The Mississippi river doesn’t play well with fly fishing, but a few days out of the year the river is tame enough for a good day on the water. This past 4th of July was one of those days.
Spring was long gone and summer well under way by July 1 when my USGS Water Alert sent me an email. I had mostly forgotten about Ole Man River. The USGS notification was from a set of criteria I have on the site and it was telling me the water level was just below the top of my favorite levee. My first reaction was to check the turbidity gauge to see if the river was clear enough for fly fishing. A reading below 50 is necessary for a fish to be able to see my streamers.
When I saw the turbidity was below 30 I started to get interested. My next stop was the forecast page, which disparaged me some when I saw the river was going into a small rise, but I relaxed when I saw the water level wouldn’t cover the jetties. The little bump did tell me that walking the jetties was out. A kayak would be required.
My family had plans for me for early in the July 4 weekend but I realized that our early holiday celebrations would make the morning of the 4th free.
My day started out wrong when a highway patrolman stopped me for speeding on the completely empty highway between corn fields in the wee hours of the morning. I don’t think the officer was a fisherman. With a ticket stuck in my visor and my spirit low, I arrived to find my spot empty and no footprints in the sandy trail. As I walked the overgrown trail I could hear the roar of the Mississippi rushing over the jetty and my spirit began to rise.
I was too anxious to unload the kayak and instead, stayed to fish the first white water to make some casts in a square of eddy water formed by two 90 degree currents.
A back current was looping in front and meeting the white water flow coming over the jetty at a 90 degree making a square of quiet water where the gar were stacked up facing the jetty, finning quietly.
I made a cast and let the clouser drift only a few seconds before I felt a tap. I could tell it was a gar, it was the distinctive tap of a gar instead of the thump of a white bass or striper. The gar rodeo was on and while I was busy fighting gar I heard a loud splash. I just assumed it was a big silver carp when I noticed something in the water swimming towards me. To my chagrin, a big beaver hauled out on the rocks right next to me. I have never had that happen before as those animals are usually afraid of humans.
I gave the beaver a shout and urged him go about his business because he was making me nervous glaring at me with those little beady eyes. As the beaver moved on it occurred to me that I had been having so much fun catching gar between six and eight pounds, I had delayed putting my kayak in to search for the “stripey fish”, which are usually morning biters.
Dragging my kayak about a 100 yards through the lush undergrowth to a gently sloping sandbar, the combat launch was pretty easy in the cool of the morning. The high water and gentle slope would mean I wouldn’t have to use my winch to get the yak out later. When the water levels are lower the banks are steep and muddy and I have to use a long rope and my portable winch to snatch the yak out of the river.
After launching I headed up a side channel to a jetty I knew about where the water would be slower and quieter and probably a little clearer.
My suspicions were correct and the water was just about perfect, lifting my hopes that white bass or possibly even stripers might be present.
The ever present gar were the first takers of course and I began my gar rodeo all over again. I kept noticing some busting on the surface and suspected there were some striped fish present but I couldn’t seem to get a take from one. Changing tactics I decided to put two flies on the tippet and use a lot of slack to get the fly to drop deep and dead drift. A couple of drifts later I had my first white bass.
I caught several white bass, intermixed with catches of gar and one skipjack. I also foul hooked a huge silver carp which was exciting for about 5 seconds. I know it was a silver carp because it came jumping out of the water as they like to do. I probably should have continued paddling to other jetties but I have a bad habit of not wanting to leave fish.
So the first Mississippi River trip of the year was a success though I truly wish I could hang a really big wild Mississsippi River striper. Also, the white bass were present but were not the big 3.5 lb typical MS river bass and they were not present in great numbers. The white bass can be found in large numbers, it depends on the conditions, the longer the good water stays, the more fish will congregate. The big wild MS striper is my quest but I never fail to enjoy the river for its beauty and its wildness. I often see bald eagles, BEAVERS, and unfortunately, snakes and gators. Also MASSIVE alligator gar can rise up near you suddenly and that’s exciting, if unnerving. I didn’t see another person the whole day and the only boats I saw were the big tugs pushing barges up the river. The big tugs don’t count because I love to see them off in the distance and I love hearing the rumble of the engines whose vibrations you can actually feel in your chest. They are always welcome, just as long as I don’t have to contend with their wakes.
My “Samurai” System really is an asset for jetty hopping. I usually paddle to a levee and then strip line into the basket and “cock and lock” the fly and leader so I can use a stick to maintain my stability as I walk the levee, sometimes with water pouring through my legs. I sight cast the gar but I also look for a striper/WB blitz which can be quick and you have to be ready. You can’t drag fly line over the rocks or leave it in the water, lest it become a tangled mess because the fast water will push it out and into rocks, sticks etc. When fishing I strip the line into the basket every time to keep it out of the rocks and white water. The new foam stripping basket works great.
For more information on turbidity, my personal notes on how I use it, see an older post here on this blog, Turbidity, a “cloudy” but Important Metric.