The bite is ON!

The bite is ON!

Water temps warmed to 39 degrees on 3/15. Walleye/sauger very active on hair jigs. Also caught fish pulling pulseRs & 3-ways with small cranks and pitching blades and PulseRs.

Active fish were in 21-22 fow but sometimes responded when pitching a little shallower.

The coming week will reveal a lot about timing of the spawn this year. I’m leaning toward April 5–2 wks earlier than the norm. But with the spawn on 4/1 in 2019, maybe earlier is the new norm.

I plan on being out there regardless. Guide business is now tkaing booking dates for 2023 season. Still have 5 open dates in march & 9 in April.

My latest book ‘Flames & Fins’ (An old river guide looks back upstream) should be available @ Capn Hooks, River n Ridge and City Meats by Saturday.

Got off the water @ 7:30 last night. It is now 06:35. Plan on launching in one hour. Gotta go. gotta guide. The grind begins!

The March March Begins!

The March March Begins!

Water temperatures on the pool 9 river mainstem have risen two solid degrees, up to 34, over the past 48 hours waking walleyes, saugers, perch & pike up and pushing them out of wintering holes.

Walleyes tend to ‘stair step’ in spring and fall, moving shallower in the Spring in preparation for spawning when water temps rise to 45-48 degrees. A week ago walleyes were in 29-32 fow with saugers slightly deeper. By march 5 these fish have already moved into 21-24 fow. A few more degrees they will be in 16-20 fow and crazy hungry. When they go up one more step and start cruising the <12 foot contour the spawning show is about to get underway.

Walleyes usually spawn at night, during the full moon period–especially if this lines up with the 45-48 degree magic temp. USUALLY the spawn occurs April 15-22 on pool 9. Two years ago they spawned around April 1, with many dropping their eggs back in grassy areas in the running sloughs instead of quiet waters off the River mainstem over rocky-rubble bottom.

This year the B-Fish-N Tackle B3 blade bait has been smokin’ hot for multiple species. This piece of metal was first introduced down on Pool 12, known as the Zonar–or maybe by Heddon lures called the Sonar, back about 1960.

Whatever you wanna call it, I’ve been using this chunk of metal since I used to chase ‘eyes below the Bellevue dam on pool 13 since 1965. Never ceases to amaze me. Why would a walleye slurp in a chunk of metal laying on the bottom when there is so much natural food in their enviroment?

Experience teaches you don’t wanna be pondering the possibilities when the B3 is in the fish zone. Sometimes fish have been slurping in the metal when the bait is just laying on the bottom. Sometimes they stop its progress after a quick rip as it flutters back down. This is a tough bite to detect unless you’re paying attention!

The nature of the bite will certainly change as waters continue to warm. A hair jig with a minnow is very popular on pool 9–purple for walleye, kelly green for sauger. Since Valentine’s Day I haven’t put “meat” on the hook yet…and boated–conservatively–200+ walleyes. Some on #Northland jigging spoons, some on plastic paddletails and a pile on blades.

Gonna kick off the guide service on March 15. This year i will be able to accommodate up to 6 anglers as I’ll be working closely with Mike Yauk of Fishin’ Mission guide service. Mike is on pro staff with #stcroixrod ,#B-Fish-N tackle and a couple other manufacturers.

My latest book “flames & fins ” (an old river guide looks back upstream) is now available on amazon &kindle. Lotsa stuff in there about the River and how to fish it.

As of today–March 6–access is still an issue on pool 9. Ice tends to block many access points. A couple days ago I needed help sliding my ‘stealth boat’ , a 14′ jon, across about 100′ of ice so i could put it on the trailer. Navigation is also an issue on the River mainstem. Keep your eyes open! Many tons of ice are leaving thousands of acres over quiet backwaters and running sloughs moving slowly downstream. Smacking into a six-inch thick chunk the size of a card table can put the pin in the party hog of an otherwise happy day. Don’t ask me how I know. Stay safe out there

guide Season opens March 15

guide Season opens March 15

I am now taking bookings for the 2023 guide season beginning on March 15. The river is already opening up. Put 150+ walleyes/ saugers in the boat so far ‘fun fishing’ . Ice will likely still be a factor until the end of March, but by mid-month it will be possible to navigate around the ice floes safely, so its time to go back to work.

