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Pulse R’s & Sizmic Shads

Pulse R’s & Sizmic Shads

Allowing for siltation, pool 9 is the lowest its been since 1936–or at least within a couple inches. River is ultra ULTRA clear in the main channel. Need a floro leader to get bit in finesse presentations–and multi-trebled reaction baits come back with weeds on every cast. With a tremendous amount of forage in the River fish aren’t eager to chase baits, anyway

Giant weed rafts have been coming down the past few days. Avoid them if possible!

Have had fair success recently on wallys &smallies pitching & swimming Sassafras B-fish-n Tackle Pulse R’s and Kalin Sizmic shads on 1/8 oz Precision jigheads with Da Juice–liquid willowcat. usually takes animation or some kind of retrieve anomaly to produce a strike. Bite definitely better during low light periods.

Panfish are on fire!!!

Water temp warmed yesterday to 65. Today back down to 62. Should see upper 50s by next weekend. Bassapalooza!

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

Ran aground last week back in a running slough. 1st time this has happened since 2006. Real hall-of-fame maneuver. River had dropped 3 inches from previous day. But no excuses!

According to USACE parameters now in place the FLOW is still greater than the last historic low level back in ’06, BUT siltation has been profound over past 16 years. Navigation on Pool 9 is similar now to back in ’88 when i guided mostly on pools 11-12. This was the summer of 100 degree temps and the lowest River levels in my lifetime. Siltation is profound and clearly working its way upstream…like a backup in a septic system. Essentially, the same ‘gallon jug’ of water is coming downstream like it always has…but now there is 3″ of sand in the bottom of the jug. Anyway, Contacted USACE hdqs. in St. Paul. They are in the process of reassessing flow paradigms all along the upper MIss.

Besides being at 21st century historic low level, the main channel is running ultra-clear…with the same amount of eelgrass coming down as in 2020 when pool 9 was at or above ‘action stage’ for the entire open water period.

I have had to go with a fluorocarbon leader in finesse presentations like topwater lures for SMB. Topwaters, Ned rigging and Mepps spinners have ben best for SMB under these conditions. Bass will be going nutso any day now as temps fall to the upper 50’s from the 62 degree +/- we have been holding at for the past week .

Walleyes have been willing on cranks–if you can get through the grass. But mostly have to swim a jig once active fish are located on the rocks.

Pike are relating to rocks & steep sandbar breaks–following the food–but due to extreme low water the slough bite has literally dried up.

Panfishing remains off the charts fantastic, but profoundly habitat and depth critical, driven to great extent by light penetration, structure and of course, most abundant forage.

I give a 10% discount for anybody bringing kids age 12-16. Kids of this age who have the “fever” have usually already developed a decent skill set. When guiding kids 8-12 I require an adult to help out with at least one of ’em.

But a trip last week with 10 yr. old Lian and his 8 yr. old sister, Aviana, were pure joy! Uncle Travis worked with Lian. I coached Aviana. She already had basic casting skills–a tribute to her Dad–and soon had pinpoint placement of a lip-hooked minnow behind a Hildebrandt spinner with a PRECISELY placed pencil float and PRECISE split shot weight down pat.

All i had to do was watch her expression . Aviana has those Tucker Carlson, peregrine focus eyes when a bite is going down. About 2 seconds after she got ‘the look” she would lean back on that 9’ #stcroixrod panfish stick and giggle “got another one!” We put the average size crappies back, keeping 20 crappie 12″+ Aviana was too demure to shout the Wisconsin state cheer ‘ I GOT MINE!!” But her little cheshire cat smirk spoke volumes.

Part of this is cuz she put on a clinic for her brother, intensely using a little trick I taught her with the Hildebrandt spinner to trigger bites.

THIS is the primary reason I still guide. After over 45 yrs, I am wearing down.
As of right now, Oct 13 is my 1st open date. Not overly eager to fill it, Except for clients who really wanna take their River fishin’ game to a higher level.

Know this: demonstrating use of a navy anchor and come-along for extraction from a sandbar will not be part of the instructional package! (Lord willin’)

Where are the wingdam rocks?

Where are the wingdam rocks?

River conditions on pool 9 remain low, clear and stable. Eelgrass is a factor. If you can get away from it, presentations like casting cranks can be effective for walleye & bass. But trolling is just a salad gathering exercise.

