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Feature Story

Go fish!

7/3/2019

Central Iowa offers plenty of fish in its streams, lakes, ponds and rivers. If you need a reason to get outdoors this summer, these fishing stories might get you hooked.

Ice-cold air conditioning is one effective remedy for July’s oppressive mid-summer heat. But, if after a brutal work week, you’d prefer knocking the edge off by indulging in deep breaths of fresh Iowa air and outdoor leisure, then grab a rod, get your reel, phone a like-minded friend, loop some bait around a hook and cast away. Iowa’s waters are well stocked with bluegill, bass, walleye, trout, mudsuckers and many other varieties of hungry fish. When was the last time you enjoyed one of the many easily accessible local fishing options?

Pack the picnic basket, prepare for peace, quiet, rest, relaxation and a boat full of fun while making memories. But before setting sail, listen in as CITYVIEW offers a few central Iowans’ fish stories.

FISH STORY NO. 1

Big-catch Adam Hatch enjoys central Iowa river fishing at the Scott Street Bridge and other local spots. He also relishes memories of eye-popping prizes from elsewhere in the world.

“I’d love to tell you the story about the Goliath,” says Adam Hatch, a Des Moines
die-hard fisherman. “I’ve never been rocked so hard in my whole life.”

The Goliath is a type of large saltwater fish within the grouper family.

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“No human has that kind of power,” he says. “They eat 4-foot sharks. … You put
the pole between your legs. There’s no harness. There’s no captain chair because it would break all of that. You just sit down when it hits, and it pulls the boat everywhere. We’re talking a 46-foot boat with a 110-pound thrust trolling motor.
We used 460-pound cable wire.”

While in central Iowa, Adam Hatch
enjoys fishing for flatheads at the
Scott Street Bridge in downtown
Des Moines and in other local rivers.
But getting away and going for the
eye-popping prizes from elsewhere on
the globe is his true passion. Hatch is
pictured here with a tarpon he caught
while on vacation. Photo submitted

The Goliath was the most powerful of any fish Hatch has hauled in, but the hardest to catch was the tarpon. He had to charter a fishing tour in Puerto Rico to get that done.

Locally, Hatch says the popularity of river catfishing is increasing in popularity.

“Normally we catch flatheads, and we use these guys (for bait),” he says, pointing to a sunfish he caught at Water Works Park. “So we catch these
little sunfish and then use them to catch the big fish.”

Big trophy catfish are the goal, but fish of all shapes and sizes find Hatch’s hooks. He harvests much of what he catches to clean, cook and eat, but he generally releases any fish weighing more than 15 pounds so someone else can have a
chance.

The biggest river catch Hatch has been part of, so far, is a 52-pound flathead. To reel in that monster, some heavy duty tackle is necessary, including 8-ounce weights, 8/0 hooks, 100-pound braided fishing line, and, preferably, something called a ditty pole. The Hawg Lawg iteration of the ditty pole was patented by
central Iowa’s MudbuM Boys. Fishermen pound these poles into the river banks far enough to withstand the large aquatic creatures’ efforts to pull away, sometimes for 8 hours or more. The poles can be left unattended, and multiple poles are often put out at one time. At least in part, Hatch credits the MudbuMs and their patented rigs with facilitating monster catches and what he says is an ensuing rise in the popularity of flathead fishing.

FISH STORY NO. 2

Trout were rising at Lake Petocka, but this fisheries biologist needed a little help from his friends to land a Polk County prize. The DNR stocks the popular Bondurant fishing spot, and fishing aficionado Scott Gritters says there must be at least 50 ways to lure your catch of choice.

Scott Gritters would rather be fishing. After turning
50, each year he concocts a new goal of 50 ways
to fish. On his way to catching a fish in 50 Iowa
counties, he found himself finally hooking himself
a trout from the DNR stocked Lake Petocka in
Bondurant, thanks to a minnow from Johnston Bait
& Tackle. When all else fails, says Gritters, live
bait is your best bet. He also advises against long
casts into deep water, most of the fish in Iowa hang
out within 3 feet of the shoreline. Lake Petocka is
located in Bondurant at 520 Pleasant St. N.E. The
lake is known for its trout and catfish, but panfish
and largemouth bass have also been reported. Photo
submitted. To find other local fishing hotspots, visit
www.iowadnr.gov and its fish local page.

The greeting card industry is famous for over-the-top, feel-good sappiness. But when Scott Gritters turned 50, he learned Hallmark can have a satirical side.

