The sun sets Tuesday behind the Wapsipinicon River, its red and orange color intensified by smoke from western wildfires. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
Eat local. Shop local. Fish local.
Having experienced memorable trips to many of the Upper Midwest’s legendary waters — Oahe and Sharpe in South Dakota, Rainy River, Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs and Vermillion in Minnesota, Green Bay and Chequamegon Bay in Wisconsin, St. Clair in Michigan and Erie in Ohio — I still derive greater joy and satisfaction fishing the waters close to home.
A 30-inch northern pike awaits release Sept. 9 on the Wapsipinicon River. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
For me, those waters are the Wapsipinicon, which flows through my hometown of Quasqueton, and the Maquoketa, just a 30-minute drive away. Anglers in Decorah, Elkader, Charles City, Fayette and Greene no doubt have similar feelings for, respectively, the Upper Iowa, Turkey, Cedar, Volga and Shell Rock rivers.
That they’re handy, of course, means you can fish them whenever your schedule and river conditions permit, with little planning or expense required, and at the end of the day you have the comforts of home.
That they’re good fisheries means you have a decent chance to catch many game fish, including the occasional large specimen.
Orlan Love poses Tuesday with a 19-inch smallmouth bass caught in the Wapsipinicon River. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
If you like scenery, serenity and solitude, it’s hard to beat river valleys, Iowa’s wildest places.
During a recent binge, in which I fished the Wapsi six times in six days, I never heard a motorized vehicle and saw but two other anglers. Instead I heard birdsong and saw dozens of eagles, herons and kingfishers and a hundred bass, walleye and pike on the end of my line.
Also during that binge, western wildfire smoke heightened the oranges and reds of the normally spectacular rising and setting sun, enhancing the glory of the normally spectacular wood, rock and water tableaux.
While it’s fun and interesting to explore unfamiliar water, there’s much to be said for the history you share with your home waters.
You know where the fish live at certain times of the year.
You know where you can safely wade at certain flows and levels.
You know which river bank stretches are shaded in the morning and which in the evening.
You know the silt-bottomed areas to avoid while wading and the snag-infested stretches from which to withhold your heirloom lures.
You remember where, when and how you caught your biggest fish and the weather conditions that prevailed.
You recall all the submerged rocks, shoreline outcroppings, sandbar drop-offs and downed trees that have perennially served as predator ambush sites. In relation to each, you also know which lure to deploy and where to stand to present it with maximum effectiveness.
Despite its shifting sands and its occasional course correction, you appreciate its familiarity and permanence.
You remember all the lackluster outings that the beneficent river salvaged with a last-minute gift.
Over the many years, the river slowly reveals its personality and, fish or no fish, you begin to recognize it as a friend.