The River is offering the best fishing we’ve seen since 2017. Boat traffic is exceptionally heavy–even during the week. Got to the launch yesterday @ 8 and parking lot only had a couple open slots ON A MONDAY! Navigation beyond the channel is challenging due to extreme siltation. I wouldn’t even THINK about running side-channel cuts like the one on the upper pool between the main channel and Mn. slough past goose lake–a.k.a. ‘dead man’s cut’. Similar conditions exist down in the Winneshiek and further down the pool.

By every measure, we’re at low summer pool levels, except one; WHERE ARE THE WINGDAM ROCKS? Normally at summer pool you can get out and walk on the closing & wingdam rocks. Not possible this year. Reason is siltation.

Panfishing continues to offer the best action on the pool. Perch, gills & crappies all holding in the same 4-9 fow…just a different depths. Pike have been dogging the pannies. Flathead bite has been good in deeper main channel holes.

Walleye and smallmouth action has been good on main channel rocks if you can successfully dodge the weeds. The Liquid Willowcat plastics dipped in Da Juice on a B-Fish-N Tackle Draggin’ jig has ben a very effective weapon!

Water temps are hovering right around 61. A few nights with temps in the 50s and surface temp will dip below 60 pushing both SMB & LMB to school up in incredible numbers. Bite will be consistently good until temps drop to 54, then the afternoon bite will be better.

But i’m getting ahead of myself. Haven’t blogged in over 2 weeks, cuz I’VE BEEN TOO BUSY FIshin’. Today’s trip will be my favorite format ; whatever the River feels like giving up. Will start with walleyes and SMB, then chase panfish about mid-morning. gotta go. gotta guide.

Ol’ Man River’s Green New Deal

Ol’ Man River’s Green New Deal

The River is running at new normal level low summer pool level right now with water clarity exceptional. Usually by late summer normal pool rocks on many wingdams and closing dams are exposed. Not so this year.

Generally low River levels have exacerbated the annual arrival of a sea of eelgrass working its way downstream.

Weeds are a major factor in catching fish in the fall because they impact presentation. Weeds tend to be heaviest along current seams–which is also where fish like to hide. Hard to catch fish if you can’t get to ’em. Best thing to do is go fishin’ where there are fewer weeds! Usually you can get away from most weeds by moving to the other side of the River.

if you can’t get away from them, streamline the presentation. A lure with a single treble snags fewer weeds than the average crankbait. A jig or other single hook snags fewer still.

If you absolutely must fish where weeds are a factor trying pegging a small split shot about 18″ up the line, or go with a barrel swivel. Both will intercept weeds.

I fish braid about 90% of the time for all species. One exception is the double whammy of very clear water and lotsa weeds. A barrel swivel with a floro leader is pretty much standard for everything but pike between now and late October when water temps fall into the mid-40s pushing walleyes deeper and the weed parade tends to subside a little.

With an abundance of forage in the system panfish remain the most dependable targets, with flathead cat starting to go on the crew at the leading edge of deeper holes.

Great grandpa’s observation that “mud cat” are most active during daylight hours during the full moon period (happening now) and the next one which begins Sept. 29 still rings true today.

Late Summer Piking

Late Summer Piking

Northern pike are the gangbangers of the Mississippi, preying on the weak, crippled and clueless. They are built for fast attack with long, slender bodies, large anal & caudal fins and a powerful tail enabling them to shoot forward quickly in a serpentine motion, just like a snake.

Snake is just one popular nickname for this alpha predator. Other popular descriptions are hammer handle and my favorite: snot rocket. Regardless, anglers seldom describe these gamefish in favorable terms until they grow to at least 30″. News regs which went in place this year changed the daily bag limit to 3 with only one over 30″. Last year and for long as anyone can remember the daily bag here has always been 5 with no minimum length limit.

Harvest restrictions on northern pike is one place where I take umbrage with learned fisheries biologists. Regarding all other harvest restrictions which took effect this year–I don’t think they are restrictive enough. But with pike I believe the desultory and often profane comments echoing across the water when a pike finds your hook will see drastic increase in years to come and snot rockets proliferate to dominate the fishery. This year a remarkable number of 18-22″ toothers have found hooks intended for other species for my clients. Many times their visit is only confirmed by a slack line and a $7 lure gone forever.

