Action warms up in small rivers in heat of summerWORTHINGTON — As I watched the weather-guessers on television early this week, they talked about high dew points, which lead to those very high-humidity days that nobody really likes.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — As I watched the weather-guessers on television early this week, they talked about high dew points, which lead to those very high-humidity days that nobody really likes. As the conditions start to get to the point where the favorite activity is to stay indoors in front of the air conditioner, I start to think about a river. It is in the dead of summer that the action on many of these small rivers in the area starts to heat up. My favorite — only because of its close proximity to me — is the Des Moines River.
This river starts at Lake Shetek and runs through Cottonwood, Nobles and Jackson Counties and beyond, but these areas are all within 50 miles of where I live. These river-fishing opportunities are a lot like the crow hunting that I wrote about last week in that almost nobody else does it.
You can see a few shore anglers at the major bride crossings but, for the most part, a day on the river is a solo affair. River fishing is not without its hassles. We take and drop a vehicle several miles downriver and then take the boat and trailer up river and launch. When you get to the downriver vehicle, you then need to tie up the boat and chase back to get the one with the trailer.
This is a lot easier when you use a small canoe or similar boat, as it can be carried by almost any truck, no trailer needed. Then you can just load up and head back to the launching site. A small craft is easier, but I like the comfort of a seat with a back on it for a day floating on the river.
There is also the theft problem if you leave your gear in the boat while you chase back to the launch site. I have never had anything stolen, but there is always the first time. An electric trolling motor is the propulsion of the day, as the outboard motor will almost always be in the mud. This is hard on the cooling system and can result in a cooked motor.
Not every river trip is successful. I like low-water conditions because the decreased water flow concentrates fish in the deeper pools. After a few weeks, the fish that are restricted to the deeper pools eat themselves out of house and home. With all of the available forage eaten, these fish are hungry and will attack almost any lure thrown their way.
Hungry fish and no other competition from anglers can make for a very fun day.
There was one outing in which I was fishing a section of river that I had not been on before, and about halfway between the trucks, the water got very, very shallow and we had to drag the boat over the rocks in four inches of water. And this boat drag lasted for over a mile. It seemed like a lot longer distance at the time.
This was nothing to say about the bottom of my 16-foot john box that we use primarily for duck hunting. This boat lost several years of life due to the beating it took that day. Low water is not a concern this summer.
One of things I like best about river fishing is the same reason that I like fishing in West Okoboji Lake, near Spirit Lake, Iowa. When you fish either of these two spots, you never know what will be on the end of your line. It might be a perch, crappie, catfish, walleye, pike or one of several species of rough fish. It is the unknown that adds an element of excitement each time you get a bite.
We normally take turns fishing, with one member of the team in charge of boat control and the other casting. We switch off every five fish or so. This allows everyone to have a good day of fishing.
The most common fish in the cooler at the end of the day would be channel catfish and walleyes. River fish can get really big. The biggest walleye that I have ever caught was a 9 pound, 2 ounce fish that came out of (you guessed it) the Des Moines River.
River fish spend their entire lives in current, and as a result, I think that they are much better fighters than their lake cousins. I also think that river fish tend to be skinnier because they use a lot of energy in their constantly moving environment.
I don’t take live bait, but you certainly could. Many fish are caught from riverbanks with live bait but, with the high temperatures and the often rough and tumble conditions, my bait often dies before I can use it. Jigs and crank baits are my favorite, and every fish will hit these choices. I had bottom-feeding carp just slam a jig on more than one occasion.
This river fishing is not for the angler who is in love with 50-cent jigs or $6 Rapalas — there are many snags and hazards that will devour your offerings faster than any fish can. Bring along more than you think you will need and you will probably come home with none.
Some will opt for inflatable boats designed for use by anglers in waders. This is a very portable method, but I am uncomfortable if the water levels could sweep me into a big tree limb — and under I might go. This also takes a lot of energy, as you are walking most of the way. It is my hope to make it up to New Ulm this summer to fish on the Minnesota River. A contact there says that catching a catfish over 30 pound is very likely in a weekend of fishing. I saw a picture of a 65-pound flathead catfish that was caught and released from the Minnesota in the past week. With the potential of catching a fish that big, I think I will stick to my bigger, albeit more cumbersome, john boat.
Between spraying thistles on wildlife properties, a little crow hunting and a few rides on my Harley, I will just have to make time for this river-fishing adventure. There is one other vitally important thing to take along: a full set of mosquito pants, jacket and head-net, or a huge bottle of bug spray.
Did I say huge? The fish will not be the only things biting.
The King Turkey Day Walleye Tournament will be from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday on Lake Okabena in Worthington. Call Larry at 360-3973 to register, or you may do so the morning of the tournament at Sunset Park. Proceeds go to the Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club for area lake projects.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com by clicking on Northland Outdoors.