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.

Triple Transition Bassin’

Triple Transition Bassin’

My last blog about the yo-yo Spring Pretty much addressed how things are more than how they WILL BE. Had a couple of excellent hooks in the boat yesterday who made me realize its time to share a couple of observations from 10,000 days on the water.

When water temp warms in the Spring to 45 degrees, walleyes on the Miss are ready to spawn, pike are spawning and bass–especially SMB–are just waking up. Most clients wanna catch walleyes, so when I’m not guiding I spend days off looking–in <5 fow where electronics won’t do you much good. Under these conditions, my most reliable ‘fish finder’ is an oxbow pattern Rat-L-Trap. Often pike and bass intercept the lure before it finds walleye lips.

At 45-48 degrees I crank the ‘Trap as fast as the reel will let me, triggering a reaction strike. Bass slap at the lure before they have time to ‘think about it’. From 48-54 degrees bass are pensive. The best bait is one which hangs in their face–like a husky jerk or suspending Rattlin’ Rogue. Most strikes come when the bait is just hanging there, essentially dead sticking.

In the extreme sense, a lure like Northland’s Rippin’ shad is a killer. Just give the lure a couple quick rips then let it LAY THERE on the bottom for at least 30 seconds.

About 10 days ago water temp warmed to 62. Fish went nuts. Since then, temps have yo-yoed. Yesterday it was 51-54 and falling. But SMB were still active after a monster cold front by every definition.

Catching them required a deadstick presentation again with the Rippin Shad,stickbaits, PulseRs on a 1/8 oz Draggin Jig and most deadly, the bill Lewis Lures MR6 in Rayburn Red pattern, pulled a few feet then paused for a good 30 seconds.

Red hued baits are always good for Miss R multi-species in the Spring. When we see 65+ hot mustard color is just that–HOT. Something with a little purple is also good.

I have been known to paint lures with purple glitter nail polish. I call this “Caitlin” pattern–after the girl that once adorned a Wheaties box.

But I digress. Water temps cooled overnight to 46-the yo instead of the YO. Time to switch over to a Z-Man Ned head with a tube or TRD until temps climb to 60+ again.

At least that’s how I’ll be fishin’ when chasing bass til this time next week. Walleyes are active now. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

It looks like next Monday/Tuesday will be great days to rip lips. My calendar for both days is wide open. You know where i’ll be. tight lines.

Yo-Yo Spring

Yo-Yo Spring

The bite so far this Spring has been driven to a great extent by water temperature. Cold fronts aren’t a MAJOR issue on a River to the extent that they impact a lake, BUT a significant drop in water temp (3+ degrees) slows down fish activity considerably. When temps drop < 46, its gonna be a tough bite.

Three weeks ago the water temp shot up to 62 degrees. The fish were ON FIRE. Since then the temp fell, then recovered, then fell…then recovered. Yesterday it got back up above 48. Snuck down to a secluded spot and caught some smallies from shore. Fishin’ should be good this afternoon ahead of the next NW blast. Should be OK tomorrow, but wind will be a factor.

Then we get another round of ‘seasonal’ weather. Pike, walleyes & crappies will likely be the only willing targets until water temps (hopefully) rebound by next weekend.

Meanwhile, the River is still on the rise. Gonna come up another 0.4′ today, then start to drop…unless Antifa simultaneously flushes more than 6 toilets in Mpls.

Being out there pretty much every day, I’m usually on fish. Catching them will be much easier when they do away with the filibuster & pack SCOTUS.

Until then, fish behavior is still a democracy: the fish get to vote too. And the vote still counts. You have that option as well. There are other fishing blogs out there.

i’ve gotta get ready for work. tight lines.

Brown Bass Running

Brown Bass Running

Smallmouth bass are moving out of over-winter spots on the River mainstem into tribs where they will live until water temps drop to about 55 degrees next fall. Water temp is key to this migration. It is now 50+ degrees on both mainstem and running sloughs, several degrees warmer than that near trib entry points.

Migration corridors vary in width from just a couple of feet to a couple of hundred yards…usually real close to some kind of current seam or structural break.

Swimbaits fished in a fairly slow retrieve usually work quite well fished in a pitch/drag/snap presentation…but the fish will tell you what they want on any given day.

Over the past three days i’ve averaged a solid 10 bass per hour coming into the Lund, about 90% coming on B-Fish-N Tackle sassafras pattern Pulse R fished on 3/16 pyrokeet Precision jighead. The past couple days the Northland Rippin’ Shad has also been hot, also catching pike and an occasional white bass.

