Back in the Saddle Soon

Back in the Saddle Soon

Low speed impact with unforgiving structure on July 7 put a serious crimp in both guide work and fishin’. Was able to run several trips out out client’s boats since prop, propt shaft & pinion/forward gear sent the structure kiss up the line. Outboard still ran well enough to sneak out close to home–but not well enough to take folks out on the River for hire.

Biggest snag:pinion/forward gear. Zero available in the 4 nat’l distribution centers. Just 3 in dealer inventory nationwide. I was able to secure the one out in KS. Lord’ willin’ will be back on the water soon.

Here’s the deal: amount of ‘fishable water’ has dropped about 70% below an average summer do to historic low water levels in the Miss. Navigating just a few feet beyond the channel can have dire consequences. 3 out of 5 guides working this stretch of River have had lower unit impact issues over the past couple months–and all of ’em have a pretty fair idea of how to run the River.

With such a decrease of fishable water obvious spots are getting POUNDED. Quality gamefish realize this. Finesse is key to hooking up! A great deal of this is bait presentation, often driven by boat location/orientation.

Often, the scenario is like deer hunting from a strategically placed stand instead of even a well orchestrated drive. Putting that hook at the optimum point for a quality fish to slurp it in may take a drop shot or Ned rig presentation for bass & walleyes. Z-Man products set the bar in both these presentations.

I’ve had a fair amount of success drop shotting willocats–both live and #liquidewillowcat plastics doused with ‘da juice’ for quality walleye over the past couple months and the #liquidwillowcat leech for SMB. Downside of getting bit is the mixed blessing that the fish tear these baits up. The Z-Man ElaZtech plastic is usually good for several fish.

Weird thing is some of the nicer SMB have chomped when the drop shot is firmly snagged in the rocks! Fishin’ 40 lb. braid to the hook and 10 lb. floro to the weight means the weight is often lost, but a fish is in the net.

29,30 & 8/2 are open for half-day trips in the a.m. Next open date for an extended tour is 8/9…with maybe a half dozen open days during the week the rest of the month.

have y’all ever seen the movie “Second Hand Lions” starring Robert Duvall & Micheal Caine? That’s kinda where guide john Bomkamp & me are right now…with Galen Bremmer still ridin’ hard but slowing down.

The FWS extorts a $3 ‘head tax’ on every person we share the wonders of the River with as fishin’ guides. Of course, my thought of being compensated for working at teaching others is counter to conventional government wisdom. Paying folks not to work is why there are only 3 forward gears available for 90 h.p E-techs in the entire USA. Maybe I’ll invoice the FWS for 15-20 folks I wasn’t able to take out when my motor was down. Oh, well the FWS inequitable tax for ‘administrative purposes’ is Biblical…right out of Isaiah 5:20.

stay safe out there!

Fogust comes early?

Fogust comes early?

Grass and heavy fog usually aren’t an issue on the Immortal River until mid-August. But both are definitely a factor now.

Water levels remain near historically low levels, with August going into September typically the lowest levels in a low water year. The Great Rainmaker will let us know soon enough.

Although most summer panfish action is in the running sloughs and backwaters, navigating there is truly, TRULY hazardous. When the grass starts coming down pannies have always been a go-to option. This is still true…but it tougher to get to where the big uns are. Pretty much.

With almost all accessible fish located near the River mainstem there is now incredible fishing pressure and jockeying for position at the usual prime spots–especially on the weekend. The past couple weeks I’ve transitioned to secondary spots and have had fair success on walleyes & SMB using willocats and Da juice on plastics–also on 1/8 oz hair jigs & Ned rigs.

The bite for channel cats is still almost sure-thing good–but I’ve had to peg a small split shot up the line about 3′ to intercept weeds. Flatheads are also intercepting willocat intended for walleye on just about every trip.

Boat position/control is critical, regardless of target species. The “active bite” seam may only be a couple feet wide, especially during the mid-day period.

The active bite in general is pretty much over by 8 a.m. on a sunny day, not picking up again until after 5. But hey, it’s August. Maybe we’ll get October in Sept. this year. I’m OK with that!

Mid-summer Forktails

Mid-summer Forktails

Channel cats are almost too easy to catch now , with the river running extremely low. Even though these whiskerfish are called ‘channel cats’ the best place to hook up is beyond the channel in running sloughs and side-cuts with several habitat parameters.

All you need to do is find 7-12 fow, hard bottom, moderate current and fish above a snag or driftpile . No need to go fishin’ at midnight! This is where the forktails are living now. Knock on their front door with a desirable meal and they will answer within FIFTEEN MINUTES.