Late summer snot rocket and fish bigger than 30″ which deserve to be called
” Mr. Pike” behave like two different species, something to consider when actually targeting Esox lucius. With binocular vision, pike are primarily sight feeders. Water with visibility of at least 2′ because of overall water clarity and light penetration are major factors in location and behavior.Of course, the presence of easy prey trumps all other parameters.

Since they are sight feeders, pike tend to cruise weed edges in thicker submergent growth instead of tucking back in the midst of the canopy. They like to hang around points, narrows, beaver trails and tributary entry points, waiting in ambush.

Although pike are explosive swimmers, they don’t waste energy. Wary bluegills swimming just a few feet away are relatively safe. But the injured fish–or one on the end of your line is in real peril.

Fishing is generally tough for all species except panfish at this point in the summer because there is so much forage in the water. If you want to catch pike of substantial proportions, the adage big bait=big fish holds true.

My two favorite big pike baits are a 1 oz. Northland tandem spinnerbait in orange/chartreuse and a 3/4 oz. FLOATING RT-97 Rat-L-Trap.. Several years ago Bill Lewis lures honored me by naming the classic ‘Trap with a red head/white body ‘Uncle Ted’s Red Head’ because the color pattern and vibration of this lipless crankbait are so very, VERY effective on Mississippi River pike.

My next lure choices for pike this time of year are Z-Man buzzbaits & chatterbaits in black/blue pattern. I like to add a 2″ blue Kalin scrub to the buzzer to enhance both action and lift and a 4″ Kalin Sizmic shad to the chatterbait to enhance bait profile. In both cases, these lures are further tweaked by adding a stinger hook. On the Z-Man chatterbait I swap out the snap for a snap attached to a 6″ steel leader to prevent buying a pike from enjoying a five-dollar lunch.

Static tension on the water’s surface produces a “bubble line” when retrieving a buzzbait. If this bubble line is not at lease 3′ long another lure is likely a better choice. Static tension is usually greatest on hot, muggy summer days like we typically see in late August and early September.

Returning to that that 30+” pike behave like a different species than snot rockets, with normal summer pool levels drawing lots of forage to main channel rocks, trailing edges of wingdams and closing dams become prime spots for a big pike to wait in ambush. The confluence of two currents at any trib entry point is also worth at least a few casts.

Using livebait for bigger pike requires more patience than I’m typically known for can be very effective. But a 4-7″ bluegill with half its tail snipped off, impaled on a 5/0 hook with a steel leader pegged 2-6′ under a big bobber–presented at an optimum ambush point–will almost always produce a decent pike…especially if you can watch the cork with a cold beverage from a shady spot.

Thrills with Gills

Thrills with Gills

Although River level is the lowest we’ve seen in a couple years, it is still a couple feet above historic lows over the past 20. Bluegills are a great go-to when fishing mid-day. Fog is usually a factor. burns off between 8-9:30 a.m.

A large portion of the bluegill biomass can be found in <7 fow this time of year at these pool levels–usually relating to submergent vegetation or under water lotus canopy.

Fish are usually eager to bite–once you figure out a couple of critical parameters on depth and presentation.

On Wed. the ‘magic’ depth was 4-4.2 fow. Yesterday 4.6-4.8. Today 5.2-5.6. visibility is 18-24″, with ‘gills (and perch!) holding within a couple inches of the bottom. Crappies are cruising suspended about 2′ down.

If water is flat calm I like to pitch a 1/80-1/32 ounce jig. With a breese, 1/32-1/16 oz. The bite is usually EXCEPTIONALLY light, often when bait wafts down to within 1′ of bottom. Tailoring jig weight to wind & current conditions is important.

My favorite stick is a 9’ St. Croix panfish series. Sufix 6 lb. YELLOW braid. Ultra sensitive rod + hi-vis line definitely an edge to realize the bite.

On windy days a vertical presentation works best. On calm days pitching the jig away from the boat and swimming it back produces more quality fish.

Have a Crappie Day

Have a Crappie Day

There are three distinct late summer crappie patterns that i know of which will consistently produce late summer crappies: wood, weeds & cruisers.

Crappies relate to pretty much the same submergent/emergent weed growth as ‘gills and perch in backwaters and running sloughs in last August, BUT you’ll find crappies suspended a little higher in the water column…maybe not much when we’re talking gills/perch in 3-6 fow.

