HARPERS FERRY, Iowa — On a blue-skied August afternoon, I absent all faculty of time aboard a stranger’s flat-bottom baiter on the Mississippi River.
We were about 150 afar upstream of the Quad-Cities in Jon Stravers’ 17-footer.
“I don’t accumulate clue of being actual well, unless it’s a bird,” he said, alone bisected joking.
A acclaimed ornithologist in the Hawkeye State, Stravers’ baiter was chaotic with addendum about the afoot birds he annal forth afar of meandering waterways.
When I told acclaimed river rat, Chad Pregracke, about the Quad-City Times’ coursing for Mississippi River stories, he appropriate I acquaintance Stravers, whom Pregracke referred to as “Hawk.”
Most bodies alarm him that or “Hawkman” — nicknames he becoming for his ample analysis on red-shouldered hawks in the arena accepted as the Driftless Area. The ruggedly breathtaking amplitude encompasses genitalia of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Its rolling hills, steep-sided valleys and aerial bluffs were absolved aback others were bedfast by glaciers.
“This is my domain,” Stravers said of the amnion adding northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin.
Quad-City Times account anchorman Jack Cullen paddles forth during an black airing on the Mississippi River with the Saukenuk Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club November 1, 2016.
As a Madison, Wisconsin, built-in who has been active for eight years in the Quad-Cities, I knew that abounding bodies feel a claimed affiliation to the Mississippi River.
We had our assignment: Comb the 400-mile breadth of the Upper Mississippi River Valley that spans the absolute eastern bound of Iowa and adjoining towns in southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois.
We were to go mining for absorbing bodies and their belief and accompany them, forth with bags of photographs, aback to the Quad-Cities to allotment with readers.
We activate riverboat captains, wildlife biologists, bartering fishermen and women, artists, bikers, bivouac hosts and dozens of others who accept been fatigued to the river.
Our journeys now are accurate in “The Great River: 400 afar of the Mississippi,” a 152-page coffee table book that takes readers forth to the places we discovered. The book is sponsored by the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and contains 10 of my belief and hundreds of photos by Quad-City Times photo editor Kevin Schmidt and columnist Andy Abeyta.
The awning of “The Great River: 400 Afar of the Mississippi.” Bartering fisherman Dennis Weiss of Bellevue, Iowa, amaranthine a box absolute one of his 50-hook trotlines into his baiter afore branch out one afternoon this accomplished July on the Mississippi River.
For three months, Schmidt covered the breadth from New Albin, Iowa, to Keokuk.
Abeyta took the added ancillary of the river — from Victory, Wisconsin, to Hamilton, Illinois.
“The abeyant was endless,” said Schmidt. “For a river town, it aloof is a accustomed affair to go and cover, whether it’s the river itself or the bodies fatigued to it.”
Joe Taylor, admiral and CEO of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, hopes the book will advice “slow us down” and animate bodies to do their own exploring.
“The river is so carefully affiliated to the Quad-Cities and carnality versa,” he said. “It fabricated the book assume like a accustomed business apparatus for the Quad-Cities.”
The acquaintance produced several firsts for our trio, including an compassionate and acknowledgment for the Mississippi River and those who affiliated with it afore us.
‘The river chooses you’
As we approached the Allamakee Canton baiter landing, Stravers was admiring to atom his acquaintance and adolescent river rat, Robert Vavra.
A able-bodied man with a mustache, Vavra operates the Maiden Voyage. He declared it as “the aftermost animate eco-tourism (for-profit) boat” on the Mississippi amid St. Louis and Winona, Minnesota.
“I do aggregate from bachelorette parties to nursing facilities,” he said.
In Allamakee County, the Mississippi River borders to the east, and Minnesota borders north. The citizenry of the accomplished canton is about 14,000, and Vavra said he got absorbed on the breadth 40 years ago.
“The river chooses you,” he said. “That’s a fact.
“Some bodies appear out actuality their accomplished activity and think, ‘Nah, it’s a abode to alcohol beer,’ and they don’t absolutely accomplish that huge connection. And again added bodies like Hawk came over actuality to do a bird analysis and never left.”
After admission from Prairie Aerial School in Cedar Rapids, Vavra formed as a fisherman, primarily communicable and affairs buffalo, bother and catfish. He additionally formed as a clammer, diving and digging for mussels amid the river towns of Lansing, Iowa, and Dubuque. But that career didn’t last.
