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WALTERS COLUMN: Big river canoe trip

WALTERS COLUMN: Big river canoe trip

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Mark Walters caught and ate this sheephead during his canoe trip on the Mississippi River.

Hello friends,

I would rather be in a canoe than a boat pushed by a motor, and this week I used a kayak paddle and current to explore about 30 miles of the Mississippi River from Blackhawk County Park, which is north of De Soto, down to Lynxville. My golden retriever Fire and her pup Ruby were happy participants on this trip.

Monday, July 20

High 77, low 53

I cannot tell you how excited I was about the next three days as I loaded my 17-foot canoe at the boat landing at Blackhawk County Park. This trip was designed to be both a getaway as well as a recon mission for my duck hunting waters near Lansing and Ferryville.

One of my plans was to use one fishing rod and trail a crankbait behind my rig for the entire journey. As soon as I started paddling, I realized that plan had an issue that would not end for the entire trip. Ribbon grass is aquatic vegetation and this time of the year it starts to break off and float with the current. The entire trip I would not be able to go over 300 yards without my lure getting messed up since it was covered with ribbon grass.

The current was strong. I only had about five hours of daylight and I made it all the way to the island that we camp on for our annual duck hunt, which is about two miles south of Lansing, Iowa.

Come this October, it will be 49 years ago that I did my first duck hunt here. Last year the hunting-opener was really slow for our group of 14. Selina and I never shot at anything but a wood duck, and usually there are plenty of teal and mallards.

I have a theory, and it is that with the flooding that has been taking place the last two springs, and lasting until mid-summer, that many of the mallards and teal are not able to nest on as much of the river bottoms as usual, as their nests simply get flooded out.

My plan for this trip was to catch fish, sit by a campfire, hang out with the pups and get a good read on the duck population.

Today, all the fish I caught were an undersized walleye and a sheephead. I kept the sheephead to fillet and cook on the campfire, and that is another interesting subject. Most people that I know will not keep a sheephead.

Most people that I know that enjoy eating fish like to eat sheephead if they do not know what it is. The fillet of a sheephead is all white meat for the most part, and in my opinion, it tastes like bass, walleye or bluegill, with the only downfall being it has a little less taste.

On this trip, I saw numerous bald eagles. It seemed like there were almost too many, as far as nests or spotting eagles in trees, as they hunt for fish or ducks. Something that I find amazing about the eagle is how from 40 feet up in a tree, they can spot a fish swimming near the surface 40 yards away, fly towards it, grab it and fly away with it back to their perch in a tree.

After this trip, I spoke with Marc Schultz, who is the chairman of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance. Marc understands the Mississippi and its wildlife population. Marc’s theory on last year’s duck numbers mirrored mine. High water during the nesting season and the loss of habitat for the vital time period when ducklings need cover. Marc also mentioned that he believes mud motors, which can push a boat just about anywhere, are sending the ducks to refuges for much of the duck hunting season.

Another big deal with the high water is the loss of mature trees on the islands. High water eats away at the root base, and over an extended period kills trees.

Many of the trees on the river are dying and falling over, which in turn causes the islands to become smaller, as the roots of the trees are what holds the islands together.

I camped on the same island for about 36 hours and explored by canoe. There are a lot of dead standing and downed trees, and the islands are getting shorter and narrower due to the loss of the root structure.

By no means do I want to be a bummer with this week’s column. This trip was therapeutic for me, and I love this river way more than anyone realizes.

I will close with this. Marc thinks that this year’s duck numbers will be much better than last year for us river-bottom hunters on opening day.


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