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Author: Cap'n Ted

Zip Tie Dipstick

Zip Tie Dipstick

I’ve been too busy fishing this past month to blog. The River dropped down below ‘action’ stage several weeks ago. But a blast of “Inuit Summer” around Halloween sent water temperatures plunging into the mid-30s. A matrix in which high water became cold water resulted in substantial change in walleye/sauger behavior–bypassing the normal ‘stair step staging’ these fish typically exhibit with seasonal change in Spring and Fall.

Hopefully when the ice goes out in late March there will be a return to normalcy with the bite starting in deep water wintering holes and ‘stair stepping’ to ever-shallower depth contours as waters continue to warm.
We haven’t seen a semblance of this ‘normalcy’ since the Spring of 2018–and conditions haven’t been textbook sa-weet since Dec. 2015. But consistent success is turning ‘fishing’ into ‘catching’.

This past month has redefined “stair step staging”. The fish moved, all right–from 3-7′ to 21-23′ in essentially ONE big step, with saugers holding in slightly deeper, faster water as they went through this transition. A basic tenet of Fishing 101 is “follow the food”. This is exactly what those marble-eyes did!

With water temps in the low 30’s walleyes didn’t feed often. But when they wanted to eat, they really chowed down. I cleaned one fat sauger with SEVEN two-inch shad in it’s gullet which still felt the need to chomp a purple 3/16 hair jig.

Essentially, we’ve been ice fishing in open water for about a month. With water temps holding at about 34.4 the fish only eat when they wanna eat .The odds of a harmonic convergence between fish and your hook are long when only on the water for 3-5 hours in a 24 hour day. This, and the fact that it a helluva lot of work, is why I no longer guide ice fishing…an pulled the pin on open water too after an absolutely awful 2019.

This is a major reason why I haven’t blogged. Fun fishin’ is less fun when you tell everybody where/how you’re fun fishin’. Where I was fishin’ this past month there were zero to maybe a half-dozen boats. Condtions were borderline brutal. No guarantee of being able to fish another day. I ‘winterized’ my E-Tech Evinude a half-dozen times this month. Pretty simple. Just play with the high speed idle lever for a couple minutes before leaving the boat ramp.

Yesterday, I finally took winterization to Step 2 : gear lube in the lower unit.
All this entailed was removing the top plug and sticking a zip tie in the hole.
Nice, clean gear lube was only about an inch below the plug. No need to pull the bottom plug and change out the gear lube in a brand new motor.

I run aluminum props. The prop which is on my Blue Baby had a rough year.
Only a couple dings and nicks–per blade–but all three blades are pitched in different directions with different bandage–the outboard version of a cauliflower ear. Torn between repair or replace. Leaning toward the latter and storing the prop next to other trophies in the man cave as a tormented reminder of what an awful, AWFUL year 2019 has been…so far.

Only a month remains ’til we turn the page. If you check my previous blog, you’ll see its about getting ready for hardwater. Guess this blog is a prequel to my last.

The Creator alone knows when our last day on the River will be. I’m truly thankful to have been around for 2019–which was an S.O.B.–and hopeful but realistic about what 2020 will bring.

My blogs this past year have been about as regular as an old guy’s bowels…but I am an old guy. Apology is not in the vocabulary. When you’re an old guy you’re thankful for a fart instead of a shart and not about to miss taking a cast to worry about it.

Making Ice

Making Ice

Perch were biting yesterday afternoon in 40 degree water @ the 8-12′ contour. Small perch pattern Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon w/piece of redworm.Woke this morning to 2=” of snow. Forecast calls for below freezing for pretty much the next 10 days. Guide business is shut down til Spring. River is dropping, but still at ‘action’ stage and will remain so until probably thanksgiving. Water clarity is good. Essentially, November is shaping up just like last year:not good.

The River backwaters will be making ice the next few days, certainly not enough to walk on probably until early Dec. at least AND when we finally get out there, don’t expect to find fish in the usual places!

During the cold water period, fish like to hang where there is essentially ZERO current. At normal pool levels, sloughs like the ‘Indian’ just north of New Albin on Mn. slough are good. Not so last year–not so this year. too much current!

heading out ice fishing always requires extreme caution This year unseen current under the ice requires some SERIOUS consideration!

