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Gills, Crappies moving to Beds

Gills, Crappies moving to Beds

The Immortal River runs by its own schedule. Most years bluegills & crappies are seriously spawning on Memorial Day weekend–which is next weekend.

Moon phase and water temperature also factor into timing of the great pannie egg dump. Water temp is already perfect71-73 degrees in less than 4 fow in quiet dark-bottomed backwaters. The full moon is Thursday. My guess is it will be go-time within 48 hrs.

Many panfish spawning areas–especially at the north end of River pools– have visibility of about 3′ right now. No need for electronics. A stealthy approach with the trolling motor and a quality pair of glare cutting Polarized sunglasses greatly enhance success.

Scan around deadfalls, brushpiles and open spots between submergent vegetation looking for clusters of plate-sized, scoured out depressions. If the water surface is flat bluegill activity sometimes results in clusters of bubbles on the surface around the beds.

A 12′ cane pole with 10′ of line and a #6-8 light wire hook baited with a waxie or pencil eraser sized pinch of nightcrawler has caught more bluegills than any other spawning bed presentation over the last 100 years.

Sometimes pegging a PENCIL STLYLE float 6-16″ above the hook will keep your offering in front of the fish more effectively. sometimes not.

Of course, serious anglers are prone to improve on perfection. A $200 fishin’ pole has GOT to be better than one which costs five bucks, right?

I have several #StCroix rod panfish rods from 7-9′ long. Reels are basic spinning cheapies popular with ice fishers spool with 4 lb. P-Line floro
line.

Ice fishing jigs/flies are perfect for chasing pannies on the beds. Black is always a good color for gills. Crappies are fond of pink/white. Perch like something about 1/32 oz with a hot orange head and pukey chartreuse body. When in doubt, tie on a gold jig.

Perch spawned back in March, many on the river mainstem and side cuts off the channel. A major segment of the biomass has since migrated into backwaters and running sloughs in 10″-6 fow where they lurk in elodea and similar weed patches feeding heavily on benthic macroinvertabrates : a fancy word for bugs.

Panfish limits are inconsistent in the three states which border Pool 9. Iowa’s limit is an outrageous 25. In Minnesota, 10-15. Wisconsin, pretty much 15.
Although I disagree with many Minnesota DNR policies the 10 panfish limit is a good one. Ten is the per person panfish limit in my boat. If you want to take home more fish, bring a kid along!

As of today River levels are slowly dropping. Water was standing in the trees of islands in the flood plain between the river banks. The water is now pulling out of the trees, bringing logs, limbs and other dunnage with it. Use considerable caution when navigating, both in backwaters and on the River mainstem.

My guide book is wide open over the Memorial Day weekend. Special holiday weekend rates apply $10,000/4 hrs./no more than 2 anglers. Due to the shameful rise in grocery prices I’ve had to modify the trip menu to Korean War vintage C-Rats. The canned cheese is still good. Meal includes six Kirkland saltine crackers and a 16 oz. bottle of single source spring water from a beautiful tap in Gary, Indiana. Those preferring a vegan option will be treated to a self-forage shore lunch on one of three islands with both dandelion and nettle options. Gluten free Ranch dressing is included.

Rates return to normal on May 28. Calendar is wide open until June 1. I plan on fishing every day, regardless. The bite is HOT for multiple species right now. You don’t really need a guide. All i really offer is a Master’s degree level fishing education, insight regarding the natural world and sarcasm intended to be self edifying .

Horsin’ Around on a Stable River

Horsin’ Around on a Stable River

Pool 9 is a couple of feet up into the ‘action’ stage right now, which means some of the upper pool access points on the west side require knee boots. High water crested about 2 pm. last Thursday. Level is stable now, with a slight fall beginning in about a week.

To my mind, all habitat parameters–including level–are pretty much perfect. Water temp is 61-66. Clarity is excellent off of the main channel and good in the channel itself.

Crappies & gills are shallow getting ready to spawn. A lot of perch are shallow, too. Bass are within one week of spawning. Walleyes & pike are i the middle of the mix, aggressively seeking an easy meal.

In a nutshell: if you’re fishing more than 10 feet deep you aren’t fishing where the hungry fish are!

The past four days I’ve only turned on the electronics to check water temp. Don’t need electronics when probing shoreline/visible structure & mudlines. I like finding fish with a Rat-l-Trap: the quintessential search bait. With water so clear in areas that have loaded from downstream on a rising River, my go-to colors are Royal shad & Looosiana tiger.

