Negotiating the Missouri River through what is today Iowa and Nebraska was a difficult task for Lewis and Clark and company in the summer of 1804. The explorers found that the Missouri’s currents were faster and the channels more dangerous here and that the region’s mosquitoes–as Captain Clark recorded often in his journal–were “Verry troublesom.”
It was along this stretch of the trek that the Corps of Discovery began to encounter Plains Indians and birds and animals indigenous to the West. On the Iowa side of the river, near Sioux City, the Corps lost one of its company. Three months into the journey, on Aug. 20, Sgt. Charles Floyd died, apparently from peritonitis after his appendix burst.
Hardships aside, the crew was well-fed on this portion of their journey. Venison was readily available. The expedition’s ace hunter, George Drouillard, had no trouble providing whitetail deer to satisfy the fierce appetites of the hardworking men. Fish, which were plentiful, provided a culinary respite from the meat.
While much has changed since the intrepid Corps of Discovery passed this way, there are still plenty of exciting hunting and fishing adventures to be found along the banks of the Missouri river.
DEER OF THE LOESS HILLS
“Three verry large & fat Bucks Killed to day…”–WILLIAM CLARK, AUG. 2, 1804
One of the prime areas where today’s adventurers prospect for “verry large & fat Bucks” is Iowa’s Loess Hills State Forest. This unique landform parallels the Missouri River all along the Hawkeye State’s western border. The rugged hills were formed by finely ground wind-blown silt after the Pleistocene glaciers started to melt about 20,000 years ago. Today these hills are the site of farmlands, pastures, natural prairies and heavy timber. Bucks in the 140- to 150-inch class are not uncommon.
The Loess Hills State Forest totals 10,600 acres and lies within Harrison and Monona counties. Hunting is allowed throughout the forest except within 200 yards of houses. The nearby Little Sioux, Preparation Canyon, Pigsa and Mondamin units are also prime areas to hunt.
Deer populations are high in Iowa and this fall an additional 30,150 antlerless permits were offered statewide in an attempt to keep the burgeoning population in check.
–Contact: Loess Hills State Forest, 712-456-2924; www.iowadnr.com/forestry/loesshills.html
“I have observed a number of places where the River has onced run and now filled or filling up & growing with willows & cottonwood.”–WILLIAM CLARK, AUG. 11, 1804
Each September and October, good local populations of woodcock mine for earthworms in damp ground near the timber while large numbers of migrants swoop down the Missouri corridor. They remain until colder weather sends both tourists and locals hurtling south.
Hunters with a sense of adventure and a penchant for exploring unknown territory in the Lewis and Clark tradition should investigate any of the public hunting areas adjacent to the river, beginning with two wildlife areas approximately three miles west of Onawa in Monona County. Upper and Middle Decatur bends combine to offer 872 acres of old river channel, marsh and timber.
A little farther downstream, in Harrison County, is Tyson Bend, which is four miles west of Modale. This 780-acre area contains an old river island and consists of about one-third marsh and the rest timber. It’s one of western Iowa’s best-known woodcock areas.
–Contact: Iowa DNR, 515-281-5918; www.iowadnr.com
GREEN WORMS AND STURGEON
“…passed many Sand bars opposit or in the Mouth of the Great River Plate this river which is much more rapid than the Missourie ha(s) thrown out imence quantities of Sand…” –WILLIAM CLARK, JULY 21, 1804
The Platte still deposits tons of sand at its mouth. And all that sand is a magnet for shovelnose sturgeon that range up and down the edges of the shallow sandbars in search of their next meals.
If the expedition had arrived at this great sand trap a couple of months earlier, in May, the fishermen among the crew undoubtedly would have loaded up on shovelnoses–especially if they had dug for their own bait like the anglers of today.