Really not keen about guiding on the weekends, but will consider panfish and/or catfish trips from noon on friday to noon on Sunday. Other than this time frame, open for multi-species until late November.

Since 2001 I’ve been guiding almost exclusively on pool 9. My first paid trip on the River was back in 1965 down on pool 13. a lot of water has come down the River since then. In this time frame I’ve come to realize that the River is a democracy: the fish get a vote too. Sometimes they vote no.

I won’t promise you’ll catch fish. but i will promise to do my very best to keep you safe and you’ll complete the trip a better angler than when you got in the boat.

I guide for all species. If you wanna chase walleyes or bass or panfish, that’s what we’ll do BUT a lifetime of experience teaches the best times on the River are listening to what she tells you and fishing accordingly.

Lord willin’ I will guide two more years. guiding is hard work. After a half-century I’ve worked long enough. right now I’m at the top of my game. but years are taking their toll and I want to step out of the way before I’m part of the problem until part of the solution in teaching folks about the river and how to fish it safely.

As many of you know I was inducted into the national Freshwater fishing hall of fame as a legendary guide in 2020. don’t mean nothin’…other than I have nothing to prove to anybody.

Truly looking forward to sharing the boat with long-time clients–and sharing the River with some new ones. I am profoundly blessed to have spent my life doing what I love to do. Every single day on the River is a tremendous gift.

In 2023 i plan on fishing 6 days a week, just like I always have, but guiding maybe only three. If you wanna book a trip I urge you to reach out early and select a date. folks want to know the BEST day to go fishin’. My answer is, you can’t catch any fish with your line out of the water. The Mississippi River is truly a force of nature. Select a date and we’ll take on nature eyeball to eyeball.

If you don’t wanna fish with me, I’m good with that. Just please , PLEASE be careful out there!

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

Haven’t blogged in awhile cuz serious gut issues almost sent me to the Big Adios. Two weeks away from the River was an eternity. Finally back in the saddle with a 9″ perch bump board scar on my belly.

A lifetime of Fishing the Big River and KEEPING A DETAILED DIARY tells me ’23 is shaping up a lot like the first quarter of ’14 & ’04. In both those years we experienced a substantial January thaw with single digit & below zero temperatures kicking in and remaining until about Feb. 12. Even with days that ambient temps only got into the mid-20’s after that, ice fishing was generally steady and productive ’til ice out…and on days when temps got up into the 30s it was pure bucket-fishin’ joy!

Fishing open water below the dams has been good to the point of almost too easy for sauger, walleye & perch during this January thaw window. This will come to a screeching halt tonite as temperatures bottom out and the River starts making ice again.

Great news if you like ice fishing! Several super mid-pool spots have been tough to access due to spring holes and open water in little tribs. Extremely low water level at initial freeze-up made fishing spots like Hayshore a waste of time. The thaw made the deeper water at the southeast corner of this backwater almost impossible to anyone without a hovercraft or similar ice boat. Folks who were able to slide out there had a field day on quality perch.

But “ya shoulda been here last week” is worthless info. I think the cut between Millstone Landing and weed edges in Hayshore with >3 fow will lock up enough to allow lightfooting out to those jumbo ringers. Don’t look to me as the vanguard of this expedition. Days when i was among the first to fall through the ice in December and last to get wet late March are over–unless I fall off a plank extending out from shore.

Peak bite for the past month has been from first light until about 11 a.m. with another short feeding window from about 3-4 p.m. “Peak bite” is a relative term in mid-winter. Some days the action is slow early–then it slacks off.

BUT I’m thinkin’ that will change mid February. Open water running in under the ice from those tiny tribs is adding oxygen to backwater water columns. When arctic high pressure from the predicted two week cold spell backs off fish under the ice will become more active, for a longer period of time often suspending a little higher in the water column instead of hugging the bottom contour, to 2′ up.