Unusual for me to spend much time indoors–any time. But River levels this year and the deep freeze over the next few days has resulted in some behavioral changes.

have decided to spend some time solving the world’s problems. This morning my wife was all bent out of shape regarding “climate change”.
Took a few minutes to show her this thing on the wall called a ‘thermostat’. Push a couple buttons and the climate changes! Problem solved.

Gonna work on world hunger in an hour or so–starting right here. Fresh perch! It’s what’s for dinner.

Belay My Last!

Belay My Last!

These are the words a salty old captain growls when he knows he got it wrong. In the last blog I opined that the October Bass blast wasn’t gonna happen because of a rapidly rising river and plummeting water temps.

The bass bite typically shuts down when water temps drop to about 50 degrees in the fall. In the Spring, just after ice-out bass go on a rampage chasing #Rat-L-Traps when water temperatures warm to 43-48 degrees, typically at the north end of a shallow back bay. Once temps hit 48 they ‘wake up’ and need to be finessed a little more with a suspending stickbait or another in-your-face presentation.

I’m thinking the bass bite which is happening RIGHT NOW on the Upper Miss is the doppelgänger of this Springtime phenom. The bass know they have to chow down, cuz winter’s on the way. The need to feed trumps what should be a slowed metabolism.

The bass still don’t want to work too hard at it, so they herd baitfish to points of easy ambush: edges like shoreline, deadfalls, trib entry points, converging currents which create quiet water pockets…

The Rat-L-Trap is the ideal search bait for finding active fish. Wednesday when fishing with Dave M. the ‘eyes weren’t really interested. With water temps still hovering @ 46-47 degrees they haven’t started sliding into deeper water wintering holes yet. Since it was a sunny afternoon I figured they might be holding shallower than the 11-15 foot contour I’ve been catching them on. Had Dave try an oxbow pattern Trap. He hooked a scrappy small-jaws on about the 5th cast.

One fish doesn’t make a pattern, but when the bite is tough it’s a start. There wasn’t much time to fish, so we took the Lund downstream to a classic spot under these cold water/high water conditions.

Dave hooked up on the first cast. and the second. and the third. The only casts which didn’t produce a scrappy smallmouth over the next 45 minutes are those which found wayward weeds. FAT quality fish 16-20″. Every one of ’em on the oxbow Trap.

The next day the action continued. Caught a few on a suspending Rattlin’ Rogue and #B-Fish-N Tackle Pulse -R in sassafras color. But most came on the ‘Trap…probably because I just LOVE throwin’ the ‘Trap.

Yesterday I returned to the well(s) with Larry. The fish were still there, but grass was coming down the River. When you get salad on 9 of 10 casts it isn’t fun–or productive. We still had fun with the smallies.

Not gonna fish today cuz it’s Saturday, or tomorrow morning cuz I need the Hour of Power provided in church. But Sunday afternoon and every day that the wind isn’t outrageous I plan on being out there.

Now hear this: The October Bass Blast will extend through the first week in November. Maybe. You’ll never find out if you aren’t on the water.

No October Bass Blast This Year

No October Bass Blast This Year

Mid October is always a time of great transition on the upper Miss. Water temps tumble from almost 70 at the end of September to the low 40’s at the end of October.

So far in 2019 we’ve seen just six weeks when water levels on the Immortal River were even CLOSE to normal. September was great. by aug. 3 the river was on the way back up again. It has been hanging close to the ‘minor flood’ level ever since.

Aggressive bass are easy to find in high water when water temps are still above 55 degrees. There is a little window between 57-54 degrees when bass go beyond easy to stupid. Unfortunately, this window slammed shut in less than 48 hours with howling wind, driving rain and plummeting temps putting a storm window on the easy bassin’ until late Spring.

Fishing in flood conditions is tough when other conditions are good–beyond tough when other stars don’t line up: 2019 in a nutshell.

The walleye bite doesn’t really get going in the fall until water temps hit about 48. We’re there now. but factor in flood coming through the trees and a sea of grass where there aren’t even inundated trees to stop the grass and tough doesn’t even come close. One anomaly this fall which makes you go hmmmm is the amount of duckweed floating on backwater sloughs. Can’t ever remember seeing that much duckweed.

