Floodwater Forays

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Casey Shanaberger
Casey Shanaberger's picture
Floodwater Forays

Earlier in the year, during April, I remember making a post on here about fishing in higher, flooded waters. I recall saying something about how I wished the water would drop. It didn't. Apart from a 2-week bit, the farthest away the Des Moines River has gotten away from flood stage was when it went 4 feet over it in July.  Yeesh. Needless to say, the fish have got to be somewhere, so I made attempts to catch them. Boy, was I surprised by some of my catches....


Let's start in June.

Not what I was expecting while drifting kernels of corn 30 yards down from a spillway discharging 11,000cfs, but hey, I'll never complain about a carpsucker.


Later that week, I began to hear reports of large wipers being caught on white baits. I hadn't gotten a large wiper yet so I was eager to hook up with one. I began throwing a white twister tail in hopes of something large. I ended up with a large fish indeed.

I managed two nice bigmouth that day, one healthy and fat while the other looked like it was having a tough time in the current.

Both fish ate artificials, which was the start of a wierd "non-predatory fish being predatory" phase that continued until mid September.

Soon, it began raining again. On the last night of June, the Des Moines area received 9" of rain in just under 2 hours. That messed up the rivers a little bit. It sent the already inundated Saylorville Reservoir into levels only seen once before- 1993. The day after all the rain, I went up to the spillway to check it out, but I didn't even think of bringing my rod with me. There were dozens of small backwater ponds connected to the river, each filled with dozens and dozens of bigmouth buffalo, common carp, and even carpsuckers!

Dozens of them, right in front of me!

Here's a video I took of the fish swimming in the ponds, I encourage you to watch it.-




Most (if not all) fish got out of the pond, one way or another.


Now we push on into July, where Des Moines received 0.37 inches of rain the entire month (all in one day, too). Everything looked like it would dry out, and it did. Well, everything except the river. Since all of my local creeks were completely destroyed by the flood, I kept fishing the river since it was the only place I could constantly key in on fish. Most of my fish were 2-3lb freshwater drum, but occasionally I would hook into a big one. After spotting a school of large drum in shallow water near shore, I began fly fishing for them because I could use the length of the rod to help keep my lures out of snags.  It worked, and paid off huge.

These were insanely fun fights on a 7wt in heavy current. I landed both of these fish more than 40 yards downstream of where I hooked up with them. 


Remember earlier when I said I was catching non-predators on lures? Here's what exactly what was happening. The shad had a noticeably larger spawn than last year, and the high water had ripped up most of the gravelly bottom of the river, dislocating much of the food for carp, carpsuckers, and smallmouth buffalo. Needing a newer, easier food source, I think many of them were eating small shad simply because of their over-abundance (I was foul-hooking juvenile shad every other cast). Fish would strike anything that loosely resembled a shad if it drifted in front of their faces. I found a nice eddy slightly downstream where there were large gatherings of fish.

Taken on a small white twister tail.

This River Carpsucker actually spit out a small shad upon being landed. Wild.

And here comes the grand trophy of most of the fish I landed this summer.
The rare fly-fished quillback. He ate a small white streamer in fast, turbulent water. (I threw away my tippet after this, don't worry.)

Once August hit, it started raining again. We were getting 2-3 inches of rain per week, and the river was rising rapidly again. My hopes of being able to fish it as I did last year were dashed pretty quickly. With the recent rise in the water, most of the roughfish disappeared and I caught very few local fish in August and September. I was mentally defeated by the unfavorable conditions I'd been fighting against since March. Finally, a friend of mine texted me and told me that white bass were beginning to run again in the cooler weather. Finally, an opportunity to catch one of my favorite fish, and one that was pretty uncommon through most of the summer.

After spending the past month or so (it still kept raining a lot) catching as many of these little buggers as my heart desires, the weather is finally beginning to cool. After going from statewide tornadoes to statewide so in under 72 hours last weekend, we are finally settling into a cool but dry pattern. Thank the fish gods for that. Fall fishing looks to be tough this year, since the water is high, cold, and muddy. Not ideal conditions, but what makes an angler good is his ability to adapt. I hope I can do that.





FP4LifesDad's picture
Good read and pics buddy,

Good read and pics buddy, thanks for sharing!  You certainly have the carpsuckers figured out, very cool fish!  It's been flooded and nasty up here in MN too, we just tried for flatheads again Sunday and the river was way up from 2 weeks ago, all kinds of leaves, sticks, and crap floating down it that always had to end snagging up on our lines making it a real jolly time.  Have a good hard water season my friend.


Matt Miller
Matt Miller's picture
Cool stuff

Great report and very cool fish. I would love to catch some of those species, and even better would be on a fly rod.

Eric Kol
Eric Kol's picture
How common are river

How common are river carpsuckers down there? Looks like a spring well spent


Carpy Diem!

Casey Shanaberger
Casey Shanaberger's picture
River Carpsuckers

River carpsuckers around here are pretty common sights, but typically not fair-hooked sights. I usually run into less than a dozen each summer, and this summer was above average for them.

"I swear if you catch another drum"