Wild trip on the Mississippi River

Danger, adventure, tradition – those three words seem to be my theme these days.

Tradition comes in the part of fishing and staying at Hubbard’s Fishing Float which is located at lock-and-dam No. 9 on the Mississippi River near Lynxville.

My buddy, Bill Hubbard, owns this float which has been home for anglers for 78 years. My pal, Gary Howe, and I have been taking part on really cool trips to Hubbard’s Float (608-732-1084) since the late ‘90s.

Tuesday, March 22 High 63, Low 38

Today was the perfect day of this adventure. Sunny skies and no wind greeted Gary and I as we happily motored over to Hubbard’s Float in Gary’s 16-foot flatbottom boat that was being pushed by a new, 25-horsepower Mercury motor.

Something that would play a part over the next 40 hours was that the Mississippi was 7 feet over flood stage and due to crest while we were on this trip, with an additional 2-foot rise. Bill’s float is on the west side of the dam and all the rollers were open which was causing a lot of wear and tear and do not fall in the river situations.

Our sleeping quarters are shacks with bunk beds that are located on the float. Traditionally, Gary and I fish as many hours a day as we can, eat well, drink some beers and really enjoy this trip.

This year the tradition was taken down the river in a hard current that would be pushed by a steady 25-mph northeast wind and rain, sleet and snowstorm.

So, Gary is catching walleye and sauger while I am rigging poles and moving into our shack and, of course, he is verbally abusing me because, he feels, that at least for the moment he is a hero and I am a zero.

As luck would have it, I catch a small sauger with one of my first casts and then just like that the fish 100-percent quit biting until the following day. In case you cannot tell, we really do not care. We are here for the view, the getaway and to joke around and try to catch some fish.

Wednesday, March 23 High 39, Low 30

We are up before the sun and the fish still are not hungry but the storm is approaching and it is going be a dandy. The northeast wind is blowing right through the open dam. Though it will take it, Hubbard’s 40-by-90-by-40- yard place of business is getting whacked by both wind and current.

A rain that was always close to ice would start around mid-morning and not end until we left 24 hours later and then it was straight ice with some snow. About that time, Gary proves he is the only person on the float (there are four of us) that can catch keeper walleye and sauger with regularity.

I am catching fish but they are small. Gary’s hand frequently quits working. The one that I smashed a year ago in a wood splitter works but tells me it may not someday.

At 5 p.m. Bill Hubbard leaves for the day with the only other fisherman who was out for a day trip. I told Bill that I had a vision that bad things were going to happen on this night.

At this time, the fish also quit biting and I began filleting some for our supper. The wind and current are so hard that every part of the float is being torn, twisted and shredded.

Gary and I make the executive decision to retie his boat for the night and stay in our shack, as to fall in the river is to say goodbye to life.

We play it safe and go to bed very early, with the agreement that if one goes outside the other is with him. At 5 a.m Gary tells me that he is going to water a horse. Our shack sounds and feels like life back in Kansas on The Wizard of Oz.

Gary does not come back after five minutes. I get worried and start to get out of bed to look for him. Gary opens the door and tells me, “Mark, I am not joking, the boat is gone!”

Many failures and recent close calls swim through my head. We text Bill who shows up close to first light. He has already found Gary’s boat which is partially submerged and hung up in some trees a half-mile down the river.

Bill has few cares about the boat. The float is in trouble and he wants us off, like now!

We pack up, head to Gary’s rig which is a story in itself due to crazy wind, hard current and Bill’s boat being iced over.

We tied Gary’s boat, which is on its side with the motor under water and the cover missing, to a tree in about 18 feet of water.

We went to the boat landing with a plan of coming back two days later with big rigs and manpower. To our pleasant surprise, Bill and Steve Davidson got Gary’s rig pulled out of the river. Hubbard’s Float is about rebuilt already.

The accommodations at Hubbard’s Float are extremely simple and the price is very fair. If you choose, you can just fish for the day.

This river will test you!


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