By Steve Weisman
Looking to get away from other anglers? Want to witness some great scenery? How about catching some quality fish that will make you’re your forearm tire after several hours of action?
Try one of the inland streams or rivers in your area! Yes, I am serious. These waters are some of the most underfished, untapped fisheries in Iowa. From July through the fall, catfishing is awesome. Those of you that frequent these waters know what I am talking about. For those who haven’t, you need to give it a try. Here are some suggestions.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve lived in the backyard of one of the finest waters in northwest Iowa: the West Fork of the Des Moines River. However, I am far from an authority and if not for a couple of friends years ago and now my son, Curt, I would have no clue of what to do.
So, my first suggestion is this. If you want to speed the learning curve along, get someone who has fished these waters to take you fishing. For one thing these waters are constantly changing. As the water rises and falls, things change. A huge run-off can turn a quiet flowing stream into a raging, out-of-its-banks body of water. With it will be downed trees rolling downstream and the water eroding the bank away sometimes even cutting a new path. Old snags change, new snags appear, sandbars change, new sandbars appear…so goes the life of the river.
So, when my son asked me to join him this past week (If I brought my 12-foot boat along!), I felt that was a pretty fair tradeoff. My boat in exchange for his guiding, rowing and providing the fishing gear. From the Minnesota state line to Fourth Street Bridge just north of Estherville is an awesome stretch, but it’s way more than one day’s fishing if you want to fish all of the snags, holes and rocky areas along the way. We traveled a five-mile stretch “by car” and it turned out to be 6 ½ hours by boat! And, yes, we passed up lots of snags or it would have been a 10-hour trip.
Over a two-week period, Curt had worked the river and each time the water level changed. In just the previous 4 days, it had dropped six inches causing rocks and tree limbs (previously submerged) to become hazards on our trip. By the same token, a sudden 2 or 3-inch storm in southern Minnesota would cause the river to rise quickly. On this day, though, the current was pretty easy to navigate (as long as Curt was rowing!) With the warmth of the past week or so, I know that the waters are dropping daily, so I am sure that we would have to portage some sandbars if we were to go now.
By the end of the trip, we had boated 39 channel catfish ranging from a pound to several over 5 pounds. A couple of times we each had one on at the same time. Let me tell you, a 5+ pound catfish is one strong critter when you have a current and snags to battle, too.
Of course, there is always a learning curve. In the first hour Curt had boated half a dozen fish, while I just sat there holding my pole, keeping the line taut to detect a bite. Finally, a tap-tap-tap. I set the hook. No, the six-inch bullhead did not count! Soon, instead of a tap-tap-tap, I felt a thunk and then a run. I set the hook, had the fish on for a brief time and it was gone. “Dad, set the hook. I mean set it. Don’t baby it. You’ve got to get it into their jaw,” said Curt.
So, I set up again, and a couple of minutes later, then another “thunk.” This time a solid hookset, and my first catfish was hooked.
The equipment is really pretty simple: a rod (with a good backbone) and spinning reel spooled with Fireline. Next thread a barrel sinker (the stronger the current, the bigger) on the line and attach a snap swivel to the line. Terminal tackle includes a 12-16 inch leader of 20 lb. test mono and a large hook. Getting snagged on a rock or a tree limb is part of fishing the river, so the mono line works well. If you can’t get free of the snag, you can break the mono and save the rest of the rig.
Bait? Whatever you choose: a good juicy nightcrawler, chicken liver, stink bait or Berkley’s Catfish Baits. Those who do this type of fishing seem to have their own “special” bait.
Whatever baits you choose, make sure to cast into the holes and snags from upstream. Being upstream carries the smell to the catfish and also helps the angler control where the hook ends up. Still, even on the upstream side, getting snagged is inevitable. I would guess we lost at least half a dozen terminal rigs during over the day.