Keeping the rod tip high with a ‘burning’ retrieve most of the weeds hid by high water can be avoided. If weeds still are an issue I’ll switch to a ZMan jackhammer chatterbait with a 3″ paddletail swimbait. I true multi-species killer! Once fish are located and ‘educated’ with the search bait slowing down and throwing a Ned rig or senko usually provides action until you feel like movin’ on.

Zman offers an unlimited number of plastic options. My fall-back is the TRD in purple sparkle. This is quickly changing , with Zman’s goby pattern baits (especially goby bryant) on a football head.

The goby is real close to a willowcat, a hot profile for SMB and walleyes.  Regardless of the plastic being thrown, “da juice” a.k.a. Liquid Willowcat, is part of the presentation.

In my final year of guiding, I’m working a max of 3 days weekly. Also, Saturday rates are now on a par with the holiday weekend rate; $10,000/4 hrs/2 anglers max.

Rate includes cheddar or pepperjack sandwich on artisan bread w/trimmed crust and ice cold bottled water from a single source spring located in Gary, Indiana.

As of right now I have about 6 open days each month through October. If not guiding, I will probably be fishing. I won’t promise you’ll catch fish, but i WILL promise you’ll get out of the boat a better angler than when the trip started.

I am truly blessed in being able to spend a lifetime fishing my beloved Mississippi. She still teaches me every single day .

Thanks for reading this blog. The fact that you’re doing so–instead of actually fishing–may reveal a need for personal priority adjustment. just sayin’.

River on the Rise

River on the Rise

Pool 9 at Genoa is supposed to rise 3′ over the next week–a couple feet downstream at Lansing. Yesterday water temps on the River mainstem were in the mid to upper 50’s. Wind has been a perpetual factor.

All things considered, conditions are pretty much status quo now after a roller coaster since open water became pretty much navigable in early February.

With River level climbing well into the Action stage at Genoa fish in the River mainstem seek water with less color and turbulence–like the downstream end of islands where River rise results in bays & pockets loading from downstream.

Once the River reaches flood stage and water is coming through the trees its an entirely different ball game. As of this morning, not part of the forecast.

Walleyes relating to structure near the channel on the mainstem move to the non-channel side rocks of closing dams and shore ends of wingdams–on the downstream side, joining bass, pike and other species.

Action stage also pushes a lot of fish into the backwaters and running sloughs Perfect for bass & crappies as they move toward spawning areas to drop eggs at mid-month, with bluegills following pretty close to Memorial Day.

The River is always changing. This is most notable in running sloughs between the mainstem and major running sloughs like Minnesota slough, also in downstream areas like the matrix of cuts below highway 82 in the Winneshiek.

One of these passages on the upper pool known locally as Goose Lake or Lost Cut–which I told Bassmaster editor James Hall was “Dead man’s Cut” when this 1st time visitor to the Driftless came up from ‘Bama to fish in May 2017.

He asked innocently “do you think we’ll see a dead man? Followed by ” Damn, you’re a prophet” when we came across a body near where the cut joins Minnesota slough.

I visited this spot for the first time this Spring yesterday. When walleyes go post spawn in May they like to cruise sand bottom areas with moderate current in 9-13 fow. Until this Spring there was a short –but very productive–drift here. It is now two short, shallow cuts with a sandbar island growing between them and some small trees/buckbrush already starting to grow.

Likewise, there are significant changes in navigating between the new Albin boat ramp and Hayshore slough at the northern end of the pool. James Hall caught his first ever walleye here on a Z-Man chatterbait back in ’17–a fat 26″er.

No problem navigating up there as we ease into action stage. But when the River drops back down to normal pool you’ll be able to hear the agony of big motors on bassboats stranded on sand flats where passage recorded on charts in their electronics in previous years echoes across the River valley.

I love the sound of waterfowl, sandhills and songbirds out there in the wildness of the backwaters. But the mechanical whine of a bassboat that has just gone from 60 to zero never fails to bring a smile to this old River Rat

River is Up, Bridge is Open

River is Up, Bridge is Open

main reason for this blog is to let you know the Blackhawk Bridge @ Lansing is now open!

Just in time, cuz River is supposed to rise to ‘action stage’ in pool 9 by late afternoon tomorrow, 4/21.

