La Crosse Bass Fishing

lacrosse bass fishing
"Jeremiah Burish prepares to land another Mississippi River smallmouth bass.  Photo by Tom Berg."

Explosive La Crosse Bass Fishing

by Tom Berg

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Jeremiah Burish from the La Crosse County Convention & Visitors Bureau pulled up with his boat in the parking lot of the Radisson hotel.  We were in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I was scheduled for a day of bass fishing on the Mississippi River. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Every view of the Mississippi I’d ever seen showed a wide and muddy river that was devoid of plant life.  Since Jeremiah had told me we would be fishing for largemouth bass with topwater frog lures (bass love aquatic weeds and vegetation), I was uncertain of what was going to happen.

La Crosse Wisconsin

La Crosse is located right on the river. It was a relatively short ride to the launch area where Jeremiah planned to launch his boat.  When we pulled up to the Goose Island Landing boat ramp, my mind was quickly changed about the Mississippi being a muddy waterway without any aquatic vegetation.  In fact, vegetation was everywhere! I didn’t realize that this area and Goose Island was part of an expansive backwater area of the Mississippi River, and that we were actually in the heart of the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  It was a beautiful area.

As we motored away from the boat ramp, I saw vast expanses of reeds, lily pad beds, cattails, aquatic grass and other vegetation.  Millions of tiny, individual duckweed plants floated in bays and areas that were out of the wind, too. I love fishing marshy backwater areas, so this place looked like heaven to me! Jeremiah suggested that we start by casting floating Jackall Kaera frogs in the thicker vegetation and over the duckweed mats.  He was sure that hungry largemouth bass were waiting below. I agreed! The plastic frogs looked very lifelike as they skittered across the surface, but after 30 minutes with no action Jeremiah decided to try something different. We had just drifted over to a large exposed sandbar with some deeper water on one side of it, and Jeremiah quickly tied on a large soft plastic swimbait.  He hadn’t taken more than a half dozen casts with it when a strong fish slammed his lure! I looked over to see what all the splashing was about, just in time to see Jeremiah haul a chunky smallmouth bass into the boat.  I thought we were fishing for largemouth bass!

“Jeremiah Burish shows off a fine Mississippi River largemouth bass taken on a topwater frog lure.  Photo by Tom Berg.”

“There are plenty of smallmouth bass here, too,” said Burish.  He wasn’t joking. I tied on a swimbait and we proceeded to thoroughly fish both sides of the extensive sandbar.  Jeremiah is an expert when it comes to fishing the backwaters of the Mississippi, and within a few minutes he hooked another good smallmouth.  And another. I think he caught three or four smallies before I caught my first one!

TOPWATER BASS

We were having a great time catching and releasing smallmouth bass, but Jeremiah really wanted to show me the topwater bite for largemouth bass.  As soon as the smallmouth action slowed, we motored off to a new area that was absolutely choked with vegetation. It looked perfect for largemouth bass! We both switched back to the floating Kaera frogs and started working the edges of the reeds and duckweed.  Jeremiah connected first with a nice largemouth, but it didn’t take too long for me to catch one.  And then another one. Even though the frog lures were fairly large, the bass really inhaled them. It was not unusual for the entire frog to be lodged in the back of the fish’s throat!

BACKWATER BASS

As we moved through the quiet backwaters, the beauty of the area really stood out.  The dark, still waters reflected against the blue sky and green trees. It was the end of summer, but everything was still lush and green.  Bald eagles soared overhead and great blue herons waded the shallows. Small fish dimpled the surface here and there beneath dead trees that had fallen into the water along the shoreline.  Surely there were big bass hiding in the shadows of those deadfalls, too. We had just glided up to a large tangled mass of tree limbs and woody structure where a big tree had fallen into the water. There was a terrific splash way back in the thickest parts of the tree. The tree was at the edge of the shoreline in the duckweed.  Jeremiah had deftly flipped his frog to the back of that pocket. As soon as it started moving across the duckweed a big bass hit it like a ton of bricks! Jeremiah set the hook and held on as the bass tried to turn and head back into the thick submerged branches.  I wondered how Jeremiah was going to get that fish out of the submerged tree without breaking the line. As I contemplated those gloomy thoughts he turned the fish. It came rocketing out of the brush and into the open water! After a few short, surging runs, Jeremiah had the fish up to the side of the boat and he quickly lip-landed it.  It was a beautiful largemouth bass, thick and healthy after a long summer of feeding on frogs and minnows in the lush Mississippi backwaters!

VISIT LA CROSSE WISCONSIN

If this sounds like fun to you, visit La Crosse, Wisconsin and get in on the hot bass fishing action yourself. My wife and I stayed at the Radisson hotel right downtown (www.radisson.com/lacrossewi, 800-333-3333), and we were only a stone’s throw from the river.  It was the perfect location for exploring the area, too, as Riverside Park was right next door and the downtown shopping district was only a block away.  Lots of excellent restaurants to choose from, too. Be sure to check out www.explorelacrosse.com for more info and to plan your own trip.

 

 

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