Anchoring cross-current to spread lines when fishing on the bottom is the best way to eliminate unproductive water. If cats are home, at least one rod will start bouncing within 15 minutes. Frequently, a rod at one end of the boat will be the ‘hot’ rod. This is because the bait is spot-on in the scent trail leading downstream to the waiting fish.

Summer cats tend to stack up in a narrow band–like speed skaters racing around the oval. If one rod is ‘hot’ repositioning the boat to put more lines on this scent seam will result in more fish.

Once you’re on fish, it’s time for the FIVE MINUTE RULE. If you go five full minutes without an active bite, its time to move–either to another spot along the snag or to similar habitat UPSTREAM. Eventually, the number of quality, active cats will be depleted–leaving only ‘fiddlers’ who want to lick frosting instead of chowing down.

Channel cats are omnivorous. Dipbait–with the right ingredients and consistency is usually the best bait. Cutbait from a freshly caught, oily baitfish like a mooneye will also work. Fishing a half-crawler on one line to catch a mooneye is a solid plan. Cutbait usually produces bigger forktails.

A 1/8-1/4 oz. egg sinker is plenty of weight when anchored up above a snag with the ideal habitat parameters, as you are fishing DIRECTLY UP CURRENT from the fish.

A barrel swivel keeps the sinker from sliding too far down the line. On the other end is the hook–6-12″ below a leader. I like a 12 lb. test mono leader below at least a 20 lb. test main line. If you’re fishing where the fish are you’re gonna get hung up. Worst case scenario is USUALLY just losing the hook.

When looking for baitfish, a #4-6 slow-death, light wire hook is ideal. Serious cattin’ requires a hook with a little more steel. If using dipbait, either a species specific plastic worm with a #10 treble in the tail or a #4-6 treble with that spongy foam used to pack around window air conditioners, etc. to hold the bait.

There are only a couple of consistently productive dipbaits which are available at the tackle shop. Sonny’s Super sticky is still the best even with my longtime pal ol’ Clarence no longer there to ensure quality control.

My friendship with Sonny Hootman dates back more than 40 years. He never shared the exact proprietary formula with me–but he provided enough clues over the years to blend my own stuff–which is what a real river rat needs to do, anyway.

My recipe will go to the grave with me. But i will tell you waste cheese, soybean oil, shad flies and turtle liver go into the mix. If the bait gets too runny, add cattail fuzz, too stiff–a LITTLE soybean oil.

About 30 years ago Sonny came up with a batch he called ‘golden glue’. The stuff was beyond amazing. But subsequent attempts to replicate it could only come close.

I just finished a 2-day species specific cat trip with a couple guys from the city. This required crafting a new batch of bait. Won’t be so bold as to compare the stuff to golden glue–but it certainly works!

Get Whitey

Get Whitey

White bass on the River are always a mystery wrapped up in an enigma–finned dingos forever dogging their forage base.

Other than the occasional stray, those wonderful whiteys have been absent from the picture all summer long on pool 9–until just a few days ago. They just showed up on wingdam & closing dam rocks busting shad and river shiners in top water feeding frenzy which–in my opinion– is the most fun fishin’. period.

SMB are usually somewhere close by, too, taking advantage of stunned baitfish left behind.

Cashing in on this bonanza requires two rods–one rigged with a bone pattern Pop-R or Chug Bug/Tiny Torpedo in clear pattern, and another with a ‘search bait’ to target wayward whiteys between eruptions on the surface.

My fave search baits are the Rat-L-Trap, white dot #4 Mepps black fury, RoadRunnerand my latest fave– the Z-Man Willowvibe bladed jig in shiner pattern with a Z-Man Slim Swimmer plastic in Blue Glimmer SP.

If your search bait is getting slapped–but not eaten you’re retrieving too slow. It is IMPOSSIBLE to retrieve any of these baits too fast–with one exception: The Willowvibe bladed jig with a BLUE GLIMMER SP tail. I think this is cuz this bait profile/color is EXACTLY what the whiteys have been chewin’ on.

Sometimes the best plan is just waiting for the topwater frenzy, locked & loaded and pitch the pop-R into the middle of the melee. The frenzy can end in the time it takes to put down the search rod and cast the topwater.

Boat position can be key in cashing in! Don’t try following the topwater frenzy as fish surface here and then there. Find the most frequent place where they explode and anchor up an average cast DOWNCURRENT. A boat positioned upstream will quickly goad ’em into blowing up elsewhere.

Towboats are a mixed blessing. When a barge passes by it can turn ’em on–or shut ’em down.

