Tuesday I put my kayak in at Reno Bottoms for a day of fishing. The Bottoms are a Mississippi River backwater just below the dike at Lock and Dam No. 8. I often walk the dike with my family and every time tell myself to come back with a boat. Tuesday was the first time I actually followed through. 

It is not the easiest place to put in. The small parking lot is up a hill and across the railroad tracks from the dike’s spillway. I had to carry my kayak two hundred yards just to reach the water. The last twenty yards is over loose riprap and hard on the ankles. Right now lugging my boat overland to the river is not a deterrent, but at age sixty-six, the day will come when it might be. I think back to my childhood when nearly all of my fishing was from shore. I’d have been thrilled to fish out of a kayak and would have considered the portage part of the adventure.

As with all new spots on the river, I did not know the holes and did not know what I might catch. The appeal of Reno Bottoms, however, was not the fishing so much as its potential for solitude. There were always a handful of walkers on the dike and a few people fishing along the spillway, but without a boat ramp at the site I assumed I’d have the place to myself once I put my kayak in the water and paddled around the first bend. On that point, my new fishing spot met expectations. Not only were there no other boats on the water, but no buildings and no traffic noise from either motorboats or cars on nearby roads. Considering the extensive backwater on the Upper Mississippi River, it is surprisingly hard to totally escape people. I have a secret backwater channel near Lytle’s Landing that is always quiet, but otherwise my favorite fishing places are within sight and sound of civilization. I can now add Reno Bottoms to my short list of nearby wild places. 

I did catch and bring home a couple largemouth bass. The taste of bass is not my favorite, but they are the perfect size for certain kinds of Asian cooking. I fillet perch, bluegills, and walleyes. With bass, I merely scale them, gut them, and leave their heads on. Manyu steams the fish and covers them with a subtle sweet and sour sauce (which is nothing like the syrupy topping served at Westernized Chinese restaurants). Then we eat the whole fish by lifting small pieces of meat off the bone with chopsticks. But now I am repeating myself. If anyone is interested in reading about Manyu’s sisters eating eyeballs and fish cheeks and leaving only a bare skeleton in a small pool of unconsumed sauce, he or she can check out the blog “Bass Blog” posted September 2, 2019. 

Steven Simpson