Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Minnesota Quickie (Day 1)

In the first week of June, I had the pleasure and opportunity, thanks to my parents, to visit my aunt, uncle, and baby cousin while they were in Minnesota. It was quite a surprise, and my parents only told me a day before I left (I had finals in school).

Seeing as I only had ever fished in the Midwest once before, I wanted to take this opportunity to fish for lifers that I would have no chance of getting back east. I only had one day to prepare, so I messaged the guys on Roughfish, packed a meager amount of gear, and off I was the the state of 10,000 lakes!

Everything went smoothly, and I was picked up by my uncle and baby cousin in Minneapolis, and promptly went to Arby's for lunch. Arby's is such a nice fast food place, much better than McDonald's, haha. It's a shame that they're so scarce around where I am.

It was time for Andy(cousin) to nap, so my uncle dropped me off at Minnehaha falls to fish while he drove Andy back for naptime. The weather was gorgeous, I was planning to get a lot of fishing in the first day because the forecast called for thunderstorms the next two days.

I had a grudge to settle here: This is where I, years ago, hooked into multiple 15-25 lb carp, and lost every single one of them, somehow. I looked into the water and expected to see dozens of carp, but they weren't there. However, wouldn't you know it, the first fish I hooked was a small carp, which ate a drifted crawler, of all things. It was about 5 lbs, and it was literally in my hands when the hook popped. That set in motion the theme for the rest of the trip: I didn't hook a carp ever again after that.

Even though the rougher species(carp and drum) weren't present like before, the smallmouth were definitely there, and provided some much needed rod bending action after a fishing drought. Smallmouth are fun, but not what I was after.

Of course, smallmouths were quite welcome, since they weren't this prolific back home (or this size with such frequency).

A few casts later, up came a... largemouth? In the ripping current? On a bottom-rigged nightcrawler? What's weirder was the fresh bite marks slashed across its flank.

 Hmmm... I suspected a large pike was in play, another species I needed to finish my battle with. I took out a large Mepps and not two casts later up came this: 

Another largie. I had assumed the first was a fluke, but this had disproved my initial thoughts.

I had to admit, though, smallmouth fishing was pretty fun. There was a group of little(er) kids watching me fish from the bridge, asking me questions and whatnot. Suddenly, one spots a nice smallmouth sunbathing not two feet from where I was standing. I quietly tied on a small hook and freelined a whole nightcrawler. I watched the fish look at it, then decisively gulp it and swim off. As I set the hook, the fish jumped and the whole group screamed. I brought it to shore and there was a big cheer from the crowd, haha.

 I ended up with 15 smallmouth and 3 largemouth. Good fun. I had agreed to fish with Waxworm from Roughfish at the confluence of Minnehaha and the mighty Mississippi. I took a short hike from the falls to the mouth, enjoying the beautiful day.

Along the way, I noticed the hundreds and hundreds of shiners. I caught a couple, and as far as I can tell they were all the same species, the carmine shiner, Notropis percobromus. I have had some mixed opinions on the ID of this guy, mimic shiner has also been suggested. But I'll go with carmine for now. Either way, it's species #58!

The scenery was spectacular under a bluebird sky.

I arrived at the mouth a bit early, and was surprised to see a white sand beach and no other fishermen. Luckily it was a Wednesday, I was told that this was an extremely popular fishing spot. There were a couple hippies, skaters, and bikers that were out, however.

I tossed a shallow-running jerkbait around and quickly hooked into a small largemouth and a small smallmouth. 


 Seeing as there was not much new, I set my rod with a crawler. Corey said this was a great spot for shorthead redhorse. I needed any redhorse I could get my hands on, so the crawler went out with haste, into the current seam where the two rivers met. A couple minutes later, I though I saw a tap out of the corner of my eye, but I checked the line and felt nothing.

While I was waiting for the bottom rod to get bit, I worked the shallows by the creek where I could see hundreds of shiners. Lo and behold, I pulled up this:

As far as I can tell, it is a river shiner, Notropis blennius. Whatever it is, it definitely is a new species, and that makes #59!

A bit of time passed without any sign of action, and I began to grow suspicious of the tap that had happened earlier. When I reeled in to check my bait, I felt a dead weight (although not too heavy) I figured some debris  drifted down and caught on my line, until I saw a gold body and red fins attached. Holy ****. The redhorse must have been excited as well, because as soon as it neared shore, it started fighting. After a very quick tussle, I had my first redhorse, a nice little shorthead redhorse! Species #60, Moxostoma macrolepidotum.

Really beautiful fish. I was shocked to find the fish just siting on the bait. My experience with suckers is that they're some of the most finicky fish imaginable, but this one had an aggressive bite judging by the degree of the tap.

The fish had taken the hook deep, so it needed a bit of time to revive, but soon it was kicking and shot back into the river.

After that fish, Waxworm arrived and we talked fish for a while. Soon, though, I had another aggressive bite and nonchalantly brought in a minuscule shorthead, a little silvery thing.