It’s hard to leave when getting bit on almost every cast. But eventually the action will slow down. The fish probably haven’t moved much. Good time to enact the ’10 cast rule’. Don’t leave until you make 10 casts without a response. On yesterday’s trip it took my guys almost an hour to leave and chase walleyes after they were plum tuckered out from catching fish!

whackin’ walleyes with willocats

whackin’ walleyes with willocats

The mighty Miss is as low as it ever gets right now–620′ @ Genoa. Navigation beyond the main channel is beyond treacherous BUT this is a profound opportunity to locate structure which will eventually be covered with water again.

The last time the River got this low was back in ’06. Dozens of spots which paid off handsomely over the past 15 years are now visible again. Of course for the short haul the fish have moved on.

Besides being ultra-low, the River is also ultra-clear. I’ve actually gone to flouro leaders on some finesse rigs instead of straight braid.

Movement has been a major key to hooking up lately. Countless fish will follow a lure the entire length of a cast then ghost away at boatside–just like a muskie.

Hooking up now usually requires considerable animation of the lure–twitches, pops, hops, rips….dozens of fish hit right at boatside when you do a “figure L” –changing direction with 5′ of line out.

SMB are jumping all over Pop-Rs and Chug Bugs when the water is flat, provided there is shade or overcast. Clouds or a little breeze to deflect light penetration are part of hooking up consistently, too.

Lately I’ve been catching a pile of walleyes–many too big to keep–on live willocats, or soft plastic willocats and leeches doused with “da juice” from

Most of the time the basic egg sinker/barrel swivel/#1 octopus hook and tightlining the leading edge of a hole is an effective way to hook up–maybe with an ultra-slow drag back toward the boat.

But on the last several trips, many hook-ups happened when moving the bait or lure rapidly–pretty much at the ‘reel ‘er in, let’s try another spot’ speed.

When this happens once or twice, it isn’t a pattern, BUT a half-dozen times a day over several days and it becomes a senseless retrieve that makes sense.

The next issue of Big River magazine will be out in a couple weeks. One feature is about self-rescue when stuck out on the River. This ALMOST happens to me every day. So far I’ve only had to jump out of the boat once to push. This was semi-planned, as it was the only way to get over closing dam rocks without tearing up a motor.

Willocats cost about $2 each. Not cheap. But when chasing quality walleyes, they are a pretty much sure-thing lottery ticket…if you’re fishing where the fish are.

Care & feeding means keeping the willocats aeriated and in the dark. A couple days ago I bought 5 dozen. Two dozen died overnight after bringing them home cuz the battery on the aerator died. Watching Grant turn to ashes by burning a $50 bill would have been less painless.

I save/freeze the dead ones to barter with Eric Ingvalson for his Liquid Willowcat product, a.k.a “da juice”. Just sayin’….

Fishing Behind Bars

Fishing Behind Bars

River levels on Pool 9 have been dropping like a tungsten sinker for the past several days, a full .7 ‘ faster than the USACE flow chart predicted over just the past 24 hours.

Fish move quickly on a quick drop like that, pushing out of cloistered backwaters into running sloughs–which really are running–and beyond, out to areas just off the main channel.

There are 77 wingdams and closing dams on pool 9. A dozen–maybe 15–are fish magnets once River stage is below 623’ @ Genoa. Presentation is key in consistently hooking up when conditions are ‘just about perfect’ on one of these rocky structures. Most of these are on Lakemaster chips in good electronics—easy to find. But there is a world of difference between fishing a wingdam and CATCHING fish on a wingdam.

With only about 15 wingdam options at average summer pool on an average summer day there is a good chance at least one boat will be camped where you want to fish. When somebody is camped on a string of rocks, River courtesy dictates moving on. Unfortunately, some knobs just don’t get it–or don’t care. THIS is the primary reason my special Saturday guide rate is $1000/4 hrs.

Fortunately, there are quite a few juicy rock piles which aren’t on the charts, plus other options driven by low River levels–like the sharply breaking, trailing edges of sandbars.

Conditions beyond the channel now and going forward are similar to those found on the lower Wisconsin River. Anchoring up at a precise location on a current seam can result in crazy good action in less than 5 fow–with , 2′ of water just a rod length away.

Conventional wisdom says walleyes & SMB won’t be in < 5 fow at high noon on a sunny day–but they ARE if you know what to look for, how to navigate there safely–one how to fish once anchored up at the gateway to a true honey hole.

Yesterday clients boated about 15 ‘eyes under these nebulous conditions. We watched as folks from two boats had to get out and push trying to get there. Not fun! Especially if you don’t have the means and know-how to get free and on your way. There will be an article in the next issue of Big River magazine covering this topic.

