Perfect day at the Wapsi

25 Apr

What is the Wapsi? It’s a river. Short for Wapsipinicon. In Iowa. USA.

Thirty miles straight north of me my canoe is chained to a tree at my Aunt’s cabin.  The cabin was built in the 1940’s by my great-grandfather.

I loaded up my fishing poles, plenty of beer, and my loyal Golden Retriever, Mya.

Mya is 9 years old but we only got her last Fall and I am betting she has never been in a canoe before. This called for some on-shore training before we started.

I placed a rug on the floor of the canoe so she wouldn’t slip. I helped her in and out a few times, like getting her into a bathtub.
Still I was unsure. The water is cold and the river is up and moving. For one person in a 17-foot canoe this might not be the best idea.

It looks peaceful but the current is strong and steady. If she were to leap out while we were in the main channel things could go bad very fast.
We eased into the canoe. She curled up tight against the bottom. I talked to Mya and petted her. In seconds we were out on the river and I decided to head directly into a backwater channel instead of fighting the current.
That turned out to be a great decision. In summer this backwater becomes mucky and stagnant but now the water is high and flowing through, connecting all these little places that can’t be reached any other time of year.
Right off the bat, TURTLES!

…and a beaver. And geese.
I paddled to shore. Mya stepped out calmly and began exploring. I set up the fishing poles, one with a worm on the bottom, one with a worm dangling under a bobber. My theory was that this might be a good fish hang-out. The water is deep, as much as 10 feet in spots, and the bottom is covered in dead tree branches and logs.

I left the bail open on the fishing reels in case something grabbed the bait. A good sized catfish or turtle would pull the whole thing into the water if I weren’t careful. Turns out I didn’t need to worry. No bites.
I brought Mya a baggie of dogfood but she was too busy with other things. I ate a sandwich and drank several beers. On the third beer my imagination had wandered back to a time when my Dad and his brother would have taken a john-boat right through this very backwater passage where I was sitting. It was about 60 years ago and it wasn’t in black-and-white. It was just as green and clear as it was on this day.

Another Spring-time ritual is Houby-hunting. That is, mushrooming. Mya and I wandered away from the fishing poles and into the woods. I spent about an hour combing through piles of dead leaves alongside the old downed trees. I saw lots of Fungi but no Morel mushrooms. I am the world’s worst mushroom hunter, I swear.

I should train Mya to sniff out mushrooms. Is that possible?


I am about like a dog, I suppose, sniffing about all over the place.
Here’s a Green Frog. (not just a green-colored frog, it’s name is the Green Frog, you would think they could have been a little more creative)

..and here’s a ferny-leafed plant that I liked. I need to find out what it is.

…and this group of Whirli-gig beetles. They are an aquatic beetle that swarms on the water’s surface. They swim in circles, and can dive underwater and even fly. I love the way some of these guys are sitting on a stick. Don’t they look like miniature turtles on a log?

Spaulding, is that you?!?!??

You can see the little stick-bobber floating under the tree branch. I craftily casted my line right over the branch. If a fish pulled on it I would see the tree leaves shaking.

You don’t believe I can cast that well? Me either.

More turtles! They were everywhere. Sometimes I could look in all directions and see them. Some were wary, others not so much. They are Western Painted Turtles.

We hopped back into the canoe. Mya was acting like an old pro. I headed for a frog pond that normally can’t be reached by boat. We maneuvered through the trees in about a foot of water. The Everglades with no Alligators.

A small flock of ducks exploded out of nowhere. They were Blue-Winged Teal.

I picked up some native Hornwort. I will put it in my 30 gallon pond. The store-bought stuff always burns out in the sunny location of the pond. I ‘ll be very interested to see if this does better.

See how Mya is starting to snooze.

Here’s a piece of driftwood that might look good in an aquarium:

We found a nice little sandbar that is also impossible to reach later in the year. I have tried. As we approached I saw a big Softshell Turtle slip into the water. We got onshore. There were goose tracks in the sand, there were deer tracks, and there were broad drag marks  where an animal had gone from the backwater to a smaller pool of water. A big turtle? Or a beaver. There was a thicket of small Willows and many freshly -cut branches laying in the water.
Mya was really enjoying the experience now. She started venturing deeper into the water.


I found a stick and she got all excited, just like when I get her Frisbee at home.
We were a mile from civilization but it felt like 1000.

Here’s a Leopard Frog, and the Chorus Frogs were calling loudly.

Strangely, at this same location I saw a large dead tadpole underwater and also this dead frog. Did they just die for some reason, or were they killed by an animal that does not eat frogs? In other words, would the Geese kill them but not eat them?

We left the sandbar and I decided to take a shortcut:

Ooops, cold wet feet for both of us.

One more turtle pic as we left the backwater. I must have seen 50 of them.

And that’s my last picture. I thought I had a fully-charged camera battery but I did not. From the very beginning of the day I had “low battery” making me limit my photos.
We had spent about 4 or 5 hours in the backwaters. After packing my gear back into the car I settled onto the couch of the cabin. More beer, some cheese (smoked Gouda) and crackers, some dog food and a dish of water for Mya. She fell asleep on a floor rug. I watched an episode of MASH. One of my kids just read “the stranger” by Albert Camus, so I read a couple chapters. It was getting late.

We went outside and out to the boat dock. I just sat in a chair watching the river go by. I saw greenish-brown water with waves of light blue. I saw those 2 colors.  Monet would have seen 10 more.
I spent a half-hour on the dock, the sun going down, thinking this was the best day I had ever spent on the Wapsi. No fish, no mushrooms, and maybe that led me to see other things just as interesting.
How could this day have been any better?  Picture this:
Six beers, maybe 7. The water pump is set on a concrete pad poured in September of 1947. Little indentations, little footprints . My Dad, 6 years old. I reach down and touch every one of those little toe prints, because I can, because Mya won’t ask me why.

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4 Responses to “Perfect day at the Wapsi”

  1. ken halstead April 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Dennis..you know how to spend a day off…and your written account of it was amazing…I really enjoyed it and the few miutes I spent reading it made me feel as relaxed as if I had lived that day as well! thanks for that

  2. Johno April 30, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    Nice pictures. Did you use a special camera or just an iphone?

    • fishtanx2011 April 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

      It’s a little Fuji Camera. It was such a perfect sunny day it was easy to get decent pictures. Too bad it was so low on battery power. I could have taken a hundred more and maybe gotten some really good ones.

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