When the River comes up to action stage the road to the new Albin boat ramp closes, forcing west side access to the pool south of Lansing @ village Creek or limited access north of the Mn. state line @ Visigar’s and a mile north of Visager’s @ Millstone Landing. Either way, when River gets to action stage a pair of knee boots is part of the program.

Re-Opening of the bridge also means access from the west at both launches located on hwy 82.

I often pick up clients @ Blackhawk park, near the mid-point of the pool.With the River flowing below 625.4 its actually quicker for me to launch @ new Albin and navigate down Minnesota slough to the east side of the River–also cheaper, given continued outrageous fuel prices.

didja notice that spot gold prices are now over $2400/ounce? This means folks a lot smarter than me know that world peace is in real jeopardy. Gas prices may soon be just a minor worry.

Old habits die hard. As a kid growing up during the Cuban missle crisis youngsters all learned the “duck & cover” drill. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that I had the courage to leave home without Milt, my personal mallard, and my raggy old blue security blanket. As a bona fide geezer now, packing a heater at essentially all times is part of the program.

Kind of a squirrely segway into falling water temps–again–but they are gonna be a factor for at least another week. Water temp on the River mainstem was a solid 62 on 4/15 . By 4/18 the temp had fallen to 53. didn’t seem to bother the SMB…59 bass on the clicker in just over 4 hrs.

Smallmouth start to move out of deepwater habitat moving toward tribs and other spawning areas when the temp warms to 55, dropping back toward wintering holes in the fall when the water cools to this temp.

A couple weeks ago when the temp fell from about 50 down to 38, the bronzebacks were still pretty active. Since we got past 55 more than a week ago, it looks like the parade has begun. Just need to do a little tweaking to stay on the fish.

Howling wind and the folly of trying to fish on Saturday have me wondering what the water temp will be on tomorrow afternoon’s trip . Thinking probably somewhere in the upper 40’s.

this is just a small part of the matrix! Walleyes are post spawn now , likely headed toward the sand flat pattern usually seen in May. With pool levels right at action stage I see no point in probing wingdams–but closing dams are a different matter.

Regardless, it takes me at least an hour every single day to figure out the River’s mood. Sometimes She is not keen to reveal how to harvest her bounty…and that’s why I love her so!

Pot Luck

Pot Luck

Jesse L’s quest to best his PB 26.5″ walleye was almost realized at the very last micro-structure we probed yesterday. The fat girl ate a #B-Fish-N Tackle purple/silver B-3 blade snap-jigged back to the boat from 8-16 fow, coming unbuttoned just out of net range with a couple violent head-shakes.

This tanker came out to dance at about the 12th spot we probed. Trophy walleye spawning micro-structures aren’t much bigger than a bathtub or maybe a boat. River level and flow add to the matrix of these magical locations. Water temp, timing of the spawn and several other variables plug into the quest for a new PB. Presentation, fish orientation to the bait…and more than a little luck are factors, too.

Sheep, shorts and a 17.5″ white bass with gender identification issues found Jesse’s hook on the way to realizing his PB dream.

I thought the 1st spot we checked held the greatest potential. Over the years this backeddy with a rocky rubble shore dropping quickly into 30+ fow has produced several ‘dirty thirties’ Biggest was CPRed a couple years ago: 31.25″, weighing on the heavy side of 12 lbs.

The last time I visited this spot was fun fishin’ Easter Sunday afternoon. It gave up several male ‘eyes before going to a #Northland Tackle 3/8 oz purpledescent Deep Vee spin with a firecracker/chartreuse Moxi tail and liberal dose of Liquid Willowcat, a.k.a. ‘da juice” on a slow pull downstream against the backeddy in exactly 24 fow.

When all these variables lines up I boated 13 keeper males in just over an hour, keeping 2 for the Admiral’s dinner.

Dialing in a presentation to this degree requires considerable tweaking. Lure selection is a small part of the recipe. When you have 2 lines in the water, starting with a couple vastly different baits is a good idea. Jesse started with the Deep Veee spin jig. His partner Luke threw the B-3 blade. After Luke hooked his third quality SMB in a dozen casts, both guys went to the blade.

In the first hour of the trip the guys boated 11 SMB from 14-18″….not unusual in the Spring when water temp warms to 55 degrees. Bass tend to congregate in very small areas.

BUT the water temp was only THIRTY-EIGHT DEGREES!! Before yesterday I’ve always figured 43 degrees was when the brown bass would start actively chasing blades and #Rat-L-Traps.