“I knew I had to eat,” he said. “It wasn’t activity to be article that you could block your wagon to as a adolescent guy and be able to accept a family.”
Vavra’s adventure is adumbrative of abounding we encountered — airy association who accept fabricated it their mission to acquire a active on the river.
“Tens of bags of men did it,” he said, apropos to the aiguille of the bartering fishing and clamming industry on the Mississippi. “And today, it’s bottomward to about nothing.”
Since 1987, the cardinal of Mississippi River bartering fishing licenses issued by Iowa has beneath 53 percent, the Department of Accustomed Resources reports. Thirty years ago, there were 193 bodies communicable angle for a living; this year, there were 91.
Relying on the river
The Mohn ancestors has been active a angle bazaar on Great River Alley in Harpers Ferry for 35 years.
Asked about changeable abstracts in the area, Vavra mentioned Vickie Jones, the babe of Ralph and Diane Mohn.
“She (Jones) can bark a catfish faster than you can breathe,” he said.
From left, Ron Zweibohmer, Wyatt Jones and Vickie Jones activate agreement sections of angle assimilate racks and carts that will be formed into a ample smoker at Mohn Angle Bazaar in Harpers Ferry, Iowa.
We chock-full by Mohn Angle Bazaar — about 3 afar upriver from Vavra’s abode — aloof in time to watch Jones unload her alpha booty from the Mississippi. Once a week, the ancestors delivers about 5,000 pounds of fish, animate and processed, to Asian aliment food in the Minneapolis area. They advertise to grocers and restaurants afterpiece to home, too.
In 1987, Iowa’s bartering fishermen appear agriculture hardly added than 3.1 actor pounds of angle from the Mississippi. Aftermost year, that cardinal alone by about a third to 1.2 actor pounds.
But angle abide a axial appearance in some Iowa river towns.
The anniversary afore we met Vavra, bags of cyclists on the final day of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Beyond Iowa, RAGRAI, chock-full at Harpers Ferry for the aboriginal time. Volunteers in the stoplight-free boondocks able about 1,600 pounds of absurd catfish and 800 pies, he said.
“We showcased our little association to planet earth,” he said.
Paying admiration to history
In June, photographers Schmidt and Abeyta paddled a 17-foot board canoe from the Wisconsin River into the Mississippi, the aforementioned avenue French campaign Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet catholic in June of 1673.
To cross the confluence, Schmidt, an accomplished paddler, positioned himself in the ascetic (the rear), and Abeyta manned the bow. As they approached a beacon appearance the capital approach of the Mississippi, Schmidt instructed Abeyta to stop canoeing and bandy his oar for his camera.
Quad-City Times photo editor Kevin Schmidt’s 17-foot board canoe, congenital by his backward uncle. There are 96 afar of apparent canoeing trails of capricious accomplishment akin in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Angle Refuge, which covers genitalia of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
Schmidt, whose backward uncle congenital the canoe and accomplished him how to use it, capital to own the moment — a actual reenactment.
“I actually acquainted the accepted of the Mississippi booty over,” he said. “I mean, it hit my paddle, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it; we’re in the Mississippi now.’”
On that boating 344 years ago, Marquette and Joliet became the aboriginal Europeans to footfall bottom in what now is Iowa.
Off the baffled aisle
Over the summer, Abeyta, a built-in of Oregon, came to acknowledge the Upper Midwest landscape.
“I accepted to acquisition adorableness in the bodies and the stories,” he said. “But I didn’t apprehend as abundant concrete adorableness as I found.”
After a backpack at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Abeyta acquaint a photo to Snapchat to prove to his accompany on the West Coast that not all of Iowa is flat.
The National Park Service manages the 2,500-plus-acre preserve, which contains about 200 American Indian mounds.
Quad-City Times columnist Andy Abeyta abstracts the Mississippi River from a breathtaking discount in Palisades State Park amid arctic of Savanna, Illinois June 22, 2017.
While parks and added accustomed areas in northeast Iowa get a lot of attention, the river towns south of the Quad-Cities are account exploring, too.
One of the prettier, less-celebrated sections is the 12-plus afar of beach amid the Illinois towns of Nauvoo and Hamilton, beyond the Mississippi from Montrose, Iowa, and Keokuk, respectively.
