Rep. Berkley Bedell (D-Iowa) and his wife Elinor dropped by the other day with a camper full of fishing gear in tow.As we stood on the porch gazing at the sunlit North Fork of the Shenandoah, a sizable bass lurched clear of the water and came down with a belly-flop.

Chortles errupted involuntarily. Abandoning our coffee, we made a beeline for the boat rack.

"Can't be gone for too long," Bedell protested as we shoved the ancient johnboat on my pickup. "I want to try Jeremy's Run for native brook trout before we head back to Washington this afternoon."

We stashed our spinning rods in the camper and piled in the front. The ground was soft 100 yards from the river.

"We can carry it," Bedell said. "It'll be good exercise."

We hoisted the johnboat and stumbled to the river, retrieved our gear and shoved off into the clear, high waters.

It was too early to expect the arm-tiring action that typifies the Shenandoah during summer months. Water temperatures were only in the 50s and the bass would still be lethargic from the long winter.

We cast Panther Martins and Rebels along the shoreline where we hoped the aggressive gamefish would be holding, soaking in the sun and avoiding the heavy flow of the main currents.

To our surprise, strikes came with some consistency. In minutes Bedell's rod bent sharply and a sassy small-mouth broke water, a 12-inch bass was quickly subdued, admired, photographed and released into the flow.

Congressman Bedell doesn't get to fish as often as he'd like. But he can't swear off entirely; for him fishing is a way of life.

Most anglers own something manufactured by the Berkley tackle company of Spirit Lake, Iowa, either lines, leaders, rods or reels. That's Bedell's outfit.

Bedell missed a third of his school year when he was 15.The one-man fly tying operation he started had burgeoned into a multi-employee business that demanded more time than after-school hours allowed.

The following year Bedell's company branched out to include hand-tied gut leaders. During family fishing vacations to Minnesota retailers that would form the financial backbone of his blossoming tackle business were lined up. Orders for flies and leaders started piling in.

Today Berkley is one of the leading tackle companies in the country. It offers a complete line of tackle, from reels to rods to that vital piece of saltwater epuipment - the plastic-coated steel leader, which Bedell invented shortly after World War 11.

Bedell doesn't involve himself deeply in the day-to-day operations of the company anymore. What few half-days and weekends politics doesn't consume are often spent fishing some lake, pond or river near Washington.

Bedell has combed many of the better local fishing spots during his two terms in the House. He's lured chunky smallmouth bass with tiny silver plugs above Great Falls; he's trolled for blues in the Bay. Triadelphia's shorelines have been pounded with spinners and spoons.

The Cacapon, a favourite for its remoteness and stark beauty, has been floated and waded, its riffles probed with fly rod and popping bugs. "The bass were a bit thin and wormy there," Bedell said, "but the sport was excellent. Lots of goggle eyes and bluegills too."

Bedell has mixed feelings about comparing the fishing in his home state of Iowa with nearby waters.

"We have some good lakes and ponds in Iowa, and the fish - usually panfish and bass - average bigger than what I've been catching around here. But in many ways I like the fishing better around Washington. There's more variety and I like wading the streams and rivers."

Trout too, captivate Bedell. The day before we hit the Shenandoah, he had been probing Edwards Run in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

"After June 1 they make this stretch fish-for-fun and we had good luck there on several trips last summer. Elinor would watch from shore and tell me where to drop my fly so it would float true over the fish. We did'nt do much yesterday, though. They catch them out quickly without the no-kill regulations."

For pure spunk on the end of a line, Bedell feels the river smallmouth can't be topped in fresh water. As if to demonstrate the point, another pound-sized bronzeback jumped on the Congressman's lure in eight inches of water, splashed the surface to a froth before coming to net.

With a fly tier's long, deft fingers, Bedell twisted the hooks free and carefully placed the fish back in the river.