Caught Ovgard: Hooking a mini dinosaur
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — So many places are poorly named. Take my hometown, Klamath Falls, for instance. The "falls" are a glorified rapid. When I stand at their base during average flow, the top of the falls are below my waist. Now, as an angler, I'm all for exaggerating a little bit, but this is a stretch by any means. Given my origins, it's nice to see a city that lives up to its namesake water feature, like Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Though fans of the heavy metal band originating in Bakersfield, California, might disagree, Cedar Rapids is the real "corn capital" of the world. The Midwestern city processes more corn than any other city on Earth. Nestled on the Cedar River, the rapids are popular with rafters, kayakers and anglers alike, thanks to the Class II and III whitewater (well, brownwater) that bestowed Cedar Rapids with its apropos name.
After a detour through Des Moines to fish with my friend Casey Shanaberger one summer, I detoured through Cedar Rapids on my way to Wisconsin to fish with his friend, Zach Grobstich (@zagman10 on Instagram), for a species I'd long wanted to catch: the shovelnose sturgeon.
Though West Coast sturgeon are massive, ancient beasts worthy of shark tackle, their small Mississippi River cousins rarely top 3 feet in length. Instead of 7/0 circle hooks baited with whole herring, I was using a No. 8 hook with a red worm — a setup you might use for stocker trout or small bullhead catfish.
The rapids themselves are formidable, but the Roller Dam — used primarily for flood control — really contributes to the current during high flows. Despite the small baits, we were forced to use a moderate amount of weight as we held out hope of catching a sturgeon. I quickly caught a freshwater drum, as did Zach.
The freshwater cousins of the red drum or redfish aren't as beloved but are still a blast to catch on light tackle. The anglers who target them literally beat to a different drum than the inshore anglers of the gulf because, for some reason, freshwater drum aren't popular. I've always appreciated them, though, and that day they served to get the skunk off.
The roaring brown waters looked imposing, and I knew I didn't have much longer to fish. I wasn't too optimistic, but it had been a pleasant stop.
Zach and I hit it off immediately, as we exchanged fishing stories. Though not a species hunter in the same vein as I am, he is very much a multispecies angler who likes to fish for a variety of species in various and sundry ways. Fortunately, soaking a worm on the bottom wasn't as complex as some of his other methods, or he might have left me in the dust.
I checked the time. Wisconsin was in my sights, and I still had several hours of driving to do, so I gave myself a one-hour timeline after the drum pounded above the din of the rapids. Fortunately, the cadence it had set was fast-paced, and I didn't have to wait long to hook a mini dinosaur of my own.
Landing it along the near flood-stage riverbank proved a bit stressful on my light setup, but I took it behind a small lip in the bank and beached it behind the current break. The slow-growing fish was just under 3 feet long, but likely older than me when I caught it.
A few quick photos of the strangely beautiful fish, a quick cut of my palm on its sharp, bony plates (called scutes), and it was back in the water. Thankfully, it was hooked in the corner of the
mouth, and it splashed brown water into my sweaty face as it powered itself into the aptly named Cedar Rapids.
I thanked Zach for his time, and we parted ways.
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