As of today the USACE river level prediction has water levels falling to 630 @ Genoa by the 23rd. This will make walleyes, maybe panfish, just a little bit easier to catch

What we REALLY need to find consistent success is a River level below 627. At 627 it is easier to find walleye holding backeddies and edges on other structure.

meanwhile, water temperature is ticking slowly colder. I fish until most boat access is frozen in, with winter’s arrival just hours away. Back in 2015 fishing was good until just a week before Christmas. Last year my last guide trip was on Nov.2. Weather went to absolute crap a couple days after that and stayed there.

God only knows what the River level and weather conditions will be between now and game over for the year. If it doesn’t drop to 627 soon the Fat Lady is already singing.

Probably won’t blog again until conditions improve. But if you see a post between now and Christmas, call quick if you’re looking for a guide. And if the blog is talking about ice fishing, please don’t call at all. Too old to work on the hardwater anymore.

tight lines, y’all

BOHICA on the Big River

BOHICA on the Big River

USACE just published River projections through 10/13. Gonna rise 1.5′ over next several days, tickling flood stage at 629. Still headed up on 10/23 farthest projections go out. At 629 essentially water is coming through the trees all over. Nearly impossible to find 2′ visibility, which is key.

In 2018, my last trip was 11/2. Cancelled today’s trip with a good chance the 8 trips on the books won’t happen either. Those folks with 2019 gift certificates will get first shot at re-booking. IF we’re able to get back on the River before freeze up the target will be mostly walleyes, perch & crappies.

Will probably be at least a couple weeks before a new blog gets posted. Know up front it may sound like a high-pitched whine. Just got back from fishing the Delta @ Venice, about 100 miles south of Nawlins. They have been at flood down there for 211 days this year SO FAR.

Truly a BOHICA year on the Big River (Bend Over Here It Comes Again)

Deciphering Fish in the ‘new normal’

Deciphering Fish in the ‘new normal’

After 6 weeks of ‘low summer pool’ water which began on august 2, pool 9 has returned to ‘new normal’ levels–a couple of feet above ‘action stage’.

Action stage is when access becomes difficult at most boat ramps on the pool–about five feet below ‘minor flood’ stage when water is coming through the trees taking away many fishin’ spots which load from downstream. Translation: tough fishing.

For the past week or so the River has been running at about 627. There is still definition on most of the islands and backwaters, providing edges where predators can push prey and we can tempt ’em with a hook.

Frequent rains of seasonal change muddy some of these areas for a day or two–but it is still possible to find water with 2′ visibility–a major key to hooking up.

A couple days after a rain areas near any trib entry point provide a likely place for fish to locate–especially away from current that is carrying sandgrass downstream.

If you know fish are in the area, but sandgrass is a problem, switch to a low profile, single hook presentation like a jig and add a small split shot or barrel swivel a couple feet up the line to intercept weeds. Catching fish means getting your hook down through the floating stuff where it can remain a viable presentation for most of your cast. Picking up weeds on the hook at the end of the cast may be inevitable, but you’re still in the game.

The only option is to move across the River, out of the current, essentially to a point where you can throw a bait without feeling compelled to curse on every cast.

Stable river levels have allowed the main channel and many backwaters to clear. Water temps are in the mid-60s. Action for all species is good, once you find a place where fish are holding and get down through the weeds.

Yesterday I had a half-day trip with a couple Illinois anglers who were staying on an S & S houseboat rental–an annual family tradition for decades. The patriarch announced fishin’ was a waste of time, citing just a half-dozen bluegills in three days.

It was my first day on Pool 9 in over a week. Just returned from fishing bull reds and offshore in Venice, La. Being away from the River this long and predictions of a ‘seasoned veteran’ will put a knot in any guide’s gut…but when the River is stable with mid-60s temps, you can usually find a few.

The old guys remaining on the houseboat snorted when advised to grease up the skillet. 10 minutes later my guys texted them pix of a 34″ pike which garwoofled a chatterbait. A few minutes after that, pix of a double on LMB, then pix of WB, then 3 lbs. of SMB the hard way: 2 fish fighting over the same oxbow @Rat-L-Trap!

They ended up catching about 35 good fish. Just one legal ‘eye. But plenty for a couple good frys with pike & WB.

Tomorrow is another day, with meaty urologists calling for more rain. they are overpaid for being wrong so often. Fishing for LMB & SMB will remain good through mid-Oct…or until water temps drop to about 55. Then walleyes, pike, crappies and perch will be primary targets for awhile.

