Northeast Iowa. In the last week of July 2014, I fished French Creek, Northeast Iowa, on two separate occasions. I also spent a solid day fishing South Bear and North Bear creeks. Unfortunately, I have to report that French Creek is still suffering from excessive algae growth along its lower reach, especially through the pasture downstream from the bridge. I do not know the status of the creek along its upper reach, but I think it is safe to surmise that it too is being affected by an algae bloom. Trout numbers are definitely down. I did not see many trout, even in the deepest holes. And few fish rose to the fly. Water clarity is off. Formerly crystal clear – the water is now a disconcerting green-gray. The stream’s former rocky sections are full of mud and most holes have filled in with eroded soil. Watercress (once prolific on the edge of the stream) grows only sparsely on the banks.
While standing next to my car and rigging up to hit the stream, a tanker truck driven by an employee of Allamakee County came barreling down the dirt road toward me. From the truck’s rear tank protruded a long, thick hose. From the gaping mouth of the hose gushed gallons of herbicide, aimed at the vegetation growing adjacent to the road. Apparently, Allamakee County wants to kill the brush along its roadways, likely to keep weeds from infesting nearby corn fields. What’s surprising about this spraying operation is that it took place about seventy-five yards from French Creek. Of course, during the next rain event, the herbicides are going to leach into the stream and negatively affect the fish there. The ecological ignorance displayed by the folks governing Allamakee County needs no further elaboration. But the Iowa DNR isn’t doing anything either to protect French Creek and the other streams of Northeast Iowa against roadside chemical spraying or the destructive agricultural practices of the area’s farmers.
North Bear Creek is in really bad shape. I last fished the stream back in 2009. It held a lot of trout then. Now it doesn’t. Successive floods, and a major algae bloom (again gratis of Iowa’s farmers) have devastated the stream. North Bear looks and fishes worse than French Creek. During the three hours I spent on North Bear, I had to continually remove algae from my flies, something unheard of just a few years ago. And the holes and riffles on North Bear are either covered with mud or blanketed in algae. While fishing North Bear, I ran into two fellow fishers, one of them I learned had grown up in Croatia. Referring to the creek itself and the immediate surroundings, the Croatian said to me, “Isn’t this beautiful?” I responded with, “Well, actually, no.” I wanted to tell him that I fished North Bear twenty years ago, when it was a real gem; and when a day on North Bear made you appreciate living in Iowa. Now, a day on North Bear, and French Creek, reminds you of the madness that is currently gripping American agriculture.
South Bear Creek is looking better – it has less algae, more fish, and its waters are clear and cold – all good signs. But it is getting a lot of pressure from fly-fishers, spin-casters and bait-fishers – likely because the other streams in the area are fishing so poorly. In the end, I left Northeast Iowa vowing not to return. On the highway west, I thought to myself – the gig is up – the fishing sucks – the farmers and the profiteers have won another round – they’ve trashed another region – time to move on. Then I asked myself – where do I go?