Fish metabolism will still be slow until water temps warm into the 40s. The finny critters will eat when they feel like eating and respond to a striking presentation with the lightning-fast reflexes of a gutter wino reaching for a half-full bottle of T-Bird or Muscatel.

Every day on the Immortal River is a blessing. It is also a study in constant change. Keeping a diary won’t put fish on the ice or in the boat–but it certainly provides a jump-start in honing presentations that lead to rippin’ lips.

Hunkered down

Hunkered down

don’t look for an inciteful fishing tip on this blog. Obscene conditions make any outdoors activity beyond stupid for the next couple days BUT if forecasts are accurate ice fishing should be outstanding this time next week..

Following is a personal rant more about life than fishing. However, if you believe fishing is life, feel free to stick around while this old river rat rambles.

I haven’t been on the ice ONCE yet this season due to some serious health issues which put me in hospital AGAIN from Monday through Thursday. Mayo LaCrosse sent me home worse than I went in…with a pneumothorax and a broken of piece of wire still in my belly. The experience convinced me the Hippocratic oath (do no harm) has morphed into the Hippocritical oath as medical care works through the 21st century.

Paramedic training back in 1980 taught me to be objective & pragmatic in all things medical. Being a paramedic is mostly about patient assessment, then taking the appropriate measures focused on patient care.

Not so today!! Health care is all about flow charts, checking boxes and following one size fits all protocols mandated by the gov’t while looking at a computer screen instead of the patient…and gov’t mandates are dictated by Big Pharma. In a nutshell, this is the sad , sad truth.

Say an MD has 10 patients but only time to care for one. The guy with Cadillac health insurance and a hangnail gets the slot instead of the guy with a more serious–even life threatening problem.That’s a fact, Jack! It’s all about the bottom line. The Cadillac reimburses @ close to 100%. medicare–even with a good supplement–maybe 70%.

I’m not the guy with a hangnail. From a pragmatic and objective standpoint the wire surgeons left in my belly along with a shriveled up gall bladder shrink wrapped around several gall stones can be put on hold for another month because the mortality chart says there will be better results 6 mos. after being on a blood thinner than 4 months or 5 mos, 29 days.

Well, Skippy, the sun sets on lake Michigan about 13 minutes earlier than it does here on the Mississippi river. If you’re looking at the patient instead of a chart on the computer could there be greater benefit for the patient if a gall bladder was removed @ 5 mos. 29 days? how ’bout 5 mos 14 days?

In my recent hospital experience I can provide a half dozen flat out stupid, zero common sense decisions driven by check boxes rather than good patient care–beyond little things like sending me home with a broken off piece of wire in my belly and no way to vent the toxic stew which will come out of my gall bladder if it decides to wake up again.

Take note any malpractice attorney reading this blog! Also all you folks who have the epiphany that the widow Peck will likely have the mother of all garage sales if this course is maintained. Now hear this: I will seek out and haunt anybody who short changes the Admiral for a St. Croix rod or shotgun.

That said, if not belly up I plan on getting out on the ice next thursday. If this is part of God’s plan look for another blog shortly thereafter.


Heading toward hardwater

Heading toward hardwater

With water temperatures hovering around 35 degrees a couple of calm nights with ambient temps in the 20’s will lock up many backwaters. Ice was blocking the new Albin ramp until a couple of days ago. Temps in the upper 40’s and a strong south wind blew the ice out of there.

We won’t REALLY see ice up til the tundra swans move out. They are still here in force.

Quality fish destined to be released into grease the past week or so have either been slack bellied or with partially digested 6″ shad in their gut. With water temps in the mid-30s walleyes aren’t eager to eat. but they are opportunists, A 6″ shiner fluttering in their face has been too much for a couple of them.

A striking presentation is another in-your-face technique which often results in a hook up. My go to baits this time of year are a HUGE Northland puppet minnow with a minnow head on the bottom treble and a Vibrations Tackle Teddy cat ith either a minnow head or entire minnow impaled on the back of the bait. One of those little rubber bands used to keep a hook in a senko keeps the bait on the Teddy Cat longer. Yesterday the active fish were holding in 22-27 fow. But that was yesterday.. Tomorrow is another day!