Perch on the Move

Perch on the Move

There is no doubt yellow perch are the most unpredictable species of all fish often sought by fishermen. Their behavior is literally a case of ‘here today, gone in an hour’.

Of course, perch schools tend to search for food making lazy circles near the bottom. Chances are, once you catch a couple they may be back around in 20 minutes or so.

Perch in the Miss also have seasonal pattern changes, migrating to deeper green weeds–most commonly elodea–when October rolls around.

Heavy siltation in pool 9 backwaters which is now forever in place after extended flooding in 2019 has made ‘deeper weeds’ in the backwaters a relative thing. A couple years ago they used to stage in about 8′. This year its more like 6′–and finding water even this deep takes considerable looking.

Over the past few days I’ve landed on a couple pods of heavy jumbos which have been holding in the same general areas they are typically found several weeks later in the year.

The fact that they have been cruising in these same areas for several days now makes me thing they MAY be in seasonal transition.

My perch search in autumn is straight forward–dip Teddy Skunk Perchanators between elodea fronds until striking gold, then go after bigger fish with #northland 1/8 oz. buckshot rattle spoon.

The Perchanator is more effective if you raise the bait a couple feet then let it free fall every couple minutes or so.

A couple days ago I landed on a pod of perch which were 11.5-14.5″. Kept just THREE to feed the Admiral and me. Went back yesterday and they were still there! Houston, we have a pattern!

Froggin’ Around

Froggin’ Around

The river has been running so high for so long that the summer pool level pool 9 is at now seems a little unusual. There are many truly significant changes beyond the channel, with sandbars and mud flats where we’ve never seen them before–or far larger and shallower than they used to be at normal summer pool.

90+ days of flood stage this year has created ideal conditions for aquatic plant growth. Many backwaters which have been semi-navigable at summer pool are essentially floating salads of dubious dept–great if you like froggin’ for bass.

Crappies are just beginning to transition from weeds to wood. Still catching fish in the lily pads and sandgrass edges in as little as 2 f.o.w. –but they are also starting to suspend several feet down tight to deepwater wood.

Bluegills are all over the place–and no place. Once you find ’em it takes awhile to frog around a driftpile or weededge to find the spot-on-the-spot where you’ll find bite a minute action.

Perch are hanging in 18″-7 f.o.w., tucked in the elodea (coontail), also relating to clam beds. I like to use my new St. Croix 9′ panfish rod to drop a Teddy Skunk Perchantor in openings in the elodea, and a seven-footer with a little Northland jigging spoon over the clam beds. The clam bed bite is classic perchin’ –they come and go. Stick around for an hour and they’ll be back to feed again.

The walleye bite has ben mostly around main channel rocks and a few select areas in the deeper running sloughs. Trolling is still possible, but weeds are starting to become an issue. Water temp is still in the low 70’s, but it won’t take long to drop below 60 when all the sandgrass in all the backwaters upstream will turn things into a linear floating hayfield as the more-abundant-than-ever weeds start to die

With low water, time of day is now a factor in finding active walleyes. Favorite weapons are still the Bill Lewis MR-6 in threadfin shad pattern and Rat-L-Trap in oxbow–especially during lower light periods over the rocks or coming off of sandbars into deeper water.

Haven’t blogged in awhile cuz I’ve been on the river pretty much every day, often all day, for a solid month now. have the day off. think I’ll go fishin’

Fishing is Hotter than August

Fishing is Hotter than August

Pool 9 finally came down out of ‘action stage’ with the New Albin boat ramp opening up on Aug.2. Fishing for almost all species has been about as good as it gets ever since the last week of July and should be stupid easy for the forseeable future.

The longest I’ve been able to stay off the River since the end of July is about 36 hrs. don’t like being out there from about noon Friday til 3 pm Sunday unless its after panfish or channel cat which allow you to get away from high speed humanity.

haven’t been fishin’ for nearly 8 hrs as this blog gets written shortly before 2 a.m. because of cleaning and eating walleyes and sleep.

