The FLOW, Summer 2015

Aug 25, 2015 | Newsletters

This is the cover article from our summer 2015 FLOW Newsletter. Download a PDF of the full Newsletter.

Bass are Basic to this Bass Man’s River Fun

By Denny Caneff

Gordon Patriarca On The RiverGordon Patriarca makes his living with his hands. He’s deftly put fingers over the frets of the bass guitar for decades, performing live for many bands and in scores of recording sessions. He’s now the music director of the School of Rock in suburban Chicago, teaching young players the art of the rock n’ roll bass.

Gordon recently taught a different kind of bass student during an outing on the Wisconsin River – me. But I was not playing the bass; I was plying for bass, of the smallmouth variety.

Gordon the bass man is a passionate smallmouth bass angler. Angling for smallmouth is a specialty within the specialty of fishing. Found both in lakes and rivers, smallmouth like cooler water and rocky or gravelly bottoms. They hang out along the riverbanks near downed trees or on the downstream side of a big rock. Just as he teaches good use of the hands in playing the bass, Gordon instructed this student in good use of hands to make those surgically precise casts you need to attract what fishing river rats call “smallies.”

Making a few casts with a rod and reel borrowed from Gordon brought back fond boyhood memories for me of wrestling carp with cheap Zebco rod-and-reel sets on the banks of the Mississippi. Another memory – something I saw decades ago that mesmerized me at the time and was brought alive watching Gordon work his casts that day – was of two men on the St. Croix River fishing for smallmouth. One made stealth maneuvers with the rowboat, all to put his partner in good position for those well-targeted casts that are the hallmark of smally fishing.

A section of the Wisconsin River from Hat Rapids dam to the Menard Island State Resource Area, downstream from Rhinelander, is Gordon’s ideal smally water. That’s where I had my lesson. His water home away from the humdrum of Chicago is his double-wide redoubt on the Patriarca family compound on a remote lake near Rhinelander. It’s just minutes away from his beloved Wisconsin River and its ideal smally habitat.

I didn’t catch a thing; there was no rookie luck that day. Gordon, on the other hand, was on fire. He landed what he said were some of the biggest smallmouth bass he’d caught on that section of river. He liberated them all.

He and I “caught” something entirely different that day, in addition to the fish he caught (and I didn’t). We saw just one other soul on the river that morning: this, the state’s renowned mother river with its no-secrets smallmouth fishery, was devoid of human influence. We caught that irrepressible bug of river love, embracing the blue cloudless sky, the gentle but still adrenaline-stirring rapids, the silence, the shoreline uninterrupted by human presence but for a cabin or two and a powerline.

I can say I may have also caught the bass fishing bug that day on the Wisconsin River with Gordon. That early bite from decades ago on the St. Croix lie latent in me until a good bass teacher came along. Gordon and I have another date on another bass river this summer. He claims he can outfit me for $150. Fun on a river is so restorative.

It can also be really cheap.