“My favorite card said: ‘No worries about dying young anymore,’ ” he jokes.

The Iowa DNR fisheries biologist used his half-century milestone for introspection, after which he drew one simple conclusion: More often than not, he’d rather be fishing. As such, it was time to be a little more selfish.

“I did this goofy thing once I turned 50,” Gritters explains. “I do something with 50 every year for fishing. One year I caught 50 species of fish. The next year I caught fish on 50 different lures. Every year I do something different. Last year I caught a fish in 50 different counties.”

The avid outdoorsman is a lifelong fisherman. He grew up angling often in central Iowa in and around Pella where he grew up. He currently lives in eastern Iowa,
but last fall he found himself at Lake Petocka in Bondurant looking to etch another notch in his belt. He knew the DNR stocks the hotspot with trout, and trout is a species he enjoys fishing for up in northeast Iowa. Gritters assumed it would be a quick-and-easy catch even without live bait, which he was without since the central Iowa fishing trip was unplanned.

“I get there, and I see trout rising all over the place,” he says. “I figured it would be about a 5-minute ordeal. I started throwing a spinner around, a little rooster tail spinner, and I could not get one bite. They’d follow it a little bit and then turn away.”

Next he tried the trout power bait he had on hand from teaching a recent kids fishing camp.

Nothing.

Then he went back to the spinner.

“Eventually, I’ll catch one,” he thought. “I threw, and I threw, and I threw.”

Gritters continued coming up empty, but a fellow angler a short distance away was having a different experience.

“He had a bobber,” Gritters remembers. “I see him put some bait on of some sort, and he throws out. And immediately, as fast as he could throw it out there, he’s got another one.”

Then the other man did it again, and again, and again.

“Over and over, he’s like a sewing machine,” says Gritters. “Usually I don’t like to bother other fishermen, but I walk up to him, and he was real nice.”

“Minnows,” advised the man. So Gritters made a run to the local bait shop.

“I came back, and I tied on a minnow, and I mean to tell you, when I threw that bobber out there with the minnow, the moment it hit the water it went straight down,” he says. “Sometimes trout are really picky. If you don’t know how to fish very well, then live bait is always a good choice.”

The moral of the story, according to the expert angler, is to stay humble and ask for help when necessary.

“I got schooled,” he admits. “But if I didn’t swallow my pride and talk to that guy, it would have been worse. I’m really glad I did that.”

FISH STORY NO. 3

The Johnston Dragons have certifiably gone fishin’! The high school club angling team bought a bass boat in 2019, just two years after its debut cast.

The Johnston High School club fishing team acquired its bass fishing boat during this previous offseason. The team is the first of its kind in Iowa to boast its own ride. Photo submitted

Johnston High School’s math teacher, JustinLewis, has had a lifelong fishing obsession. His extensive background in the sport consists of spending most of his high school and college free time bringing in big catches. His expertise also landed him a gig with a high-viewership YouTube channel. But despite his extensive experience, he didn’t know quite what he was getting into when he first pitched starting a fishing team to the Johnston School Board.

“(Competitive Iowa high school fishing) is not something a lot of people are probably aware of,” he says. High school fishing is much more prevalent in the southern states and at the collegiate level. More than 600 college teams exist. “It is something that is taking off, but it is very hard to get started.”

Water safety and boating liability initially concerned various levels of school authorities, but those were eventually alleviated.

The benefits of a fishing team were also cloudy at first, mostly because the idea was foreign to many, but Lewis persevered. He explained that, unlike some high school activities, fishing can and often does become a lifelong passion, and having fun while fishing is something nearly anyone can do, regardless of
aptitude. Plus, statistics indicate students involved in school programs generally have a lower probability of picking up problematic behaviors.

Johnston’s inaugural season began in 2017.

“The original eight kids turned into 40 pretty fast,” says Lewis.

Two years later, the team boasts more than 300, attracting varying skill levels from experienced student anglers to kids who are throwing a line in for the first time.

The team practices weekly during the school year and bimonthly during the summer. Team activities consist of more than simply tossing hooked worms into ponds and hoping for the best. Understanding fish biology, weather patterns and applied sciences of many kinds is important to achieving success, which the team has had much of.

“We’re good,” the coach admits. “Our seniors have won the last four tournaments, and we have some really strong sophomores and juniors. They finished third the last two years at state. That’s typically out of 22-25 teams.”

During competitions, after time expires, each team tallies its five biggest fish — generally bass. Whoever hauls in the highest total poundage takes the title.