A good way to confirm their presence is to tie a pink/white/silver hook in-line about 18-24″ above the tiny bait you’re searching for perch with. It is possible to fish too deep for crappies. But seldom too shallow. The panfish bite is truly a finesse bite. Adding a 1/32 oz crappie jig might be too much. (but sometimes needed in a stiff breeze). If wind is not a factor I go with a #8 streamer fly. Most crappie bites occur as hooks are falling or when reeling in the lures to make another cast.

Crappies are already starting to relate more to wood. A pattern which usually doesn’t kick in until Sept…then gets better every day. Look for at least 10 fow on wood and drop a little hair, feather or tube jig close to the wood 1-4′ down. I don’t use live bait. 10’ sticks+20 lb braid+ light wire hooks keep you in the game. I teach a technique in which you only break of 1 time out of 10 when the hook finds wood…and if you aren’t finding wood regularly, you aren’t fishing where the crappies are!

‘cruisers’ are schools of crappies dogging schools of baitfish. They may be relating to deeper submergent wood, or simply subtle current breaks. Watch for SUBTLE feeding on the surface. Might be gar, might be crappies. If the fish are SMB or WB the feeding activity is much more obvious.

I always have a 1/16 oz white RoadRunner or Rooster Tail ready to cast at those feeding dimples on the surface, with a steady retrieve 1-3′ down. Sometimes this pays off with crazy action which might put 12 slabbers in the box in that many minutes. Or not. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Welcome Fogust

Welcome Fogust

August begins with the River level at the ‘Action’ stage, which means access can be dicey and dam gates are open. This is the new normal, as siltation has become a factor in backwaters throughout Pool 9 and directly upstream.

But the ‘new normal’ is different this year. Since June the River level has been like harmonic waves which roll behind an upbound tow running heavy long after the tow has passed upstream around the next bend. Wave crests and troughs behind a tow must be respected–but they are manageable.

Fish patterns have been the same way. Daily movement +movement driven by changes in River level of a couple feet or so from week to week, making it easier to predict where fish are gonna be when I get to the job site pretty much every morning.

Although habitat parameters have been good all summer, we’re at a point where both forage base and aquatic weed growth are at max levels. With an abundance of food in the system, it’s tough to get fish interested. They get a vote too, usually choosing something without a hook.

The panfish bite has been most consistently good throughout the day. One segment of the bluegill/crappie forage base is always relating to the wood. Another bunch is relating to the weeds, where both location and attitude change every day.

Last Thursday’s trip we struggled to put a mess of panfish in the boat. A fairly stiff NW breeze from an overnite cold front felt great, but pretty much shut ’em down. Returned to the same 2-4 fow yesterday and absolutely pounded the crappie, gills and perch. In days gone by there has been a wingdam bite for late summer gills. Too much water this year for this to happen–unless the harmonic wave of River level drops Her down about 3′ more.

Willocat have generally been the best weapon for wingdam walleyes this summer. Somedays, the marble-eyes want cranks bounced off the rocks. But floating eelgrass can be a factor. A drift bite with a 3/16 pyrokeet jighead and half-crawler has usually been more productive.

Pike are always pretty easy and active all day long. With SMB, the bite is best early & late in the day–playing the shade–on the rocks. Frog fishin’ for LMB is always predictably easy if you know what other habitat parameters to look for. Personally, I’ve never cared much for frog fishin’. Cranking in a 10 pounder which comes with 8 lb. of weeds just isn’t fun. Just like old school hay baling to pull a chunk of deer jerky from the middle of the alfalfa once the bale is in the boat.

With significant temperature differences between water & air between towering bluffs which line the upper Miss, morning fog is a factor probably 5 days a week in August. Navigation in the fog is profoundly hazardous. I don’t rely on electronics much on the River, BUT having mapping capability with a Lakemaster or Navionics chip is a Godsend when sneaking through the morning fog.

Eelgrass has been a minor nuisance with perpetual River level changes all summer long. This situation will get worse as water temperatures cool. Weeds are a major factor in bait presentation as we get into September and beyond.

My latest book: Tails, Trails & Tales with the Old Guide is available on Amazon, local outlets along the River in in Kindle ebook. There might be a Vol II next Spring–or I’ll finally start an all encompassing book on fishing the upper Miss. This will be a lot of work. Would rather be fishin’.

2020 is a great year!

2020 is a great year!

