By:    Rick Olson

(© 2012 by Rick Olson)

MPE stands for Multi-Purpose Expedition. You’ve never heard that term before because I invented it. Of course, others have been doing it for centuries, so I guess I can only claim credit for naming it and philosophizing about it.

In the simplest possible terms, here’s how you conduct an MPE:  You go somewhere outdoors and then come back home with something that is valuable, interesting, beautiful, useful, or edible. You may go with one primary target in mind, but you are smart, have sharp eyes, and are opportunistic. Maybe you will not find what you were looking for, but you’ll still come home with something that’s “VIBUE.” (Acronym for valuable, interesting, beautiful, useful, or edible.)

You know how to use a dictionary. In fact, you know how to use online dictionaries on your gadgets. So there’s no need for me to dumb stuff down for you. If you don’t know what an acronym is, look it up. Get in the habit of watching for words you don’t know, and looking them up. That’s one of the real super educational shortcuts.

So what are the “purposes” of an MPE?  Fun is #1. A fancier word for this is recreation. Then there’s exercise. And don’t forget education. You don’t have to work at that. As you learn more and more about what’s out there to be found, and when and where to find it, and especially as you investigate the things you find, the education will just happen. And it will continue throughout your life. MPEing also serves an economic purpose:  you are acquiring things that are VIBUE, and you are acquiring them for free, and by playing rather than by working.

There’s one more purpose of an MPE that’s worth considering. Our ancestors lived by hunting and gathering. Hunting-gathering is not exactly work, and not exactly play. The work/play dichotomy is a rather nasty novelty that arose when our ancestors decided to start growing food instead of hunting, fishing, and finding it. This “Agricultural Revolution” came about at different times in different places. But everywhere, man has been a hunter-gatherer much longer than he’s been a farmer. Even more recently came the Industrial Revolution. And now we are in an Information Technology Revolution. Trouble is, we still have hunting-gathering brains. I believe there is something very therapeutic about spending some time doing what our brains are designed to do:  MPEing, the modern version of hunting-gathering.

MPEing is a mix of fishing, foraging (i.e. hunting edible wild plants), rockhounding, Indian artifact hunting, scrapping, and metal detecting. I don’t do hunting, trapping, or photography, but these would fit in as well.


MPEing has its own special Bible verse:  “A lazy man won’t even dress the game he gets while hunting, but the diligent man makes good use of everything he finds.”  Proverbs 12:29 TLB (The Living Bible).

I am not a photographer. To find photos of the things mentioned in the following pages, go to Google images and type in poke, stigmaria, redear sunfish, or whatever you want to see. You will find very good photos of each item.

A note on change:  it happens. Many of the sites I describe in the following chapters may undergo changes. Level B roads may be changed by heavy equipment, riprap may silt in and not be as good for spawning catfish. How will change affect MPEing in the future?  Hard to say. On the other hand, new opportunities do arise. Keep exploring. Keep your eyes open. It was never my intention that you rely on the specific sites about which I have written. Use what I have written as a place to start. Be opportunistic and adapt to the inevitable changes.

Note on Geologic time:  on the next page, you will find a Geologic Time Chart. There are various forms of Creationism and various ideas concerning evolution out there. You do not have to agree with the following time chart, but if you want to have any idea what’s going on in geology, you do have to know about it. If you prefer, substitute the word “strata” (layers) for periods or eras.

Finally, (and this is important!) every activity mentioned here has its dangers. Out-of-the-way places are attractive to people who are up to no good, as well as to people out MPEing. Creeks can have quicksand, or places where sandbars drop off into deep water, and the sand can give way, trapping you in sand and deep water. There are poisonous plants that look similar to some of the edible ones. But what we’re talking about is a whole lifestyle of adventure…real adventures, accessible to anyone. A certain amount of danger is an integral part of adventure. Courting danger, however, is a surefire way to cut your life of adventure short. Don’t live in fear, but live to play another day. And remember, there is safety in numbers, take a buddy along in your MPEs.


Geologic Time, oldest to newest

Precambrian                                4 ½ billion to ½ billion years ago

Paleozoic Era (Ancient Life)       .5 billion to 245 million years ago

Cambrian Period

Ordovician Period

Silurian Period

Devonian Period

Mississippian Period

Pennsylvanian Period                  about 325 to 290 million years ago
(All bedrock exposures in Warren County date to Pennsylvanian Period.)

Permian Period

Mesozoic Era(Age of Dinosaurs) 245 to 65 million years ago
None in Warren County

Triassic Period

Jurassic Period

Cretaceous Period

Cenozoic Era (Recent Life)

Then, a few million years of:

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda—stuff not needed for study of Warren County geology.


Pleistocene Epoch                            (Ice Age) c. 1.5 million to 10,000 years ago

In Warren County, the exposed bedrock is Pennsylvanian. The soil, sand, and gravel overlying the bedrock is all Pleistocene.

American Indian Time Chart:

c. means circa, or “about.”

Paleo Period                          c. 12,000 to 8,000 B.C. — Big game hunters.

Archaic Period                       c. 8,000 to 1,000 B.C  —  Hunter-gatherers.

Woodland Period                  c. 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000  —  Transition to food-producing economy.

Mississippian period             c. (A.D.) 1000 to (A.D) 1500  —  Farming

Contact Period                       c. (A.D.) 1500 to Present  —  Contact with Europeans.

(Note:   B.C., Before Christ, comes after the date. A.D., Anno Domini, The Year of our Lord comes before the date.)

Iowa Dates to Memorize:

1832               Iowa opened to white settlement. Actually, easternmost Iowa opened in 1832. The rest opened in sections over the next few years.

1846   Iowa Statehood.

1861-1865     Civil War

1870’s            Railroads. New towns sprang up. Older towns languished or flourished, depending on proximity to railroads.