When the water temp got up to 48 degrees by March 10, at least a couple SMB were part of the daily bag. But having 11 SMB garwoofle a blade in just an hour in THIRTY EIGHT degree water?? The lifetime learning curve took another bend.

Right now I’m looking forward to Monday’s total eclipse. My plan is to be camping on a prime spot when this celestial envent transpires.

Looked through the fishing diary I’ve been keping for decades about fishing during an eclipse.. Gave up. I remember fishing action around the time of this event was spectacular. Don’t remember what was being caught, just remember it was phenomenal.

Luke said yesterday that he has fished with me a couple times before. I honestly couldn’t remember–until he said my old Evinrude wouldn’t start. We had to navigate to the fish with the MinnKota. Both guys caught limits of eyes and tussled with a sturgeon AND I almost fell in the River when trying to put the boat back on the trailer.

Oh yeah. Now i remember.. Joked about having to buff the fingernail scratches out of the outboard’s cowling..

If Monday’s eclipse produces bizarre results you can read about it on this blog. But if nothing unsual happens it may be a week or so before I post again. The chew is really ramping up…and I would rather feed hooks to fish than spend time with this shiny object

Why pond scum?

Why pond scum?

Water temp has dropped again, down to 38 on River mainstem. Also on a slow rise–which is good. a little dirty but still fishable. what concerns me most is ‘pond scum’ …that slimy green stuff found on quiet water mostly in the summertime.

it was an issue today pulling dubuque rigs just beyond the the channel in a moderate current–pretty much the only way to get down to the ‘eyes today with whitecaps on a north wind.

Shortest blog ever. I’m pondering. Pondering is for ponds, NOT the River! On a solid note: fishin’ the river is like a pendulum. today it was awful. but there is only so much awful before it swings back the other way. Hoping early next week.

Swimming back up the stairs

Swimming back up the stairs

The River is rising slowly but steadily with USACE predictions calling for a crest just below action stage over the next 10 days. Water temp yesterday warmed to 40 degrees.

There is some dunnage–mostly grassy stalks–coming down the River but the nuisance isn’t even close to the weeds of September. Water also just a little dirtier than the previous day.

Tried the usual pre-spawn places for given conditions and found exciting numbers of male fish cruising the 24′ contour. Caught a couple on the b-3 blade, a couple eaters & a 16″ smallmouth on a Northland buckaroo bucktail w/liquid willowcat then went to a slow pulling on the quiet side of a currrent break with a firecracker/chart tail B-Fish-n moxie plastic w/ da juice on a purple Northland Deep Vee spin jighead. Houston, we have a pattern!

Boat 11 eyes 15-18 over the next hour or so. No other boats in sight. Gotta admit, i felt borderline wicked.

kept 2 fish for Good Friday supper. Nothin’ better than cold water walleye that go from flopping to deep fryer in less than an hour!!!

Still have a few openings for guide service in April. Kept 4/4 open for a Midwest outdoors shoot with the guys from B-Fish-n Tackle. Mission is trying to put a fat girl or two in the boat.

Locking in this day opens up April 3 and 5. I might be talked into working one of those days, but must admit the possibility of personally setting the hook about every 10 minutes is worth much more than any amount of money.

After a half-century of guiding this tough work has evolved into a status quo life. i still get a thrill out of seeing somebody catch their PB & the twinkle in some kid’s eyes when they realize they have the formula of REALLY figuring out the mysteries of the enigmatic Mississippi river.

So far this year I’ve been open water fishing 56 days covering 6 states, mostly ‘fun fishin’….as a result I have rediscovered the passion and intimacy only time alone on the River provides.

Days on the River when you dial the pattern in with Micrometer precision don’t happen that often. There was a time when having this experience when fishing with clients provided a sense of validation–even though I knew deep inside it was living a lie cuz the Creator simply allowed me to catch those fish, proving the opportunity to let others crow about it.

it is good to be at a point in life where you have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. Ironic, because Easter is tomorrow. What Christ did on that tree over 2000 years ago for ALL MANKIND FOREVER makes it painfully clear how insignificant and trivial a little thing like dialing in a walleye pattern on North America’s most challenging River is.

I don’t like guiding on Saturdays. fun fishin’ isn’t even fun. But the Rivr is whispering my name. think i’ll take a boat ride. If nobody is within sight, maybe wet a line. Being one with the River, which is truly the living hand of the Almighty is truly an incalculable reward . Amen.