Compared to 2019, this covid-crazy year is spectacular–at least in MY world. 2020 started with my induction to the Hall of Fame. This honor has been profoundly humbling. have been trying to shed the notion that i should hold myself more accountable for behavior ever since.

River levels have been yo-yo since June. Fortunately, more “Yo! Fish on!” than “yo, the water is coming through the trees again” the latter was the case over 200 days last year–so this one is a beauty!

Never has been need for a mask or social distancing here on the River. God is in charge here. He is down with the concept of personal freedom…so long as you don’t lose sight of who the Great Rainmaker is. The only time I realized our freedom is in serious jeopardy is when the TV is on or the Admiral & me have to make a trip to town. When the TV is on, it’s either Netflix or TV Land. If far left twits ever start a “Defund the Andy Griffith Show” groundswell, I’ll just unplug the TV. All the news that matters in MY world can be found on Wunderground.com and the NOAA River level chart.

here on the River there are times when hooking up can be challenging. With the exception of panfish & pike, gamefish activity has been pretty much before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. Water temp has dropped to the mid 70’s from the low 80’s on the main channel. Even though the dawg days are right around the corner, look for water temps to fall a few more degrees beginning next week.

Not that this impacts fish metabolism. This is pretty much in overdrive. But fish of all species have SO MUCH FOOD in the water right now, they don’t have to actively chase down anything with hooks. They have to be triggered to bite. This gives reaction lures an edge over livebait most of the time INCLUDING switching presentation in a trolling presentation or with the basic ‘cast it out/reel it in of a crankbait or spinnerbait with a little ANIMATION. Pops, twitches and radical direction change in the lure just before you pull it out of the water to make another cast.

With all the food in the system fish will often cruise behind your bait on a steady retrieve and investigate rather than deciding to chew. A little “figure L” maneuver right at boatside will often wake you up with a jerk on the other end of the line when there’s less than 5’ of line out. Yo! Fish on!

Don’t be a Deep Thinker for summer perch & gills

Don’t be a Deep Thinker for summer perch & gills

With water temps vacillating between 70-84 degrees common sense might tell you to go after pannies in deeper, cooler water. But with both emergent and submergent weed growth at summer peak most catchable perch and pannies in general are living in less than 8 feet of water–often in waters less than half that deep.

The key to fish location is FOOD and there is an absolute cornucopia of forage swimming and wriggling around in elodea, American water lotus, eelgrass edges, under duckweed, in between clumps of smartweed–essentially everywhere but in blue green algae .

Although surface temp in open water is steamin’, the temp under the weed canopy is about 10 degrees cooler. With food all over the place and escape cover just a tail flick away all habitat requirements are happily met.

I seldom use a float when probing for summer panfish on the River. Reasonable stealth and a 7-9 ‘ St. Croix panfish series rod is just about perfect for dropping 1/80-1/32 ounce jigs tipped with a waxie or little pinch of worm between the weeds and in front of a fish face.

It takes less than 30 seconds for this weight to fall seductively through the water column to the bottom. The best action is found in water with >2’ visibility, so fish are watching it pretty much from the instant it touches the water’s surface.

If you don’t get bit by the time the jig hits the bottom, raise that long rod and repeat the process between weeds a foot or so away. It may take an hour or so to find the weeds that fish are relating to and tweaking the presentation to find out what trips their trigger.

My favorite baits for catching gills and perch in the weeds are the Bimbo Skunk and Teddy Skunk Perchanator. Both are available at most bait shops along the River and directly from Bimbo Skunk. com.

Sometimes the perch are relating to the deep water weed edges, especially elodea (commonly known as coontail) where they like to feed on little benthic macroinvertebrates–essentially larval stage of bugs which morph into flying bugs which live in the weeds or emerge from dark bottom to eventually stretch their wings and take flight.

When probing this soft bottom/weed edge habitat my weapon of choice is a 1/16-1/8 oz Northland Tackle Buckshot Rattlespoon in perch/gold tipped with a little bait–with a Perchanator hanging just off the bottom nearby.

Time of day is not that critical when chasing pannies. In high summer the first couple hours after sunrise and before sunset are the best times to chase bass or walleyes. Those obnoxious pike are active all day long. If humidity is causing high surface tension producing a ‘bubble trail’at least 5’ long behind a Z-Man buzzbait with a Kalin scrub trailer its hard to find a more effective pike trigger bait in the River in late summer. But snot rockets will have to wait for a future blog. Gotta go pet my Lund.