Today I went to a different piece of water for my lunch break. This was a place that was previously undiscovered to me. It is what the locals call the slough as it is connected to the Mississippi River by means of culverts under the dike roads. It has lots of veg in its murky shallows. I can see the early signs of cattails and lily pads. I was drawn here today after I noticed the splash of spawning Common Carp on my way to the office. Carp known me and I know them. When compared to Trout, our other exotic species in the region, they grow bigger and fight much harder. Further, they are closer to where I am and do not require a trip out to the country, a climb over any barbed wire fences, and take a fly just as well.
I did not see the carp I had noticed this morning while scouting at noon however I did find a shoal of shiners. Any skilled angler understands that where there is forage there are consumers of that forage. In this case there were native Bowfin and Gars mixed in with Largemouth Bass and other various unidentified Panfishes.
I have little experience with Bowfin given that I have never really had the opportunity to target them directly. Its not to be construed that I have never tried to catch them before. In this case I have never found them. I prefer to sight fish for many species and even more so when I am fishing with a fly rod. Today all I had were fly rods in the car and a variety of flies. I had the choice of a nine-foot four weight, a nine-foot five weight and an eight-foot three weight. I had just received the three weight in the mail last week. The Winston WT was a Christmas present to me from my wonderful wife. It replaced my Winston IM6 that i had left on the rood of my car as I drove away from the South Branch Whitewater River last fall. This is not just a regular Winston WT. It is one that my brother, a master fly rod builder, made for me. The rod’s name is Virga.
I chose Virgo as she treated me to a fish on the first cast with her. I figured she would be the mantra I needed to catch a Bowfin on a fly in this Mississippi River backwater slough. I had no tippet material so I was left with a six-foot leader of which I added a #4 green chub streamer fly to.
I could see the Bowfin cruising the shallows. There were numerous big females and smaller males that seemed to have blue fins through the water. I stood on the top of the culvert and used my photochromatic polarized glasses to my advantage as I sought out the right fish to catch.
Many Bowfin were cruising and gulping air then disappearing. I end up making a blind cast which landed me this wonderful female Bowfin over 24-inches long.
My casting lane was very tight in this situation. Behind me was a powerline not more than 30-feet behind me. I am a bit shy about wrapping my fly line around a powerline so I resorted largely to roll casts and plunks. This style of presentation proved to accurately place my fly as I had numerous takes.
If you have ever fished and caught Bowfin before then you will understand that their mouths are very tough. I lost many fish as with this combined with the fact that I was using a three weight on fish consistently over six pounds.
Now that I had the taste in my mouth for one Bowfin I wanted another. I had watched the smaller males break the surface of the water. To me it appeared that they had blue fins and bellies with golden sides through the water. I wanted to more closely inspect on of these fish and began targeting them directly.
I managed one, photographed it, and released it before retiring home for the night. I was surprised to find that the fins and belly of this fish were in fact flourescant green and not blue and that the side of the fish was mottled copper and brown and not gold. I took a bit of time admiring the beauty of this wonderful example of one of Minnesota most mis-understood native species before releasing it.