River Fishing For Smallmouth bass in Wisconsin

Fisherman’s Corner
by Jim Bennett

The frog colored surface lure had no more hit the water before there was an explosion! An electric charge shot up my line! My rod tip doubled over as the fish ran one way while the canoe went the other. Heading for deep water one second and then taking flight the next the slashing smallmouth was putting up a fight that makes it one of the most popular game fish in all of North America!

Suddenly a giant arouse from the deep. It looked like a shadow at first slowly rising from the depths. It was coming to see what all of the disturbance was about in its domain. You could feel the terror in the smallmouth as it forgot about the fight and tried to head to safety by putting some distance between it and the monster musky that had just appeared.

But being hooked to my line it was at the mercy of the musky that swam to within inches of the 15-inch smallmouth bass. The monster musky was seemingly eyeing it up for lunch!

It was a perfect Saturday in September. With the temperatures approaching 90-degrees my son Josh and I figured it would be a perfect day to float the Namekagon River. And that is what late August and September offer you no matter where you live ….. a last chance to get out and chase smallies in a warm free flowing river! Our plan was toss two inch torpedo surface lures into likely looking lairs. The little top water plug with a single propeller had proven to be a hot lure a year ago when we last floated the Nammy.

We also had a container of night crawlers along with us as well just in case we spotted the tell tail white tipped fins of old marble eyes on our float downstream. Namekagon walleye would make a perfect lunch for a couple of fish hungry anglers. I release smallies and eat walleyes because walleye taste to good to put back while smallies fight to hard to kill.

The crystal clear water and bright sunshine made it a perfect day to fish and float. Josh began casting while riding in the bow. He had the catbird seat while I guided the canoe from the stern. He was soon into feisty fish.

Smallmouth are most active this time of year. Going on their annual pre winter feeding binge they feast on whatever swims on the surface or under it. With the frog migration just beginning we knew that the green lures we were tossing would bring results. And what action we found!

Many anglers agree that pound per pound few fish fight like this feisty finned fanatic! And these fish were active this day. Smallie after smallie came after the top water baits. Small ones and some dandies too. But not all of the fish got what they after. For some reason smallies don’t always get the lunch they go after. Even the ones we were serving them on a silver platter.

Some would miss the lures completely. Others hit it so hard they sent the lure flying skyward like a small missile being launched from a winged fighter! Others would leave huge swirls they made when they missed. That made us nervous because the whirlpools they left behind were from the biggest bruisers. And then there are the musky of the Namekagon.

Floating over a long deep pool Josh had been watching the fish in the water below us hoping to spot a school of walleye. He saw plenty of redhorse, white suckers and hog nosed suckers but no walleye. Then we floated right over a huge musky that got our hearts pounding. Circling the canoe back upstream we found it again and got to within a foot of the big fish we estimated to go at least 20-pounds. It just wouldn’t take our offerings.

We also saw a couple of leather back turtles on bottom. Their round flat shells stood out in the clean clear water as we floated down stream.

We spotted a huge bald eagle as well. Perched regally in a half dead pine the gigantic bird was sitting over a deep pool. We saw why when we passed over a dead sucker in about three feet of water. The eagle flew a short distance downstream and then posed more for us from another dead pine. With our cameras at home we were missing out on several good photo opportunities!

No fish, pound per pound puts up a fight like a smallmouth bass! This beautiful river fish held by Josh Bennett was put back in the river to fight again! Jim Bennett photo!

Later Josh hooked into one really nice smallie that flew two feet out of the water and four feet down stream. Others fought hard to stay on bottom and tied us up on snags and debris. Where ever we found rocky bottom and deeper water near we found smallies. I don’t think I had ever had as much action on a float trip down the Nammy! We never landed any huge smallies on this trip but we had several in the 12- to 15-inch range and all were great fighters.

But the musky that came up after my biggest fish was the most exciting fish of the day. Coming right up along the canoe I worked the smallie close to the canoe hoping the musky would take it. But when the smallie took one more run right along the canoe it seemed to turn off the charm that had that gotten the big musky to come up and take a look in the first place.

The 25-pound plus fish sank and disappeared the same way it appeared as if out of nowhere! A moment later I released the smallie to fight again another day.

The nonstop action kept up right until the end of there trip Josh hooked a few more wild fighters that ran into the canoe and jumped wildly or fought deep. Some hooking us up in brush and debris as they won the war and freedom. We released every fish we caught this day. Josh did have one smaller musky take a swipe at his lure but the musky was no more accurate than the smallies this day!

There were a few quiet moments that only a river float trip can give you. We only saw a couple other canoes on the river all day. River bends soon made them disappear. With no wind and no other companions other than a few ducks on the water and wild critters crashing through the brush on the banks the trip down the quite Nammy was tonic to our senses. Only a river can bring that much peace and that much excitement in one day.

When we finally got the takeout we swung the canoe around and got ready to unload. As we did we spotted another huge musky finning in the shallows right at the launch! Josh walked up to the fish and gently cradled it in his hands and picked it up so we could examine it.

Josh had never caught or held a big musky before. He was impressed with its beauty and teeth. It was an old river fish that had plenty of battle scars from life in the river. Gently lowering the 20-pounder back into the water the big fish lay there for a second before it swam off and disappeared. A perfect ending for a perfect day on the Namekagon!

WILDLIFE QUIZ – Bronzeback and old redeye are common names for what?
Answer. Smallmouth

To Review Previous Fisherman’s Corner Articles Please See The Following