The River is ALWAYS changing. Fish are ALWAYS adapting to that change. Running aground is inevitable–even when you’re out there almost every day.

But sometimes just two big steps from a keel-plant pickle a gold mine awaits. Stay safe out there!

Listen to the Old Man !

Listen to the Old Man !

I am perplexed by the number of EXCELLENT fishermen who hire me because they are frustrated in finding consistent success on the Mississippi. In just the past few days I’ve had absolutely stellar walleye guys and truly serious bass guys in the boat who have been humbled by the River.

The Old Man humbles me too–on a daily basis. It takes me AT LEAST an hour to figure out where the fish are lurking and what it takes to put bendage in a client’s rod–at least an hour, every single day.

It helps being on the water at least every other day. usually every day–except Saturday or a holiday weekend. Different species require wildly different tactics sometimes. I usually start by fishing the target species where & how i last found them, based on River level, conditions ( like rising/falling, turbidity) wind velocity/ direction, humidity…

None of these critical factors have anything to do with the boat, sophisticated electronics, tackle…

It’s all about the River! Most folks who struggle out there sally forth with a conqueror mindset. Truth is, you’ll NEVER come out ahead of the Old Man. The first hour–or two– is spent going full tilt Zen, trying to get in harmony with all the variables in the natural world.

Then it’s a pyramid thing, matching presentation/location to what the River is trying to tell you. This is when boat position & control have serious impact. Moving just a few feet can have profound impact, factoring in wind, current, mudlines…

Boat control and presentation need to be constantly reassessed. Yesterday’s walleye trip was a prime example. The client wondered why we spot locked over a sand bottom in just 3 fow. Why would walleyes be in such a spot on a partly cloudy summer day??

Short answer is–cuz the food is there. Looking deeper, all the other variables involved in plugging into the River is WHY the food is there. We caught quality fish all morning long. When clouds covered the sun, an oxbow Rat-l-Trap tore ’em up. When the sun beat down, an orange floating jighead/crawler on a seriously modified Lindy rig or hair jig bent those beautiful St. Croix rods.

Not just a hair jig–a hair jig in a specific weight/color combination AND a dose of Liquid Willocat. 10 perfect casts without it, nada. 10 casts with da juice = 2 hook ups.

Tomorrow is a bass trip, the next trip is walleyes on WINGDAMS. There are walleyes in the weeds, walleyes in current breaks with sand bottom, walleyes on the rocks.

Largemouth bass are just completing spawning right now. Smallies have already moved into summer pattern. Smallies will be easier to find cuz they’re more homebodies than wanderers (under these conditions) . Sight fishin for LMB on beds is tough…but there are couple little tricks which enhance odds for ticklin’ a big one.

LMB will be in summer pattern in a few days. When this transition takes place the largies will be travellin’ guys , following the food. They can move MILES overnite.

This is part of the reason it takes me at least an hour every single day. Bottom line: The Miss is perhaps the last true American democracy. The fish get to vote, too!

So there ya go. Will probably only get out a couple hours today. need to do some riggin’, tweakin’ and shuffle stuff around on the ‘honeydew’ list. The Old Man is near the top of the list–but my precious wife, “the Admiral” drives priority behavior every waking moment.

It’s a Biblical thing : Proverbs 32 . Not in every Good Book. But in mine, it reads “See Proverbs 31”. Think I’ll go harass some perch. tight lines.

Gills on the Beds

Gills on the Beds

Bluegills & Punkinseeds have moved to spawning beds in <3 fow within the past 36 hours. They will likely remain on the beds until arrival of the full moon on May 25.

Best spots are where you can actually sight-fish ’em (major clue here!)

Because there is so much filamentous algae on the bottom now a tiny float is key in presentation, pegging float 1′ above any little slow-falling jig. Black & kelly green were hot colors yesterday, with the Wolf Finkee jig by Custom Jigs & Spins super deadly.

Since water is so shallow and a float is part of the presentation, stay a long cast away from the beds to avoid stirring up the mud with the trolling motor. This is one instance where an actual anchor is a super means of boat control.

Start at the outside edge of the beds and work deeper to avoid dragging a fish on the line through the colony.

Bear in mind new bag limits are in place on the Miss-15 fish in Mn & Wi. Still 25 in Iowa. Outrageous!

gotta go. gotta guide

don’t be a deep thinker for May perch

don’t be a deep thinker for May perch

Unseasonably warm weather a couple weeks ago was enough to trigger submergent weed growth in fairly shallow dark-bottom bays and backwaters.