No time to get philosophical in this blog. A couple more hours sack time would be nice before putting the Lund in the water again–so here goes;

ctching quite a few legal eyes throwing that new Bill Lewis MR-6 in chart. blaze, blue chart and my new fave of faves–threadfin shad. Fish are heavy on the rocks right now, changing location more by time of day than river level. They are always following the food. Spending lots of time from middle to end of wingdams and humps on closing dams. Catching 2 nice ones for supper last nite took exactly 10 casts and 10 minutes. Weeds aren’t much of a problem yet. Time of day=shade. Often a factor.

SMB are also stupid easy on rocks, particularly at sharp current breaks. Pop-Rs in calm wind then there is shade, oxbow Traps, wacky-rigged Chompers salty sinkers or flukes otherwise.

Tremendous frog bite going on for LMB. Weeds are at max growth in the backwaters.Frogs are the best way to get at ’em.

Crappies have pretty much moved away from the deep weed edge bite and are already sneaking toward the wood. Small flukes are offering some surprising results on slabbers when probing wood looking for other stuff. northland Tackle makes a new one which is smaller than Zoomor Yum–and deadly.

Pike are pretty much suicidal back in submergent weeds where you can work a buzzbait now. Pulsing the retrieve rather than a steady retrieve triggers a lot more fish.

Bluegills have been hot flipping a Bimbo Skunk with a tiny piece of redworm. Most I’ve been catching lately have moved out of the sandgrass and are now tight to wood. Perch are congregated in elodea (coontail) in 2-7 f.o.w Catching them mostly by dipping the perchanator between the tails until active fish are located or jigging a little Buckshot spoon. both baits tipped with a tiny piece of redworm or Gulp maggot.

Channel cat have been most active in running sloughs with a hard bottom, fishing above driftpiles in 5-12 fow with sonny’s dipbait, tweaked with a handful of Shad flies.

There are 2 ‘secret sauces’ I use almost every day: Liquid Willowcat on plastics and 1/2 crawler and 1/8 oz jig for ‘eyes and SMB…and 15 drops of CBD oil on the tongue every morning. Was supposed to have total shoulder replacement. Too busy fishin’. Steroid shot in the shoulder only helped for about 6 wks. Started with the CBD back in March. Now making 500 casts a day without pain. Worth a shot, guys. Nap time again. Back to the grind at first light.

BTW: use EXTREME caution when navigating beyond the channel. River level has dropped like a stone over the past 2 wks. and there are nasty flats, sandbars and growler wood just under the surface in spots they haven’t been before–at least not this year.

Snap-burning cranks for summer ‘eyes & smallies

Snap-burning cranks for summer ‘eyes & smallies

The only thing which has kept me going with perpetual high water since ice out mid-March was knowing that when River levels finally dropped below the ‘action’ stage @ lock & dam 8, fihsin’ would be off the charts.

That day has arrived! Gravel is starting to poke through the mud at the New Albin boat ramp. Access should be possible here by Sunday afternoon–Monday morning at the latest.

When ‘fun fishin’ instead of guiding I like to catch 20 fish then go home. The past 2 days this mission has been accomplished in just 90 mins. each day, throwing an oxbow pattern Rat-L-Trap.

Wingdam action is just cranking up, But its real hard to justify heading toward the rocks to chase ‘eyes when magnum white bass and quality smallies smack your bait every 4 minutes until your arms get tired.

I’ll be fishing rocks for wallies throwing a Bill Lewis MR-6 after the weekend, anticipating almost sure thing success. A major key to consistent success on warm water walleyes–and bass– relating to rocks in the Upper Miss is a technique I call ‘snap burning..

Water temps and fish metabolism are both high right now. It’s virtually impossible to retrieve a crankbait faster than walleyes, smallies or white bass can swim. Fan casting an area with the quickest burning retrieve your reel can muster catches fish–speeding the lure up with quick snaps of the rod tip catches even more fish!

In the typically stained water of the Miss gamefish will frequently follow a lure back to the boat and turn away at the last instant.

Doing a variation of the Esox angler’s ‘figure8’–a ‘figure L’ with a 90 degree change in lure direction about six feet from the boat with a final quick snap of the rod tip often turns those myopic lurking cruisers into would be destroyers just before the lure is lifted out of the water.

I use 20 lb. ‘Moon shine’ PowerPro braid to absorb the shock when those cruisers try to become destroyers–anything less and you might mistakenly call the fish a frigate as it swims away with your bait