Pick a Battle, Any Battle

This is just an update on my feud with the dept. of wildlife concerning access to the Mississippi River. Without going into any boring details, the summary of it is that the dept. was going to shut down the road that a few of us use to access the jetties and sandbars on the mighty Mississippi. These jetties and bars are exposed, accessible and somewhat tame, at lower water levels. I knew before they put the signs up that it was their intent because I was told this directly by a biologist with the dept. in a contentious “discussion”.

The road, as the biologist promised, did in fact get shut down to only ATV traffic. After a couple of letters to the executive director, cc’d to members of the commission and the legislators on the Wildlife Committee, the road is now, once again, accessible by pickup truck, which is how I get my kayak to the river and how those of us without ATV’s manage the two mile trip to the river.

Now whether I really had any influence or not, who knows. It is possible the ATV only designation was a retaliation of somebody that I just didn’t get along with; however, that doesn’t explain other communications that seemed to bolster the idea it was permanent, especially the very permanent looking signs that were installed. I’ll leave it at this, I am a results person and the photos below tell the story, the top is before, the bottom is what I saw on my visit to Shipland this past weekend:

I wasn’t the only one to enjoy the road being returned to its original status, below is my silver Nissan truck and behind it is a duck hunter’s truck with a kayak on top.

Taking advantage of my newly restored access, I tried to catch some fish. The river was at 15.5 and that’s either too low or too high for me. The bank was steep and the beach was extended due to the lower water, making the drag of the kayak long and difficult. Without any help with me, like my big fireman son, I just chose to walk, leaving the yak in the truck.

I decided to just “rock hop” out to a notch the USACE put in the closest wing dike. After biologists realized that notching the dikes would be beneficial to the habitat they came back about 8 years ago and started knocking some holes in certain ones. I’m glad they did or likely the area would have silted in and there would be nothing but a giant sandbar. The notch allows travel too, though at any but the very lowest levels it is a whitewater roil and only a kayaker would venture through it. Once through the chute, there is no way back through, except at really low levels. I have run the chute before and then drug the kayak back over, but that’s only possible at certain gauge levels.

After “rock hopping” about a 150 yards, the chute or notch, looked like this:

The notch itself is pretty deep as there are no rocks in it. The smooth water between the two humps in the water in the photo above has no obstructions in it. I prefer higher water when there is roiling water all along the jetty, providing lots of water brakes the fish like, but at this depth, the only roiling water I had was in the chute. The best water for fly fishing is the roiling water next to the the calmer water. The photo below is the notch at 12 feet.

I was using a tandem rig of what I just call my “river flies”, which are heavy and have plenty of marabou. I use two mainly because it doubles the weight but there is also something to using two flies that makes it more productive. Maybe because in the rough, fast and fairly turbid water, one fly gets the fish’s attention and the second fly gets the bite? Don’t know, but from experience, mine and others, I can safely say two flies work better than just one. The downside is when you hang up or get broken off, you lose two flies instead of one. That’s why I call them “river flies”, they are cheaply tied flies with most of the effort going into weight. If its weighted and its marabou, it will catch fish, if they’re present.

I was targeting gar, because the white bass and stripers just seem to be gone. Once abundant, they just no longer to be present in any numbers. So gar fish and occasional flathead catfish are usually my expected fish, anything else is a bonus. It used to be the other way around, sad fact of our times. I bet back when Hernando Desoto was buried in the river, there were plenty of fish and none of those disgusting silver carp.

The water was green and pretty, which is atypical of the river, but it’s what’s needed to catch fish. After a couple of drifts I felt a tap and when I set the hook the fish took off with the speed of a jack and making the reel sing. It was a massive fish and I couldn’t do anything with him. I fought the fish for a while in the distant roil and then he began working back into the chute. Right in the seam of the heavy water he came close to the surface and it looked like the head of either an alligator gar or a striper as the head of the fish appeared blunt. (My eyesight is not great). I was thinking it possibly could be a striper and I got really excited but then it turned into the current and after a violent surge the fifteen lb test either broke or was cut off. I lost both flies. I would love to think it was a big striper but it was probably a big alligator gar, which has a blunt looking snout. I actually saw an eye but I still couldn’t distinguish him.

The next fish was a big long-nose gar. I know because it tail walked a foot or so in the roil. It was a big, long fish. When they do that I think of them as my fresh-water tarpon. That fish cut me off too.

I hooked one more large gar which also cut me off and then I hooked something big that fought like a catfish, pulling straight down into the deep water of the chute. Sadly, he broke me off too. Next time I’m bringing heavier leaders with a bite tippet.

Then the bite shut down, which is not uncommon. Having only the one spot, after hooking a few, everything gets the memo and its all over. I took a break and went back to the truck to eat a sandwich and rest the spot, giving time for some new fish to take up the feeding stations.

Returning an hour or so later I got a tap on my first drift and a small white bass darted out into the green water. Not one of the big 2-3 lbers that the Mississippi is known for, but a white bass nevertheless. I keep hoping that the fish are all still there and the conditions have just changed and they are staying away, maybe to return one day when I happen to be there. You can see my “river fly” dangling. Very inelegant, just a big ole tungsten bead, maybe with a little lead behind it for good measure, some white chenille to fatten it up and some green and white marabou which is lively in the roil.

If readers look back through my articles there are posts back when I was catching stripers and white bass regularly. Not like the older days of which I have heard tales, but at least certainly more than I have seen in recent trips.

After that fish, the bite was gone. I walked the sandbars looking for gar rolling, but strangely enough I couldn’t find any. I rock-hopped another jetty out to the end, but there was no roiling water and no fish. I really appreciate my Samurai System when walking the bars and rock-hopping the jetties as I just turn the bucket around to my back with the rod in the holder and I am hands-free and walking as carefree as I can be. My flies are stowed in the false bottom of the bucket and my leader and tippet material hang on the belt. I particularly appreciate it when rock-hopping the jetty because I have my hands free in case I slip and I can move them around for balance. By the way, rock-hopping the jetties is very treacherous. These big rocks are difficult and you have to watch for snakes. I like to literally jump or hop from big rock to big rock as the big rocks won’t move and staying in the middle of the rocks keeps you away from any snakes. Sometimes you are forced to go through smaller rocks, just be sure to study them carefully and make sure they will not move and always have an alternate rock ready to go to if you feel the rock move. And never step in front of an overhanging rock where you can’t see what might be laying under it!

As far as the feud with the dept., I would have to say that sportsmen need to be picking battles instead of accepting loss of habitat and access. It doesn’t matter what the battle is, just pick one you think you can win and give it everything you have. From Project 4248, which is now getting funding, getting ramps repaired on certain refuges, to maintaining our access to the Mississippi River at Shipland, I have just picked some battles and fought them and I’m glad I did. If we don’t pick and fight these battles, the bureaucrats will own us.

Ask the people of Bristol Bay about fighting to keep resources safe. Please President Trump, put the quietus on that damn Pebble Mine!

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