Stories from the Mississippi

  • Charles Lindbergh's porch
    A tour of Charles Lindbergh's childhhood home in Little Falls, Minnesota, shows his bed on the back porch.

    Upper Mississippi Has 142 Different Species of Fish

    "Charles Lindbergh would have liked what you are doing," said Stacey who was leading my tour of Lindbergh's childhood home.

    "Lindbergh preferred to learn by doing," Stacey continued, "and I think he would have loved the way you use your adventures to teach kids."

    The famous pilot grew up in Little Falls, Minn., in a house that overlooked the Mississippi River. The back porch of the house was screened in. In one corner of the porch was a bed.

    "Charles Lindbergh slept out here when he was growing up, even in the winter," Stacey went on to explain. "He would crawl through the window and get underneath all the blankets with his dog to spend the night."

    I enjoy sleeping outside, but I'm not so sure I would want to sleep outside in a Minnesota winter. But I imagine this was useful training for Lindbergh's first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

    I had grand plans to fish on the Mississippi River, but that won't happen since the reality of what I am trying to accomplish consumes all my time.

    "It's an adventure fishing on the river. There's always something new to see," said Spencer Walff of Foley, Minnesota. Walff has been fishing the river for 30 years. "I go fishing every weekend."

    fly fisherman
    A fly fisherman tries his luck in the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota.

    "There we go," Walff said as he hooked a smallmouth bass near the dock. "I saw him sitting below the lily pads and wanted to see if he'd hit the lure," he said.

    "The largest smallmouth I've ever caught weighed 6 pounds. I turned him loose to catch another day," Walff concluded.

    Silver carp, locally called jumping carp, haven't made it this far north on the Mississippi River.

    "A series of dams and more predator fish seem to have kept them at bay to this point," explained Brian Ickes, a research ecologist for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

    large mouth bass
    Large mouth bass check out the camera at the National Fish Hatchery Genoa, Wisconsin.

    Ickes is familiar with the fish because of research he has conducted with the Chinese on the Yangtze River.

    Research and monitoring of silver carp continues on the Mississippi River.

    "Females can lay one million eggs that float in the water and the river carries the eggs downstream. They can be quite prolific," Ickes said. Ickes also monitors water depth, transparency, oxygen and other indicators that help determine the capacity of the river to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

    This is a large task. There are 142 different species of fish on the upper Mississippi River - 25 percent of all the freshwater species of fish in North America. Forty of these species have economic benefits and are listed to be monitored. The upper Mississippi River starts at the location where the Ohio and the Mississippi River meet.

    Spencer Walff releasing fish
    Spencer Walff of Foley, Minnesota, turns loose a fish he caught on the Mississippi River.

    Ickes's favorite fish of the Mississippi River is the American eel.

    "The eel lives in the Mississippi River and travels all the way to the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain to breed before coming all the way back up the Mississippi River," Ickes explained.

    When you take a moment to really reflect on the magnitude of this, it is truly impressive.

    "We've seen them in the upper pools and lower pools on the river - never in the middle, and we have no idea why," Ickes said.

    "The eel has the capacity to breathe through its skin and go on land for short periods of time. It's just a really amazing fish," concluded Ickes with a smile.

    Different groups have different interests (recreational and commercial) on the river. Some enjoy sport fishing, commercial fishing and waterfowl hunting. All are invested in the river.

    Balancing these multiple needs is quite a challenge with the Corp of Engineers and other agencies charged with managing the river system.

    Fremont Tribune

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