it hits the water under the bush.  My Ardent Tournament baitcaster easily hauls the fish up and over the log via 50 pound braid.  As I go to grab the fish out of the water it flops off and swims away.  After a moment of frustration (this fish would have moved me up another spot in the tournament), I continue working the area until I find Chang.
A Bending Branches Angler Pro Blade - the Other Chopping
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com

We formulate a plan to wrap around the slough, up a small channel, to a slough where we had previously caught nice fish, and allow the current to float us back to our landing.  With about 4 hours of daylight, a perfect plan.  As we approach the connector between sloughs, we are concerned we will not be able to pass.  The water is up and we are able to dig through the thick reeds.

Out of the Reeds
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
Emerging from the weeds, Chang gets a bite.  I toss my spinner bait into the open area surrounded by vegetation.  Within a few minutes I land a small Northern Pike and a small bass.  I also had a 6" bass on, but it saved me the hassle of removing the hook by flopping off.  With the wind whipping hard through the larger water, we decide to paddle straight through to our destination, the weed mats about 200 yards away.

As I continue battling the strong wind, I toss my frog into the mats.  Within a few minutes I have 5 hits but no hookups.  I'm hopeful this is a sign of things to come, though they were the low "gulps" of Northern Pike hitting the frog.  The water is high, so Chang and I explore a deeper part of the vegetation.  Fish like to explore new structure introduced by high waters, as do we.

I continue getting weak pike hits on the frog.  But the vegetation is too thick for anything else.  I work some open patches with the spinner bait with no results.  As the sun is going down, I am beyond exhausted and my mind starts to wander.  

I exit the mat and notice a trail of green vegetation trailing behind me.  The under side of my kayak collected some of the small pieces of vegetation and was slowly emitting them from behind me.  I laugh to myself and I name it "Froggin' Essence".  This is where the Mississippi steals from me again.

I want to share the view of Froggin' Essence with you, my readers via picture.  It honestly looked beautiful.  Bright green flakes slowly drifting behind me in the dark water tinted by the setting sun.  You may have noticed there is no such picture, nor does this article have my usual first-person views.  As I'm snapping a picture of Froggin' Essence, I start thinking to myself "I should really get a floating case for this".  I start retracting my arm post-photo and my phone slips.  I must have juggled it 4-5 times before it finally went in the drink.  

I immediately shout my frustrations in a non-family-friendly manner.  Chang is deep in the woods and the highway noise by us is louder than usual with the wind blowing the sounds in our direction.  The water is still warm enough and my Garmin Striker shows it is 3.5 feet deep.  I kick off my sandals and go for a swim.  My bare feet are immediately greeted with the disgustingness that is the bottom of a Mississippi slough.  The mud has the consistency of a bucket of wet bread.  I'm sinking calf-deep as bubbles rise all around me.  They carry with them the smell of rotten vegetation, fish, and who-knows-what-else under my feet.  I use the GPS on my Striker to walk to the approximate spot with my kayak next to me.  I hold on in case of any dropoffs.  The river is an unpredictable place.  After about 20 minutes of hunting, Chang spots me outside my kayak and paddles towards me with the speed of an Olympic rower concerned I'm in trouble.  I report the situation and he makes several attempts to call the phone.  It is water resistant and still operable.  However, the ring cannot be heard and the vibrations cannot be felt.  Both are surely dampened by disgusting mud below.  After a few more minutes feeling in the water with my bare feet (the water is too stained to see), I'm tired of being stabbed by wood shrapnel.  Aware of large snapping turtles in the waters, I decide my phone insurance deductible is a better pill to swallow than the loss of an appendage via turtle.  

I was frustrated, but didn't let it ruin my day.  On a positive note, Chang texted my wife to let her know what happened so she didn't worry (and so she could start the insurance claim).  Secondly, I finally did my first re-entry into my FeelFree Lure.  I found it very easy on the stable platform.  Lastly, I had (thankfully) submitted my catches for the day to tourneyx.com during our break.  I was most upset that I had lost some beautiful pictures from the day.  Everything else is backed up nightly to my various "clouds".  Luckily Chang was able to help salvage the visuals for the post.  Not only is he the best topwater fisherman I know, but he is a great photographer.  He had captured several pictures throughout the day which he said I was welcome to use here (check out his site at www.cxfishing.com and his other amazing pictures on Instagram @cxfishing).  We decide to finish our float plan after I wash off the Mississippi filth and pick off the leeches acquired from it.  

We vent about the situation on the way to our next stop.  I'm disappointed that I didn't clear some space on my Garmin VIRB before the incident (this is done from the phone).  I would have liked to share another Small Craft Fisherman PSA (like my pole loss PSA from Old Man River).  Chang shares with me his experience losing a phone in a previous year.  A fish knocked it out of his hand while snapping a photo, getting its sweet revenge for the catch.

A short time later, we arrive at our location.  We work the area carefully with various tactics.  We get a few weak hits but nothing landed.  The sun is dropping along with the temperature.  I'm starting to get a chill because I was wearing standard sport shorts which were not drying quickly.  Instead they were acting as a refrigerant in the early fall evening.  On the float back, I have another pike attack my lure at the kayak 4 consecutive casts.

We are working various structures as we allow the current to carry us back near the landing.  Chang gets some hits and loses a pike near his kayak.  The awareness of my exhaustion grows exponentially.  I decide to put away my poles, sit back, and enjoy the view for the short float back to the launch.  I need to conserve some energy for the land-and-load routine about happen.  Not an easy task after 13 hours on the water in tough conditions.

In the end, we had an amazing time.  Though exhausted, we both caught several fish.  Other than the wind, it was a picture-perfect day.  We had some triumphs, some misses, challenges, and loss-of-phone.  We got off the water with a smile on our faces.  That is what it is all about.
Done for the Day
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com









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