Mississippi River’s Best Dam Fishing Float
It was a special day on the mighty Mississippi River, a football Sunday, and the Green Bay Packers were playing the Minnesota Vikings. Allegiances are divided here because the river is the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin (where Green Bay is for you geographically challenged folks). This turned out to be a great side story as we fished the river on the Best Dam Fishing Float (www.bestdamfishingfloat.com).
It all started with the annual conference of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) held out of LaCrosse, Wisconsin Sept. 16-19. An invitation came from the Explore LaCrosse tourism office to fish on the unique floating dock on Sunday morning and it sounded intriguing. We decided to give it a go … and we’re glad we did.
It was a bit confusing at first because we were told to arrive at the launch ramp adjacent to Lock and Dam No. 7, which was on the Minnesota side of the river at LaCrescent. A quick phone call to Capt. Tom Rieple of Holmen, Wisconsin, and he hopped in his pontoon boat, driving across the river to pick us up at the boat launch. He was there in a few minutes.
We loaded up our fishing gear and motored over to our destination – a floating dock with over 500 feet of fishable railing and located in Wisconsin, so we needed a Wisconsin fishing license. The dock was in a perfect spot, next to the dam but in a natural eddy that allows for baitfish to gather for anglers pursuing some of the 119 species of fish available in the Mississippi. On a good day an angler can catch 20 of those species off this dock.
“This isn’t a good time to be fishing because we had 3 inches of rain a few days ago,” said Capt. Tom, the manager and captain of the Fishing Float. “Let us help you rig up with one of our set-ups and we’ll make sure you catch some fish.”
One of the benefits of fishing different areas around the country is learning about new fishing spots, as well as new fishing techniques. The floating dock guys have developed a “Super Slider System” that is basically a sinker-slider setup. The fishing line goes through a tube that has a weight attached (we used 1 1/2-ounce weights because of the increased water flow). Depending on where you fished on the dock and what species you were targeting, a different sized weight could be used. Normally, it would be a ¾-ounce weight. For bluegills, it might be a ¼ ounce.
Despite the less than ideal conditions, my wife Sandy hit a sheepshead almost immediately. I thought it would make a good picture fish in case the fishing was slow. After staging a couple shots, I caught one, too. Then we caught a couple small catfish back-to-back. We moved around and caught some other smaller fish.
After getting some photos, Capt. Tom took me around the dock, introducing me to the regulars. He talked about some of the fish they caught and whether they were a Packers or Vikings fan. The game was fast approaching. Everyone kept fishing, but when the game started, they would make their way over for lunch at the grill and catch a bit of the game. The Float’s claim to fame was the “Best Dam” Burger on the Mississippi.”
It was quickly evident that the Best Dam Fishing Float was a family of sorts. Capt. Tom would walk the dock and banter back and forth with the loyal anglers, some of which were 2nd and 3rd generation fishermen. Long-lasting friendships were made on this fishing dock.
This has been a tough year for the Fishing Float. They would normally open in mid-March. However, due to high water they couldn’t open until May 10. It didn’t take them long to realize it was too early and they shut back down to mid-June. They will be shutting down for the season Oct. 31.
The Packers, enjoying home field advantage for the team’s home opener, jumped out to a 21-0 lead and things looked bleak for the Vikings fans. The Packers fans were talking some smack.
It was somewhere during the first half that Roger Spaulding of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, hooked into something big. It gathered a crowd as Corey Strayback of Harmony, Minnesota, followed him around with a net to try and help him out. It was a Vikings fan helping a Packers fan.
After a lengthy battle, the catch was complete. Spaulding reeled in a 55-inch, 35-pound lake sturgeon. It was released to fight another day, a protected species on this river. That was a fitting conclusion to our Best Dam Fishing Float experience, and we hope to make it back again another day. The cost is only $20 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under.
The game? The Packers held on to win 21-16 as the Vikings made a valiant comeback.
For more information on the area, check out www.explorelacrosse.com. You won’t be disappointed.