Belay my Last!

Belay my Last!

Walleyes were just getting started spawning when the first whisper of a major cold front blew in on March 13. It looked like we were heading for a major spawn going on this weekend. BUT water temp dropped to 39 and ma nature did a big re-boot.

USACE predicts the River on Pool 9 will be at ‘action stage’ by Easter from all the snow to the North. Fantastic! Look for the marble eyes to drop their eggs around April 12–pretty much right on schedule for 4 out of the last five years.

If the meaty-urologists are even close with the 10 day forecast the bite should be back on BIG TIME by April 3 or 4, with fish hanging where you’ve found them in the past this time of year under action stage conditions.

Back on march 13 I was just beginning to put together a pattern for spawn at low River levels. Plum tickled this rabbit hole won’t need to be probed moving forward.

The River is constantly changing. sometimes abruptly and profoundly. Conditions which will be working their way down River by Easter are welcome, familiar territory.

It always takes me at least an hour to figure things out every single day BUT this redux of an ever changing story is welcome, familiar territory. whoo-hoo!

Still tough to hit a curve ball

Still tough to hit a curve ball

Being on the water almost every day and writing outdoors stuff for over 50 years you sometimes get it right. A month ago my column ” Will we see march weather in April” ran in the Driftless Journal newspaper.

Temps soared into the low 70s when the story published. Water temp soared. The bite was HOT.

This happy times pattern continued through March 11 far as walleyes are concerned. client that day caught an egg wagon weighing over 11 lbs. Since then no quality ‘eyes have come into my boat. Plenty of shorts & a few eaters, but no fat girls.

Bass and pike swam forward in good numbers to fill the void. Right now I’m getting ready for today’s trip in a 20 mph NW wind. Water temp dropped from 48 to 42 since last Friday. Tomorrow the forecast high ambient temp is 38. Looks like march weather in April.

I still say walleye spawn will get serious during the full moon period which kills off March 21. A month of warming water has shaken up many walleye reproductive systems.

If the water was still north of 45 the spawn would likely be over by March 28. With the return of March weather in April the spawning process will come in spurts & dribbles over a couple of weeks.

The positive side of this is the good fishin’ cycle should retrun about April 4 and hang around for at least a couple of weeks. Pike & a lot of the walleyes will be post spawn and active by then. SMB and to a lesser extent LMB will be active. White bass will be nutso if you can find them.

Regardless, I’ll be out there about every day. Most interested to see what happens on March 25 during the solar eclipse. tight lines!

State of the Bite

State of the Bite

yesterday client Mark put his PB walleye in my boat. 29.25″ very FAT. Fish hid a glow B-3 blade bait in 21 fow. Her belly was firm. Water temp 42.2 degrees. She was the 6th walleye over 24″ on consecutive trips over the past 9 days. Three of these fish were “keepers’–over 27”. All were released. Allcame from 29-21 fow, successively shallower in this time frame.

Primary target on yesterday’s trip was pike. Clients hooked 5 in just over an hour after first going after walleyes. Fish hit a Northland Tackle magnum spinnerbait, A Z-man chatterbait w/6″ SwimmerZ paddle tail and an RT97 magnum Rat-L-Trap. A few years ago Bill Lewis Lures renamed this lure to RT–97 (Red Head Uncle Ted) quite an honor!

Pike had just moved into a shallow, weedy, dark bottom bay where they will spawn over the next several days. Water temp here yesterday was 44. Forty-five is go-time.

In the process of prospecting for walleyes ‘stairstepping’ shallower the clients caught several SMB up to 19″ on blades and BFishN PulseRs w/ Liquid Willowcat.

The perch bite is CRAZY right now!! Hundreds of egg laden females have been taken up by the dam, on jigging spoons & basic pinch of crawler/split shot rigs. Fish are now in <15 fow.

All conditions indicate walleye spawn will occur around the full moon on 3/25. This is extremely early. Historically, they go 4/15.

TV production–a blade bait shoot with Midwest Outdoors has my schedule locked up the last week in March (don’t worry Trey your 3/25 trip is set in stone).

Once the TV crew gets their ducks lines up there MAY be a couple of days where i would be willing to guide. Regardless, I’ll likely be fishin’. Next open date is 4/3. The SMB should just be going nuts by then!