A Fish Named Walter
By: Curt Iverson
Growing up in Waverly, Iowa with four brothers, close to a river, and raised by an avid fisherman, it didn't take too long for me to realize that fishing would be in my blood. It was taught to us by a father whose love for the outdoors was matched only by his love for his family (and on some days when the fish were biting extremely well the love for the outdoors may have surpassed that).
My first experience with small mouth bass came when I was young; wading the river below the dam. I know today if mom would have seen the honey holes we had and the rapids we waded as young lads... well, maybe she knew anyway and we were allowed to pursue our passion. The small mouth were plentiful and river small mouth I believe are stronger than a lake small mouth -- not to take anything away from lake small mouth, for they are truly in my book the finest freshwater fish that swims! As we continued to learn the river and its inhabitants, we caught more fish. Small mouth became my ultimate goal, so a small mouth fisherman I became!
Before I started coming to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), I read some articles about it. The BWCA quickly caught my attention. Until that I was a river fisherman. Moving to northern Iowa, I was blessed to have so many good small mouth rivers nearby to continue to pursue my passion, plus an understanding family to allow me to do it!
So it began -- my pursuit for a trophy small mouth. To attain that goal, I had to go to trophy waters, and what better that the BWCA?
All my small mouth came on artificial lures. My bait of choice was a four inch black, or smoke colored power worm with a 1/16th slider worm head, on 4 lb. test.
We had paddled to our base camp on day one and proceeded to set up camp quickly, as our minds were on that tap, tap, tap of our line, and that "bronze back" breaking the water! We finished setting up camp and started planning our day.
An advantage to visiting the same area each year is learning the area, and I had quickly made mental notes of the big fish habitat. It was a rock pile, not just any rock pile, in a stained lake. (A stained lake is an advantage as the fish are less spooky.) Oh, did I mention a rock pile? This small mouth hotel had boulders the size of volkswagons, and it dropped off to deep water.
The wind that day was perfect. Drifting our canoe across this structure my confidence was high. I lowered my bait as I watched it disappear into darkness, and we began our drift. With a tight line, I felt the bottom. As I envisioned my bait swimming along the bottom, we immediately started catching bass. We drifted to shore and then paddled back to our starting point to repeat the process.
On this particular drift, my line went tight. Not sure if it was rock or fish I gave the rod a quick, but short set, and it felt like bottom, but there was life on the end of that line! I was very quickly aware that I had a trophy on. At first I thought it was a big walleye since the fish continued to stay deep. Using 4 lb. test I had to be very careful of the weight and the strength that I applied while fighting the fish. With short lifts of the rod and taking in line, little by little I began to make ground, or water as it is in this case.
When I first saw "Walter", I remember going into shock! I thought I saw the color of bronze. Why this was no walleye at all, but a giant small mouth. A fish that was way beyond the size of any small mouth I had ever caught. I have bow hunted and killed 11 bucks at close range, and know the pounding heartbeat of close encounters with white-tail deer, but this was different -- this took me back to my youth on the river. My dreams of catching a trophy small mouth were at hand, to literally get my hand on his lip would fulfill my life long quest.
The fish was tiring, as was I. He made one poor attempt to jump. He barely made it out of the water. As I looked down my left knee was vibrating up and down at the speed of sound!
The opportunity was here. I eased the big bass over to the side of the canoe and, as if my hand was a magnet to the fish, I grabbed hold. "This is the time when most trophies are lost," repeated in my head, so I hung on. I was stunned how big his mouth was because this was a "small" mouth. My fishing partners had paddling over to witness this catch. About fifteen minutes or so had passed, and during that time I was telling them to stay clear -- with quite a bit of intensity I might add!
I lifted up my trophy and knew this was a once in a lifetime catch! Such girth; such length; such color. Two scales were quickly used to weigh the bass, one measured 5lbs 7 ounces, the other 5lbs 5 ounces. The length was 23 inches, wow, almost two feet long!
I eased the fish into the water and began to slowly put energy back into the fish. Back and forth I helped "Walter" move water through his gills, yet hanging on for I was not ready to release him to his rock pile. Minutes passed. I started to let go as the fish continued to stay in my light grasp (as if to reward me with one more look). I thanked the Lord and down he went.
Every year now I have a very special place I visit. You see the year before I caught a 4 lb 12 ounce small mouth in the very same rock pile... a cousin of "Walter"? We'd like to think not and that he just grew that much in a year.
So this August, you know where I will be... drifting that rock pile, with a big smile on my face! Thank you Canadian Border Outfitters for leading the way!