During April and May, modern fishermen armed with spades or gardening forks flock to Randall W. Schilling Wildlife Management Area to dig for green worms and then to seek a spot along the bank to fish for shovelnoses. Local fishermen are convinced that a wide range of fish species, especially sturgeon, prefer to feed on green worms because they are so frequently washed into the river.
The best places to dig for green worms are beneath cottonwood trees where fallen leaves soften the soil and help retain moisture. Look for small holes about the size a golfer wearing spiked shoes would make. Such an area should produce a half-dozen green worms for every forkful of dirt.
Schilling, a 2,000-acre tract owned and managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, is at the mouth of the Platte and includes about 1 1/2 miles of riverfront along the Missouri and about a half-mile along the south bank of the Platte.
Two other nearby sites (William Gilmour WMA, also called Tobacco Island, and Hamburg Bend, a 1,200-acre island) also offer opportunities to fish for sturgeon from their banks. Access is by boat.–Larry Porter
–Contact: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 402-296-0041; www.ngpc.state.ne.us
ISLAND-HOPPING FOR DUCKS
“This Man at all times gave us proofs of his firmness and Deturmined resolution to doe Service to his Countrey and honor to himself”–WILLIAM CLARK, AUG. 20, 1804
Three days after the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd, Meriwether Lewis fell ill. “Lewis was mixing some chemicals to come up with an analysis of the minerals in some rock croppings,” notes Jeff Fields, superintendent of Ponca State Park, upriver from Sioux City on the Nebraska side of the Missouri. “He breathed some fumes and got very sick.” Lewis recovered well enough to lead a buffalo hunt the next day.
It’s quite possible that the rock Lewis was analyzing came from a huge outcropping of shale and limestone located immediately above the public boat ramp at the park managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The ramp is a popular launching point for waterfowl hunters. Even a hunter without a boat blind can find a spot along the bank, set out some decoys and have reasonable chances of getting a few shots.
Hunting is allowed along the entire 2 1/2-mile river frontage of the 2,100-acre park. In addition, a newly purchased 600-acre wildlife management area adjoins the park and will be managed for waterfowl hunting.–Larry Porter
–Contact: Ponca State Park, 402-755-2284, firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us next issue as our sportsmen’s guide to the Lewis & Clark Trail explores the great hunting and fishing that lies ahead in the Dakotas.
Special thanks to Yamaha Motor Corporation for providing the Outdoor Life Lewis & Clark expedition with ATVs.
Places to See While You’re in Iowa and Nebraska
L&C Trail Waypoints
1 Hamburg Bend Neb., See story, p. 86
2 William Gilmour WMA, Neb., See story, p. 86
3 Randall W. Schilling WMA Neb., See story, p. 86
4 Lewis and Clark Monument Park I-29 and Rainbow Dr., Council Bluffs, Iowa., 712-328-4650, www.councilbluffsiowa.com/tourism
5 Fort Atkinson State Historical Park Fort Calhoun, Neb., nine miles north of Omaha, 402-468-5611
6 Loess Hills Visitors Center Moorhead, Iowa., 800-886-5441, www.loesshillstours.com
7 Loess Hills National Scenic Byway Iowa., 800-228-6878, www.goldenhillsrcd.org
8 Lewis and Clark State Park Three miles west of Onawa, Iowa., 712-423-2829, www.state.ia.us/dnr/organiza/ppd/lewisclk.htm
9 Sergeant Floyd Monument Sioux City, Iowa., 712-279-4800, www.siouxlandchamber.com/lewis_clark/sgt_floyd.cfm
10 Lewis and Clark Murals Sioux City, Iowa., 712-224-3065
11 Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center Sioux City, Iowa., 712-224-5242; www.lewisandclarktrail.org/section1/iowacities/SiouxCity/ lewisandclarkcenter.htm
12 Ponca State Park Neb., 402-755-2284, email@example.com
13 Lewis and Clark Lake Visitor Center Knox County, Neb., 866-285-3219
For more information on the Lewis & Clark Adventure, go to www.outdoorlife.com.