It sounds like the beginning of a joke: so three guys are fishing a river. One is from Iowa, one is from Kansas and one is from Missouri.
Except this wasn’t a joke. It was a family reunion, and bragging rights were up for grabs.
My mother-in-law’s family is from Carroll, Iowa. This is a wonderful little town in the northwest part of the state. It’s heavy agriculture country and is home to abundant wildlife. Each time I visit, I enjoy spending time with my wife’s uncle Bob, who is a dedicated outdoorsman.
Bob and I usually spend some time driving around glassing the region’s impressive whitetails. On this trip, though, fishing was the first order of business.
Andy is active duty Army stationed in Kansas. He’s completed five deployments; two in Iraq, two in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait. He’s a hero, no question about it. He also is a hardcore fisherman. I really enjoy catching up with Andy at family functions and immensely respect his sacrifice for our country. That doesn’t mean I didn’t intend to out-fish him with family bragging rights on the line.
There was a lot of setup to be completed before the family reunion took place, so in an honest effort to limit the crowding of the rented facility, Bob, Andy and I volunteered to go fishing. We even took some kids with us to further reduce stress on those conducting the setup. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
We started off at some ponds right outside of town. Catching bluegill and little perch wasn’t doing much for our competitive natures, so we moved to the Raccoon River.
Bob had home-field advantage and didn’t waste time setting up in his spot just above a small rock dam. Andy moved upstream a bit to a sharp bend in the river. The pocket water he was fishing looked good, and he geared up for a big fish with fresh cut bait. I eyed the turbid water below the dam as a potential hotspot.
Not being one for sitting and watching a line set on the bottom, I decided I would try running a crawfish crankbait in the tailwater below the dam. There was a perfect seam where the water rushing over the dam collided with the slow swirling eddy behind a rock outcropping I was fishing from. It didn’t take long to hook into a 12-inch smallmouth. A nice fighting fish but not what I was looking for.
I kept running the Rebel Craw right along the seam, reeling about as slow as possible. I’d give a strong, swift pull to speed up the lure and increase its action, then let off to allow it to flutter back down stream a few feet. I kept repeating this action until I went to pull, and it felt like I had hooked into a cinder block. Except this cinder block started moving across the river.
My moment had arrived. I had fished the tailwater to perfection and hooked into a true behemoth. My mind quickly raced to all the accolades that would come from the reunion attendees. My wife’s grandpa would be excited. He’s an old river fisherman himself. I could already see the pictures we’d take with the kids gathered around my prized catch.
Then snap. My line broke, and it was over. I’d fought the fish for no more than 15 seconds, but it felt much longer. My hopes for being the family fishing hero took off down stream. I don’t know what that fish was, but it was big. It was probably a large catfish, but northern pike and walleye also are in the Raccoon. Whatever kind of fish it was, 8-pound test line didn’t come close to slowing it down.
Bob caught a nice catfish, probably 6 or 7 pounds, which became the center of a debate. He said it was a blue cat. Andy claimed it was a channel catfish. I’ve caught a number of both species over the years, and this wasn’t a cat I could easily identify. Maybe it was some kind of river hybrid. It certainly wasn’t a flathead. I’m leaning more towards channel, but when the blood relatives are arguing, it’s best for an in-law to sit it out and focus on the one that got away.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears regularly in the Daily Reporter. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.