The giant redear I couldn’t keep

The giant redear I couldn’t keep

Fishing pool 9 and the Tri-State area is gonna be ugly for the next several days–wind rain, cold front, rain & more rain. The fish are already wet, of course. But the seasonal change we are about to weather will have a definite impact on presentation & location of the most sought after species.

All three of my boats are ready to go. Come Monday hoping one will get wet from flowing water.

Those who have shared the boat with me over the decades know that a trip is more than just catching fish. River lore and fish tales are part of the experience.
Fishing has dominated my life for over 60 years. There is a thumbnail pic of me and my sister, The Bean, crappie fishin’ back in 1960. It appears as part of a spread in the latest BIG RIVER magazine about trends in hunting/fishing. I was 9 back then. The Bean was 6.

A dozen years later she caught a hybrid redear sunfish which I am STILL jealous of. Dimensions? The redear was a platter–not a plate! WE were fishing a farm pond in southern Illinois which bordered Crab Orchard Nat’l Wildlife Refuge.

The pond was owned by Prof. Marv Rimerman, a portly little Jewish guy who was passionate about journalism and fishing. We had a symbiotic relationship.
Marv taught me how to be a journalist. I coached him and Marshall & Danny–his two sons on fishing.

A massive southern oak on the refuge fenceline produced the biggest buck I have ever harvested. Quit counting deer in 2000 @ 100 animals. Several good ones are on the wall. The horns of this bruiser were last seen in southern Illinois when i graduated SIU and became a newspaper editor. Details of all aspects of that caper still bring a chuckle & headshake to this very day. Remind me and I’ll share it next time you jump in my Lund.

This blog was supposed to be about the Bean’s dreadnaught redear. But my writing is like the River. It goes where it takes me. You can come along or jump out of the boat.

Marv’s pond was managed by SIU Fisheries, the Ichthyological counterpart to Ft. Deitrich, Md or maybe the Wuhan Lab. The gain of function on Marv’s pond was sterile redear sunfish so massive they would make Jonah break into a cold sweat and hop the next Greyhound to Ninevah.

There was only one caveat for fishin’ Marv’s pond: every hybrid sunfish had to be carefully and immediately released.

On the other side of this equation was Dr. Rimerman’s quest for fair, accurate and unbiased reporting asmy major mentor in journalism. Rimerman hailed from Baltimore where he set up the city’s CATV system. He came to SIU to teach the new media: cable TV.

State-of-the-art gear was a 1/2″ black & white video recorder. I sometimes worked for Marv as an intern/reporter for Carbondale Cablevision–a side gig for Marv when he wasn’t doing professor stuff.

Perks of my work were few. The singular highlight was going for pizza and beers with Marv and Buffalo Smith after a shoot to promote Smith’s upcoming appearance at the SIU arena. Who was Buffalo Bob Smith? He was the man behind the iconic HOWDY DOODY !

Pizza & beer revealed the reason for this kid show’s untimely demise. It involves a potted plant (not a pot plant) which was a stage prop and a young lad from the “Peanut Gallery” who couldn’t hold his corn. Gonna have to get in the boat to hear the finer details of that caper, too.

ANYWAY the real thrust of this blog is about journalism. Today, this is a dirtier word than anything with four letters. There were two framed black-and-white photos on the wall behind Prof. Rimerman’s desk: Marv interviewing Nixon and Marv interviewing JFK for Baltimore cablevision, prior to the 1960 election.

Edawrd R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were the professor’s gold standards. Rimerman was a staunch democrat. But you never, ever saw that in his reporting or that of his minions.

Today extreme bias in reporting has replaced the unvarnished truth. Our nation will vote on the most critical mid-term election in US History next Tuesday.