After a lull in the action, I had a couple more bites and brought in two cookiecutter freshwater drum in rapid succession. Not lifers, but I was thrilled to be catching these guys again. Too bad I couldn't cook them, because they were delicious the last time I tried them.

Those two fish ended our session at the mouth of Minnehaha, but we had planned to meet TonyS on the Minnesota River. I was hoping to luck into a shovelnose sturgeon, a bucket-list fish for sure.

Waxworm was kind enough to provide a ride, and when we parked, we saw TonyS and Graceclaw (Kyle). On the bank, I was surprised to meet Moose and Dr. Flathead already fishing. Terribly nice guys. Moose had already caught 2 shovelnose sturgeon, and Doc had a little flathead catfish. My hopes were high as I set up a balled up crawler on an octopus hook.

The clear water of the Mississippi contrasted sharply with the mud in the Minnesota. Visibility was probably around 2 inches. The current was ripping, and I found it hard to keep my bait stationary. I saw a very appealing current seam behind a sunken tree and decided to set up there instead. I left my rod there with the proven trick of walking away from the rod.

The action was incredibly slow, and I watched Kyle catch a tiny carp. Meanwhile, Moose left the spot. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tap on my rod tip. Very light, I wasn't even sure if there was anything, or if I actually saw a tap. Nonetheless, I walked over and investigated the condition of my gear. The line had moved a great deal downstream and closer to the bank. Ah, I thought. Some debris definitely bumped into my line and moved it, hence the tap. To be fair, there was quite a bit of river weed moving along through the current.

I picked my rod up and lifted the tip, feeling something much heavier than a clump of river weed. A stick, perhaps? Whatever it was, it was heavy and coming in slowly but surely. The thought that it might be a fish creeped into my mind, and I struggled for a glimpse of the fish in the water. A grayish shape emerged and I saw a long, thin tail and a shark-like fin.

Damn. Minnesota's fish had fooled me twice in the same day, posing as debris. I struggled to keep my composure, and all I uttered out was, "Sturgeon."
"Do you need a net?"

Soon a skinny fish surfaced and I marveled at how heavy it felt. I clambered down the dusty bank and grabbed it by the tail.

There it was. I had my shovelnose. Species #61.

In my hands, the prehistoric creature thrashed around, absolutely ripping my hands apart. The scutes on this smaller individual were especially sharp, cutting my palm and fingers up pretty bad.

As I looked at the fish, it immediately became clear to me why the fish felt so heavy: it was due to the massive pectoral fins. The shovelnose probably used them to such on to the sediment and stay on the bottom. Intricacies aside, it was an incredible fish that I won't forget soon.

Tony showed me how to calm them down: It turns out they are like their equally cartilaginous relatives, all you need to do is turn them upside down and rub their bellies.  

Their eyes are so cool - they're translucent from certain angles

 I released the sturgeon and watched it kick slowly into the muddy river, disappearing from sight almost immediately. It was such an incredible experience - that fish alone made my trip. Wasting no time, I quickly set up again and cast into the same seam.

Not twenty minutes later, I had the urge to relieve myself. I told Waxworm, who was fishing right beside me, to shout if I had a bite. I ran off into the woods. As luck would have it, Waxworm told me I had a bite. I finished as fast as I could and sprinted to the rod, where Waxworm told me the tip had been bouncing for quite some time. I took the rod out of its holder and set the hook, feeling nothing but a determined heavy weight. Ok, I thought, another shovelnose. It came in slowly, but sure enough it neared the bank and Waxworm grabbed it.

This fish was substantially larger, and it's scutes were much duller than my previous one, but still sharp enough to cut Waxworm's hand.

Doc (purposely or unpurposefully) photobombed this

Skinny fish, but quite strong and armed to the (figurative) teeth

After that fish, I set up in the same seam again, hoping for another shovelnose. I can't get enough of these fish, they're just so amazing! However, there was a lull in the action until Kyle caught 2 shovelnose. The mosquitoes were killing me. They were biting right through two layers of clothing! Oddly enough, the Minnesota river was the only place that had mosquitoes the entirety of my trip.

Just before Waxworm and I were going to pack up, I saw my tip bounce and set the hook. Unlike my previous two sturgeon this fish was fairly acrobatic. It was very dark outside, but even in the fading light I saw the fish jump twice and even tailwalk!

I grabbed it and got a quick measurement: 27 inches!

It was good to end the first day on a good note, and this fish definitely was one. Tired and happy, I said goodbye to Tony and Kyle who were going to stick it out in hopes of a flathead catfish. 

1 comment:

  1. This is so awesome! I fish the mouth of the creek a lot too. I also had absolutely no idea there was smallmouth in Minnehaha (no idea), also where on the Minnesota River was that? It looks to me like it's over by Pike Island where the Minnesota and Mississippi meet. If you ever come back to fish in Minneapolis again feel free to let me know, because I'd be happy to show you the city lakes and how to fish em.