This isn’t the wilderness, the buildings say, but it sure fishes like it.
Lunchtime in downtown Minneapolis on a pleasant August day, the Federal Reserve building towering on one end, the Guthrie Theater toward the other, untold buildings rising between.
In and among these, surprising numbers of people jog along the Mississippi, while others pace themselves more slowly. Still others recline on public benches and open brown bags to discover anew what’s for lunch.
From our vantage point in a drift boat on the Mississippi, fly rods in hand, movement along the river walkway and on the streets and sidewalks leading to it seemed antlike and overly busy.
Doubtless we appeared odd, too, the three of us spaced uniformly in a two-ended boat powered by a lone oar man.
Yet our movements in search of smallmouth bass were methodical. From the bow, Greg Farley cast a white streamer, while from the stern I tossed a surface bug, or popper.
Between us, Kip Vieth kept his drift boat within reasonable casting distance from shore.
“Shorelines with rocks will be best for smallies,’’ Kip said.
We had put in at Boom Island, upriver from downtown, and would spend the day attempting to fool the feistiest of freshwater fish, smallmouth bass.
Twin Cities anglers looking for virgin water might consider throwing a line in this length of the Mississippi, which gathers and bends through downtown Minneapolis.
But beware: Marriages have broken up over repeated trips to catch these great fish, whose eruptions from dark watery depths to vengefully smack surface flies or hard baits can prove addicting.
“It’s as good a fish as there is,’’ said Kip, 47.
Kip operates a unique Minnesota business: He guides river anglers — mostly those who fish with flies — in a drift boat of the type commonly seen in the West.
“In 1991 I took a trip out west to fish the Yellowstone River and just fell in love with drift boats,’’ Kip said. “From that moment on, I always had it in the back of my mind I wanted to guide here in Minnesota using one.’’
Easing into his new profession, Kip bought a drift boat, then offered free “learning’’ trips to friends, family — anyone who wanted to float a river in search of fish.
A fly fisherman himself, and a river nut, Kip knew he was swimming upstream a bit in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and nearly as many motorboats filled with walleye anglers.
Kip also had a family to help feed, including his wife, Linnea Peterson, and their (now) 12-year-old son, Truman, and 16-year-old daughter, Grace.
“It was September 2002 when I got paid the first time for guiding a trip in a drift boat,’’ Kip said. “My wife wasn’t sure we could pull it off, that someone would actually pay me to take them fishing. But they did.’’
For about five years, Kip guided part-time, as many as 60 days a year, counting weekends and vacations from a sales job.
In 2007, he went full-time as a guide.
“My business has grown every year since,’’ he said. “Last year, I did 133 days on the water. This year I’ll do that or more. In fall, I do a lot of guiding for muskies, using fly rods. But most of the year, it’s smallmouth bass we’re after.
“The way I see it, when God invented smallies, he invented fly rods the same day.’’
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Greg is a longtime client of Kip’s.
The two have chased smallies in the Mississippi River from Brainerd to the Twin Cities, as well on the Upper St. Croix, the Rum and various other rivers that braid through the state.
Enchanted by the West, where he has long fished for trout in cold-flowing rivers, Greg, of St. Paul, says he feels no less at home throwing big bug imitations to warm waters.
A fish taking his fly is a fish taking his fly, after all. And smallmouth bass need apologize to no fish for the fight they offer once hooked.
“I try to get as many days on the water with Kip as I can,” Greg said. “I think I was out with him 10 times last year. And last fall he got me into muskie fishing with a fly. I didn’t get one. But I got close.”
Added Greg: “I’ve told Kip many times that when you’re on the Minnesota rivers we fish, except for the lack of mountains, in appearance there’s often not much difference between them and rivers out west.’’
Certainly the stretch of water Kip, Greg and I fished Tuesday appeared at times quite wilderness-like.
Granted, from Boom Island to the Upper St. Anthony lock, we couldn’t forget we were in the city. But even there, pieces of shoreline we cast to could have been mistaken for those that line the Upper St. Croix near Grantsburg, Wis., or even the Beaverhead in Montana.
Our first fish suckered to my fly. This was an energy-charged smallmouth that gobbled my popper enthusiastically, hooked along a piece of shoreline supported by rip-rap, or rock — ideal habitat, as Kip said, for smallies.
Soon Greg had a fish of his own, and another still.
Casting continually, we passed through downtown with its frenzied noontime pace. As we did, I recalled that some years ago I was invited to fly fish in New York City, off Manhattan, for blues, stripers and false albacore.
The trip fell through.
But on Tuesday while casting from a drift boat in downtown Minneapolis, on a day when scudding clouds splashed white against a cobalt sky, I thought: New York City couldn’t have been better than this.
Approaching and passing through the Upper St. Anthony Lock, we cast and cast some more, before entering and leaving, sequentially, the Lower St. Anthony and Ford Dam locks.
By day’s end we had put a dozen or more bass in the boat fishing waters few do or ever will. Each was released to swim again. Most weighed perhaps a 1.5 pounds, a few somewhat larger.
“With the cooler weather, and the cooler water, we’ve had, the bass haven’t been quite as active as they were when it was warmer,” Kip said. “But in Minnesota’s rivers, there’s always pretty good fishing.”
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org