My advice to y’all from this old school journalist is this: believe only what you see. Question what you hear. Inflation, gas prices, crisis at the southern border with fentanyl /human trafficking, $25 billion in modern arms—and a million Afghan girls/women who won’t taste freedom again–is America’s Afghanistan legacy. China’ quest for world wide domination and the potential with nuclear war with Russia are REAL. If you look closely, eyes wide open, vision correct for media spin, maybe you can find some truth.

The River is an unforgiving and dangerous place. That’s the truth. Our Republic is in imminent danger of going down the River forever. That’s the truth too.

Afghan girls will never be able to vote. Will this be the legacy for American girls, too? Think about it. Pray about it. Seek the truth. Then exercise your GOD GIVEN right: Vote on Nov. 8!!

Crazy good fishin’!

Crazy good fishin’!

What a month October was! The River flowed like an old style bathtub–hard to mix the cold water & hot water until everything was just right.

Water temps dropped to 44 mid-month, then rebounded into the 50’s. Walleyes responded by sliding a little deeper–the 16-18 foot contour. Grass has been a major, MAJOR factor. A single hook presentation the the venerable Taylor Tackle Killer jig has put grins on lots of faces on folks fishing near dam tailwaters.

This has been the best fall crappie fishin’ I’ve seen in years. The 2019 year class which happened in the year of perpetual flood is now a herd of fat-backed 12-inchers–with fair representation of 17 & 18 year classes in the system.

My wife, the Admiral, put her PB in the boat this fall: an honest 15 incher. Most outings have produced at least a couple fish tickling 14″ on both side of that line.

Most fish have ben biting 4-6 feet down over 10+ fow. But there are some places where the bigger fish have been holding bove brush about twice that deep. For these fish a little Northland Tackl jigging spoon in “wonder bread” pattern tipped with a minnow has been a red-hot killer!

Yesterday I filmed a show with the Fishing Roots folks for You Tube. Fishing Roots videos have a Wisconsin-centric focus. Fishing Roots is the brainchild of Phil Barefield, son of legendary Wisconsin guide Ron Barefield. Rotten Ronnie and me have been serious runnin’ buddies for almost 40 years. I have yet to encounter a more competent outdoorsman. Ron’s grandson, Gavin, is a You Tube star in the making. Eventually this young buck will get the velvet worn off his rack and get back to focus on what’s truly important in life.

But I digress. Phil & Ronnie wanted to shoot a fall crappie video. I put 3 slabs in the boat on the wonder bread jig before Ronnie even got his rod rigged. it didn’t take long to put a show in the can.

With water temps bumping 52 we figured a Z-Man Ned head with a Swimmerz paddletail would be too much for bass to resist. Both LMB & SMB tend to congregate in very small areas in late fall–usually near small, steep breaks where they can move 20′ vertically and maybe 10′ horizontally once they seek food.

Casting the Ned head within a foot of shore thn hopping it down to about the 12′ contour produced a bunch of respectable fish for about an hour. Then we saw gulls dipping below a wingdam about a half mile downstream.

The Bill Lewis Lures MR6 in a ghost shad pattern proved irresistible on the magnum whiteys!

With water temp in the low 50’s e decided to check a couple of wingdams with the MR-6 to see if bass were home. Tried to convince Ronnie that the bass were clustered in the deep pocket mode. If we could get through the weeds all we would likely catch was walleye.

A FAT marble-eye garwoofled Ron’s MR6 on about the 4th cast. Like a couple old women we argued about the length of the fish. Ron was convinced it was 22″ .I said it wasn’t over 19″. The old dog tried to fudge by half an inch when putting it on the boat ruler. Even squeezing the tail he could only make it stretch to 19 7/8″ making it a giant, barely legal sammich. This and another fat 18 incher were enough for a couple of meals.

Time to load the Lund. Today is Thursday. Maybe the last perfect weather day of 2022. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. If I were you–I WOULD GO FISHING!

Eyes & Slabs

Eyes & Slabs

Keeping a detailed fishing diary will make you a better fisherman. Before heading out on yesterday’s trip I checked data for the past 2 yrs. on that date. 2019 was an outlier due to constant flood. This yr. will get an asterisk for low water just like ’06 & 1988.