Even though water temp has only tickled 60 degrees so far this Spring, perch and gills have moved there for one simple reason: bugs

A major source of a ring perch’s diet is invertebrates. Perch love bugs–and bugs love weeds. Find ‘good’ weeds and you’ll find perch!

The best of all weeds for holding bugs that perch love is elodea–commonly called ‘coontail’.

Given the incredibly fertile water and increased clarity in pool 9 in recent years elodea is growing all over the place in the summertime, in some cases in water over 10 feet deep.

Our little burst of summer heat wasn’t enough to trigger weed growth in deep water–but desirable weeds are growing to the point of becoming emergent in < 4 fow in quiet sloughs on both sides of the River now.

The downside is, filamentous algae (aka ‘pond scum’) is flourishing too, making presentations tight to the bottom where perch like to prowl a perpetual ritual of pond scum removal from any hook dropped down there.

Two presentations have mitigated this situation for me: pegging a bobber to place a pinch of redworm 12″ off the bottom or a modified Lindy rig with a soft floating jighead on a 12-14″ leader behind a very small egg sinker keeping your hook in the strike zone and –pretty much–out of the weeds.

Crappies which were still suspended over deeper water just a week ago have begun transitioning toward the wood, with many now suspended down about 4′ over 10 fow

Pike are pretty much shallow everywhere, following their forage base. There are DEFINITELY a lot more little snot-rockets now than when the limit was 5 pike daily.

Managing any river system is difficult. Managing the Miss takes this difficulty to a whole nother level. I challenge biologists from ANY agency to show me the science behind the bag limit change on pike in pool 9.

Within 3 years I predict a steel leader will be part of any presentation if you don’t want to donate a lure to a toother. Walleye and panfish limit changes were smart and long overdue. But from a river rat perspective the new pike bag liimit is just plain dumb.

eyes on the rocks!

eyes on the rocks!

Happy May Day! River levels are stable running pretty much at normal pool levels…unusual for May 1. Most years we’re just beginning to see snow melt from up north.

Yesterday water temp in the main channel was a solid 55, up to 61 in several backwaters. Combine these variables with normal pool levels and it’s time to chase walleyes on the rocks!

There are many, many variables here-river level, barometric pressure, time of day, configuration (shoreline rip-rap/wingdam/closing dam), subtle changes in configuration (high spots, low spots, gaps, misplaced rock piles) MOST IMPORTANT is forage base. No food=no fish

One of my favorite things is throwing cranks on the rocks for walleye. Retrieve cadence & lure profile are key- Most of the time you just wanna ‘tick’ the rocks about every 10 sec.- secondary is color. BUT color does make a difference!

The Bill Lewis Lures MR-6 is by far my fave when it comes to casting cranks on the rocks. When water warms another 10 degrees the ghost craw and hot mustard will be my go-to colors. Right NOW–its Rayburn Red.

Yesterday produced the most thrilling ‘eye so far this year. I was spot-locked at the optimum position to cast the MR-6 and ha just put a fat 16″ in the box. Before making the next cast I dropped the bait in the water at boatside just to check water clarity and observe the lure’s action.

This 25″ mama came charging out from under the boat and GARWOOFLED that Rayburn Red! Absolutely CRUSHED IT. Three feet of line with a 5 lb. walleye gagging on one end and 190 lb river rat squealing like a little girl on the other.

She inhaled the bait so deep i had to put her in the livewell to save her, creating a situation which could lead to an encounter with the warden and a possible career ending ticket.

One of my major mentors growing up was a crusty old game warden named ‘Sprink ‘ Hensal. His wisdom ‘if you put the resource first you’ll never be wrong’ have been my lifetime mantra

Sometimes when you put a fish in the livewell they will puke out the lure. After a few minutes I checked. The MR 6 was still deep in her craw, one barb actually stuck in a gill plate.

Using the jaw spreaders & a side cutter i was able to snip off the hook and remove the lure. Back in the livewell she went to hopefully recover.

Five minutes later I approached the livewell with trepidation. What would Sprink do if the fish was belly up? A 25″ walleye is far too big to keep, BUT feeding a wayward eagle to avoid a ticket is wasting a truly valuable resource.

Please ponder this dilemma for a sec…..So i opened the livewell. Found her sassy, happy and ready to go! Releasing this fish was a joyful experience on many levels.

The best is knowing she is out there waiting to thrill YOU. I have several openings this week, and the last week in May. Rest of the time I’ll either be out there on the River or at the MD. When your body is out of warranty, it takes a team to keep it runnin’. No complaints. Every day is a gift…and I’m thankful to open mine most days in the boat, setting the hook.