1930’s            Great Depression. CCC and WPA works still found in Iowa parks and public places. Many streams straightened.


1909    Indianhead pennies ended, Wheat pennies started.

1958    Last year for wheat pennies.

1964    Last year for silver coins.

1982    Last year for copper pennies, first year for zinc pennies.


1858   Mason patent for threaded-top fruit jars.

1892   Crown top patent. (Like old-fashioned soda bottles, popped open with

bottle openers.)

1903   Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM) patented by Michael Owen. Generally, ABM bottles not collectible. Prior to that, bottles had “tooled lips.”  ABM bottles have seams on sides that go clear to top. Tooled-lip bottles have seams that go most of the way up the neck, but have been wiped off lip and top of neck by lipping tool. These are potentially collectible depending on condition, color, and embossing. About 1903 to 1920, transition from tooled lip to ABM bottles.

1924   Threaded top bottles became common. Threaded tops usually not collectible.

Memorize the above information and you will have a frame of reference for understanding a lot of stuff that you otherwise just won’t “get.”

So let’s talk about a few of the many places in Warren County to go MPEing.

Redear Sunfish at Lake Ahquabi.

Lake Ahquabi is a nice little fishing lake. But it has one special secret:  redear sunfish. Redear sunfish are like bluegills on steroids. Bluegills are topnotch fish for the table, but redears are bigger and even better eating. Many southern Iowa lakes now have redears, but none are better than Lake Ahquabi.

I do not use a boat. I walk the shoreline carrying a rod and reel, and a canvas tackle creel slung over my shoulder. I keep a plastic sack in my pocket to use for carrying any cans and bottles (a nickel each – they add up!) and any bobbers or fishing lures I might find.

I wear a pair of polarized sunglasses. They help me see into the water. In my creel , I have a few nightcrawlers in a travel soap box with a rubber band around it.

Redears spawn at the same time as bluegills, generally late May through June. Some redears will be spawning right in with the bluegills. Some will spawn in their own separate little colonies. Bluegill and redear spawning beds look like elephant footprints all crowded together.

So I slowly walk the shore, peering into the shallow water, looking for fish or “elephant tracks.”  I’m looking for bluegills, which run nice-sized, but hoping to find and catch some big redears. The bluegills will run 7” to 8 ½”, with an occasional 9 incher. The redears will average an inch longer, and there are quite a few of 11” or more, big enough for an Iowa Master Angler Award.

When I find a set of spawning beds, I will pick out the redears  to concentrate on if the water is clear enough. Otherwise, I’ll just cast into the beds and take bluegills and/or redears. They’re both fun and delicious.

I use a tiny #10 hook with a half nightcrawler hooked once through the head. No bobber, no sinker. I let the bait sit on the bottom for a while. If I get no bite, I start reeling in slowly. When I get a bite, I’ll let the fish run with the bait a couple seconds, then set the hook. (To set the hook, reel excessive slack out of your line, then sharply raise your rod tip.)

I try to catch the fish around the edges first, slowly working toward the center of the set of beds. This is the way to catch more fish before spooking them.

When they get hard to catch, try this. Get your bait in the center of a bed, preferably one you can see a fish on, and just let it sit there for quite a long time. Maybe make it move just a tiny bit once in a while. The redears have a unique trick.

They will ignore the bait in the bed for a long time, then suddenly pick it up in their mouth, swim lightning fast about 10 feet and drop it away from the bed. Be ready for this and you can often get a hook into them before they drop it.

I catch a few, then walk them back to the car and put them on ice. When I used to put them all on a stringer, I would usually draw a curious crowd trying to figure out what I was doing to get so many nice panfish, especially the big redears (and bluegill/redear hybrids).

The daily limit on bluegills is 25. That’s a lot of good meat, especially if quite a few of them are big redears. It’s not clear whether the redears count toward the limit of 25 bluegills, but I count them. 25 panfish is a good enough haul. And I get my limit, with a few big redears, up to 11” or more, as often as not.

I always fillet my fish, and dump the offal in the Middle River for the catfish, crayfish, and turtles to eat. Bluegills and redears are lean, so they freeze well. Just make sure you wrap the fish in such a way that no air can get to them in the freezer, or they’ll get “freezer burn.”  We (my wife and I) eat fish we catch ourselves two or three times a week year-round. We use many different recipes so we don’t get tired of them. And the cans and bottles help pay for gas and bait.

I’m fishing for fun and food, but I also enjoy getting Iowa Master Angler Awards. Before I start filleting the fish, I measure my biggest redear. If it goes 11”, it’s time to put the filleting aside for a bit and get my Iowa Master Angler Award application ready. I need a photograph of me holding the fish. Then I clip the application form out of the back of the Iowa Fishing Regulations booklet, and fill it out. I have to have someone watch the measuring of the fish, and sign the application form as a witness. I can get only one award per species per year, so I wait until late in the fall to send in my application and photo, in case I happen to get a bigger fish. Before going fishing, you should obtain a current Iowa Fishing Regulations booklet and look it over. These are available to view online and any place fishing licenses are sold. Children under 16 may fish without a license

Now you know all you need to know to catch impressive stringers of fish, and very possibly even get an Iowa Master Angler Award at Lake Ahquabi in the late spring/early summer. What’s cooler than putting great food on the table using just your own skill?

In the weeks to come I’ll write about other exciting MPE’s I’ve taken. In the mean time, get familiar with the information in this first installment.
Rick Olson has ingeniously turned mediocrity into a virtue. He is not particularly good at anything, so he pursues a variety of quarry in his outdoor adventures, and, in this way, always manages to have some success and a lot of fun.


Cleaning and Cooking Fish—Creative Publishing International ISBN 0-86573-011-3