As you stumble around in your garage, vowing this is the year that you finally throw some of the “stuff” away, you wonder how long it would take to get your fishing boat out.
That’s the real mission here.
The weather’s been miserable at times, tolerable at others. Still, word is out that the fish are biting. A strong, steady bite on the ole Mississippi River’s got you itching to wet a line.
Captain Tom Rieple, owner of the Best Dam Fishing Float, located just below Lock and Dam No. 7 near Dresbach, and Mark Clements, owner of Captain Hook’s Bait & Tackle and Clements Fishing Barge, located on the downriver side of Lock and Dam 8 at Genoa, have an answer for you.
Until you get your boat out, or even when you do, there’s some great early-season fishing from each of their respective floats. For $25, you get a boat ride to and from the float, and up to 10 hours of hassle-free fishing. No need to gas up the boat, no launching it, no worrying if it will start.
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And, of course, you know they — as in walleyes, sauger, perch, northern pike — are biting from the floats. Any good proprietor/salesman knows as much. Both Rieple and Clements opened their docks the last week in March, and both have seen a steady stream of clientele.
And, of course, they’re catching fish.
“This time of year there is a lot of traffic. We go on the half hour (to pick up anglers), then once an hour (in the afternoons) after that. I make 10 trips a day, maybe more,” said the 59-year-old Clements, whose family has owned Clements Fishing Barge since 1936.
“Fridays and Saturdays are really busy. Today (Wednesday, April 6) we have a good crowd, 35 to 40 people out here. This time of year, when the perch bite is on, people come out of the woodwork.”
Likewise at the Best Dam Fishing Float, Rieple, 58, said. Entering his 13th season of owning/operating the float, he’s seen some slow days, but not very many. The Best Dam Fishing Float is located in a natural eddy behind the lock and dam, creating a buffet restaurant of sorts for more than 20 species of fish.
“We opened on a Thursday, March 24. Fishing was super, super good. Walleyes and sauger and lots of nice perch were caught,” Rieple said. “Then that cold front came through and slowed things down for a few days. Since then, fishing has really taken off.”
These guys make a living at catering to anglers, so they know the river system inside and out, top to bottom. They know the daily water temp (it was 35-37 last week); they know how much it rises and falls each day; they know the extended weather forecast.
And they know how to tell fish stories, which is half the fun of going to their respective fishing floats.
“We had a guy catch a 26-inch walleye over the last few days, and guys threw back some 22- and 23-inchers,” Clements said. “People want perch like crazy. They come from all over the state, and out-of-state, for perch.
“The Mississippi River holds a lot of perch. The last six to 10 years, the percentage or number of perch have gone up astronomically (near his float).”
Walleyes, perch and northern are hitting in the water around Rieple’s fishing float, too. In fact, if you have driven on I-90 recently and glanced at the river behind Lock and Dam 7 by Dresbach, you’ve seen it peppered with fishing boats — dozens and dozens of boats.
“We got a 19-pound, 39-inch pike that was caught. It was full of spawn, so he let it go,” Rieple said. “There have been a lot of nice, quality walleyes caught. Most of the guys are throwing them back as they are full of spawn.”
Each float offers plenty of space for fishing, and a ride to get there from shore via a pontoon or boat. At either place, it takes 3-4 minutes to cross the channel, then get dropped off at the float. A return trip happens every hour on the hour, or every 30 minutes in the morning at Clements Fishing Barge, if it’s busy.
While each owner has a website chocked with information about the float, the hours of operation, the shuttle service, the amenities, etc. — Best Dam Fishing Float’s site is bestdamfishingfloat.com while Clement’s Fishing Barge is clementsfishing.com — the method of communicating that you need a ride is unique.
And refreshingly old-school.
At Clements Fishing Barge, there is a flag pole with an orange flag on the shoreline. Raise the flag, and Clements will be over in minutes to pick you up. At the Best Dam Fishing Float, it’s a similar method as you simply flip a plywood, blaze-orange sign open, signaling Rieple that you are ready to be picked up.
To both Rieple and Clements, operating a fishing float involves long hours, as generally speaking it is 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Clements is open until 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). Best Dam Fishing Float is closed on Mondays, while Clements Fishing Barge is closed the month of August.
Both Rieple and Clements use their “off” time for maintenance and restocking their operations. And, at times, re-energizing themselves.
Operating a fishing float truly is a labor of love.
“I came over every Monday anyway (even though it was closed for anglers), as it was a maintenance day for us, a day to bring supplies over. The dock is 10 years old, so there is always things to do. I took one Monday off last year that I stayed home, otherwise it takes a day to clean stuff up,” Rieple said.
“It’s a pretty grueling season for me. I love my job, and it typically keeps me out of trouble.”
Clements uses the month of August for maintenance, and to take a well-deserved vacation.
“You get to that age, and it’s tough. It is physically demanding. It takes a toll on your body, keep pushing off the docks, pushing a 6,500-pound boat off the dock,” Clements said. “I’ve had shoulder surgery, and it wears you out.”
Still, neither Clements or Rieple is ready to get off the river and settle on dry land anytime soon. They would miss the people, many of whom have patronized their business for years, and, of course, telling fish stories.
“For my job, I love the people. I love the fact you are bringing people from all different walks of life together to fish. I’ve had everyone from doctors and to blue-collar guys,” Clements said.
“You bring them out and put them in camouflage jacket and put a fishing rod in their hand, and they have a lot of fun. It is kind of neat to see. I’ve seen it my whole life here.”
ANY IDEAS? I’m always open for ideas, as the outdoor community is full of interesting people who do fascinating things. I just need help finding them. It can be someone who is into canoeing, trapping, hunting, fishing, skiing or runs ultramarathons. If you know of someone, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at email@example.com