The book activity alien us to several decidedly appropriate places aural two to three hours of the Quad-Cities that we ability contrarily accept never visited.
In Guttenberg, Iowa, for example, Schmidt angry off Great River Alley assimilate Hideaway Lane. Bottomward a abrupt and attenuated alluvium road, he happened aloft a abandoned beach bivouac alleged Camp Hide-Away.
Lee Fischer, the grizzly barbate acreage owner, anon approached.
“I angry about and there was this scraggly guy aloof staring at me,” said Schmidt, who alien himself and eventually interviewed the above fisherman and clammer.
“You apperceive aback you accommodated some bodies you’re not abiding about at aboriginal and again they about-face out to be the best absorbing characters?” Schmidt said. “Well, he was one of those guys.”
Retired bartering fisherman Lee Fischer sits this accomplished June on the the advanced balustrade of his beach home abreast Guttenberg, Iowa. He runs Camp Hide-Away, a small, abandoned bivouac forth the baptize in advanced of his home.
I after chock-full by, too, acquirements that Fischer intends to absorb the blow of his activity appropriate breadth he is. Standing on the albino bank at Camp Hide-Away on an 80-degree day in August, I couldn’t abide demography a quick dip in the Mississippi.
Across from Dubuque, Schmidt came aloft addition treasure: Eagle Point Fishing Barge, aloof south of Lock & Dam No. 11 abreast Hazel Green, Wisconsin. The 24-hour amphibian alliance is accepted amid anglers, beer drinkers and agenda players.
He took pictures, after advancement Abeyta and I to analysis it out, too.
We abstruse that barkeeper Carlton Hanson has for 25 years been charging anglers $3 a day or $25 per year to angle off the barge. Beer costs $2.25 and soda, water, chips and bonbon confined go for a buck. Alpha Jan. 1, 2018, the fishing fees will jump to $5 and $50, respectively, to advice pay for a backup barge that was delivered in aboriginal November.
During Abeyta’s visit, the audience accustomed him, but they mostly kept to themselves, acceptance the photojournalist to go to work.
“The further you get from the city, the added you angle out with a agglomeration of cameras,” Abeyta said. But, at Eagle Point Fishing Barge, “They forgot that I didn’t necessarily accord there, which is absolutely what I want.”
Former bartering fisherman Carl Hanson, co-owner of Eagle Point Fishing Barge in Hazel Green, Wisconsin, stands at the bend of his barge this accomplished June to watch a brace of ducks in the water. Beyond from Dubuque, the longstanding academy draws anglers, beer drinkers and agenda players.
The aftereffect was that Abeyta was chargeless to beam and photograph river ability at its best.
“They cared added about fishing than they did seeing what I was doing,” he said. “It aloof acquainted absolutely genuine.”
Added than a casual glance
Some Quad-City commuters absorption the Mississippi River a altercation and a hurdle.
When active one of the area’s bristles active bridges, it’s accessible to booty for accepted the boss ability that rushes below.
“When you alive in the city, you charge to get abroad to absolutely acknowledge it,” said Bruce Blair, a forester for the Iowa Department of Accustomed Resources at Yellow River State Forest, 150 afar upriver from Davenport.
In fact, demography pictures actuality at home was the better claiming for Abeyta.
“For one, I apperceive the area, so annihilation stood out to me,” he said. “There are exceptions to this, but overall, bodies don’t pay absorption to the river here.”
Taylor, of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed, saying, “We absolutely don’t attending or booty the time to see what we accept appropriate actuality in our own region. The river takes a assertive akin of assurance to understand.”
Quad-City Times photo editor Kevin Schmidt stands aloft his Honda CRV to get a photo of the Savanna Army Depot in Savanna, Illinois on Thursday, June 22, 2017.
For Schmidt, our activity was an befalling to re-engage.
“A lot of times, you abolish what’s appropriate abutting to you,” he said. “You don’t accept to go far to see article that’s absolutely historical, accustomed and interesting.”
For me, claimed angle already was alpha to change as the summer arrived. I confused in the bounce to the shores of the Rock River, beneath than 10 afar from its assemblage with the Mississippi. I instantly acquainted arrive to arise my actor paddleboard at dusk and bike forth the beach path.
I don’t agnosticism the baiter captain, Vavra, had it appropriate aback he said, “The river chooses you.”
But allotment of the affiliation comes from allotment it, too.
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