Data both years showed water temp in the mid 40’s. In 2020 the bass were still suicidal on a Rat-L-Trap bite. Last year it was chilly. Found active walleyes in 22-23 fow.

Clients this year wanted to target walleyes/crappie We didn’t find the active in ,10 fow–even though the temp had warmed 5 degrees up to 53 over the previous 48 hrs.

Walleyes “stairstep” into deeper water in the fall. Reverse is true in the spring. We found active fish in 16-18 fow , dragging hair & meat. Short fish. When a 13″ slab hit a 1/4 oz jig & minnow it was clear the River was talking to us.

Switched to crappie fishing. On the trip 2 days earlier crappies were biting extremely light.4 ft. down over at least 10 fow. Had to got to a floro leader. A double uni joining it to hi-vis braid FOUR FEET LONG was a perfect strike indicator!

With water warming up beyond 50 the fish were aggressive. No need for floro. Bigger crappies tend to relate to a little different structure than average fish…when fishing this particular structure you’ll only pick up 1 or 2…but watching a thick 13-15 inch slabber do the Stevie Wonder head shake as you try to ease it out of hiding is a bona fide thrill!

Skitterin’ Crappies

Skitterin’ Crappies

The River has gone through profound seasonal change in the past week. Water temp has dropped below the magic 55 degree mark . The bass bite will still be on fire for a few more days–especially on sunny afternoons. But from now until we lightfoot out on the hardwater again the easiest fishin’ will be for crappies and walleyes.

The extreme EXTREME low water levels change a number of things going forward. For the short haul maybe the biggest impact is visibility of 3+ feet. A floro leader is seldom necessary in offering a feeding presentation on the Miss. Now using low-vis might actually improve your catch.

Walleyes get the most attention from mid-October til ice up. Slab crappies are an often overlooked resource. Crappies are the species which started a life-long fire in my belly for fishin’. It didn’t occur to me until just a couple weeks ago that technology is getting in the way of putting october crappies in the boat.

Seeing marks of crappies hiding in the brush on your electronics is just peachy–until you try to pull ’em out of the brush and into the boat Old school tactics are still the most efficient way of bringing a thickback papermouth over the gunnel.

Although tools like ‘live target” can reveal crappies crusing in open water which can be taken by pitching a little tube , feather or hairjig on an ultralight, bona fide slabbers are tucked tight against the branches in wood, suspended about halfway down in the water column.

Most years this means fishin’ 3-4 feet down over at least 10 fow. With super clear visibility (for the Miss) active fish are holding a little deeper. Maybe 6 feet down. Regardless, conventional wisdom that says you can fish too deep for crappies but its real tough to fish too shallow is pretty close to absolute truth.

A 98% vertical presentation is the best way to hook up. This means a pole at least 10 ft. long. 12 ft. is even better. Since fish are suspended at essentially half a pole length down the best way to catch ’em is patiently snaking fish through the branches then swinging them into your open hand when they come to the surface.

When a fish is still in the water it is essentially neutrally buoyant BUT once 2 lbs. of silver is flopping in the air with a light wire hook in the papermouth’s ultra thin upper lip the membrane WILL tear and the fish of dream will likely get off.

I modified an old telescopic fiberglass canepole by add a trout landing net to the skinny end. Once the fish is on the surface you can usually slide the net under it and hoist it into the boat.

Just realized this blog is an example of poor creative writing. It was supposed to be about skitter fishin’, should have started down that trail in the 1st five paragraphs. ANYWAY….

When I first got introduced to this technique back in 1956 the Hildebrndt spinner introduced in 1899 was state of the art tech. Making mini trolling passes 12-18″ long inches above the brush with a lip hooked minnow on a light wire hook is almost irresistable to suspended crappies.

The “safety pin” spinner of a classic Beetle Spin which came on the scene in the early 1960’s allowed the option of a short,fluttering drop at each end of the trolling pass triggering even more fish.

This blog was supposed to reflect the finer points of skittering technique. But I ran out of gumption for providing free wisdom. Need to rig up a couple walleye sticks to prepare for my paying job. So, tight lines til next time