The Iowa high school club fishing season runs April through October. Johnston schedules approximately 12 tournaments. September’s state competition will be held in Dubuque, on the Mississippi River.

For this season, the team raised money and purchased a Nitro 959 bass fishing boat with a 21-foot platform. ♦

IDNR Hard Card

Iowa artist and outdoors lover captures the state’s wildlife.

The IDNR is offering collectible “hard card” hunting and fishing licenses this
year. The artwork was created by Bruce Gordon, an artist and native Iowan. The
cards are offered for an additional $5 added to the price of annual hunting and
fishing licenses. The DNR plans to use the additional revenue to promote the state’s conservation efforts.

Gordon is an active hunter and angler. To better research the design of his bass image on the fishing license card, he did some pond diving to observe lily pads from underwater.

To see more of Gordon’s work, visit www.artistbynature.net. The cards are available at www.GoOutdoorsIowa.com. ♦

GO OUTDOORS IOWA

The Iowa DNR recently unveiled a new online hunting and fishing license system. The new system — Go Outdoors Iowa — allows users to access their customer profiles from anywhere with an Internet connection. Functionality exists allowing for purchases of new licenses, or to edit customer profile details, reprint licenses, set up license auto-renew, report a harvest, and submit quota hunt applications. The Go Outdoors Iowa app is free to download through the App Store or Google Play Store. The new licensing system is accessible by visiting www.iowadnr.gov/GoOutdoorsIowa. Customers may also continue visiting any license agent location to purchase their licenses and permits. ♦

Fishing tips from fishing expert and fisheries biologist Scott Gritters

CITYVIEW: If you are advising a 6-year-old who knows absolutely nothing as to how to best catch a fish, how would you do it?

“Keep it simple,” he says. “A bobber, a medium-to-small hook and a night crawler. That will catch you 80 percent of the fish.”

CITYVIEW: Where is the best place to cast? 

“A lot of people get to a lake or a pond or even a river, and they want to cast all the way out to the middle. For a 6-year-old, that’s a lot of fun, so I always let them, but to be truthful, most fish are along the shoreline. In any system, you really don’t need to cast a country mile. A lot of people think the big fish are out in the middle of the lake, it’s just human nature, but fish move along the shoreline. They feed along the shoreline. Generally, they are in fairly shallow water.” 

CITYVIEW: Is high-dollar equipment necessary? 

“Stay away from the cheapest rigs,” he says. “They last for a little bit, but not very long. I don’t fish with real high-dollar poles, but it does make a difference if you have nice equipment. If you’re fighting your fishing pole, if your line comes out like a Slinky, it’s just not that much fun.”

CITYVIEW: Does the early bird get the worm? Is it best to go in the morning?

“Generally, morning and evening bring about better bites, but not always… as the day warms up, the water temperature starts warming up and the fish become more active because fish are cold blooded. So, typically, you want warmer water.”

CITYVIEW: What’s the most fun you’ve ever seen someone have while catching a fish? 

“I’m around fishing so much at these kids fishing events,” he says. “You just see pure joy. It’s infectious.” 

CITYVIEW: So to recap. Bring a bobber. Use a worm. Cast fairly close to the shoreline. Go to the Iowa DNR’s website to find a good spot. Don’t necessarily get up early, but do probably stay out late. And of course… ASK FOR HELP? 

“Typically anglers are really friendly, so if you don’t know how to fish or if you see somebody like I saw that guy… do it tactfully, leave your pole behind and talk to them. Like I had to swallow my pride. I’m a fisheries biologist. I fish all over the world, and I had to ask for help. That was awesome. I find that wherever I go… fishermen are generally fine with it. Don’t blow in on them, don’t take up their space, but don’t be afraid to ask somebody.”

CITYVIEW: Regardless of challenges, find time to fish… lunch breaks, on the way home from work, whatever?

“Fishing’s a lifelong sport,” says Gritters. “It’s a gateway to the environment, and it is something that you can do all year around. It’s part of your quality of life. A fishing trip doesn’t have to be an all-day thing. That’s another thing that people think, ‘How can you fish that much?’ I get that all the time. Well, some of my fishing is only 15 minutes. I go to the local stream and cast 20 times and run my dog a little bit. He loves it. I love it. Then I’m done. It doesn’t have to be an all-day thing. Just casting a bobber or a sinker, and just fishing for a little while, it puts you back in a better place sometimes. If you see a local pond, why not take the kids there for half-an-hour or an hour? You have that kind of time. It doesn’t have to be an all-day thing.” ♦

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