On yesterday’s trip I hooked up with 5 SMB on the first 6 casts–all 15-18″ fish…and FAT throwing the Pulse R, then switched over to the Rippin’ Shad and pounded ’em til shoulders were sore.

River levels will be stable for the next several days, then rise back up into the solid ‘action’ stage by this time next week.

Perch are done spawning and are scattered as they slide into summer haunts. Walleyes are done too. Pulling 3-ways in sand-based running sloughs in 9-13 fow has been producing decent fish.

Had a half-day trip this morning with Don and son Jordan. Guys caught 50+ quality bass.  highlights: 6 doubles and Don catching back-to-back fat 19″ SMB & LMB on oxbow pattern Trap.

Water temp has warmed since just yesterday–58 on current seam where SMB were suicidal and SIXTY TWO in a more secluded backwater where mostly LMB were on fire!

Fishin’ report

Fishin’ report

Water temp dropped a solid 10 degrees over the weekend, with the river jumping up almost 2′ by Monday’s excursion. Best part was winds gusting to 40+ out of the South…a truly DANGEROUS situation.

Fishing was predictably tough. But both walleye & perch are at the ‘top of the stairs”, holding in <10 fow. both species are about half spawned out/half full of eggs. The 23″ female which ate a Pulse-R in 4 fow Monday–back in the marsh-still had a rock hard belly.

I cancelled today’s trip cuz winds are still howling, the River is now starting to recede and the high ambient temp is only gonna reach 35.

A positive fishing trend is brewing. River forecast for the next week shows a steady, slow decline. with temps beginning a warming trend into the low 70’s by early next week.

Walleyes & perch should be done taking care of business by the 7th. By the weekend they be back on the chew, both in the backwaters and in sand-based running sloughs–essentially sliding into patterns we typically see in May.

looking ahead, this is shaping up to be a year like we’ve never seen. With little snowmelt coming down from up north, we may seen another exceptionally low water year. 2020 had the lowest River levels since the dams went in back in ’36, allowing for siltation.

This followed the longest period of sustained exceptionally high water in 2019. Persistent flood conditions killed over 60% of mature trees (mostly silver maple) in the flood plain. This will be an ominous factor a few years down the road. Increased phosphorus levels from fertilizer entering the system out of flooded fields in 2019 got a kick start from low water levels in 2020. The result is filamentous algae–pond scum–all over the place. Especially in backwaters and running sloughs.

For the short term, at least concerning perch, getting bait up off the bottom with a soft floating jighead like B-Fish-N tackle’s Flu Flu floater has helped bait presentation. Whether good weeds like elodea & American water lotus will continue to thrive with the bottom covered in filamentous algae remains to be seen.

With the Immortal River, finding success means deciphering all the clues she gives you in real time–not yesterday, this morning…or what might happen in a week or a month down the road.

THIS is a primary reason why I spend soooo much time here. the upper Miss is arguably the most challenging and potentially productive body of fresh water in North America. when all the puzzle pieces come together and you can help folks you’re fishin’ with connect the dots as well, the satisfaction is sweeter than sweet!

don’t be a deep thinker!

don’t be a deep thinker!

Crazy on how Spring came on so fast! Water temp on pool 9, River mainstem is now a SOLID 45-46 degrees, with water in shallow backwater areas up to 48! These temps–in conjunction with the full moon–means its SHOWTIME for spawning walleyes this weekend–a full 3 wks. earlier than the average!

When seasons change, walleyes ‘stairstep’ staging at progressively shallower depths in the Spring and deeper depths as things cool in the fall.

For the past couple days i’ve been fishing with ol’ pal Jesse Simpkins of St. Croix rod–an exceptional “stick”. he outfished me yesterday (probably cuz he used the 2021 greatest rods on earth). Caught 5 species of gamefish yesterday–walleyes, sauger,pike,largemouth and several QUALITY smallmouth–mostly on swim baits. ALL fish in <4′ !!

Essentially this means walleyes are at the “top of the stairs” RIGHT now. concentrate on < 10′ if you want to catch quality fish. Today we’re gonna start by targeting perch. But if the perch jerkin’ isn’t TOO EASY will probably catch a couple of ‘eyes then go chase “brown bass”.

Time for me to lock & load. Leisure days are over. Back to work. Next open date for guiding is 4/12 and 4/16. 2nd half of April still has several openings–but I’m not eager to fill them. Special Saturday rate now in effect; $1000/4 hrs.
Any other day it’s a $750 savings on the base guide rate!

In remembrance of dear departed friend and competitor Dick Neefe “see ya out there on the water!

Redhorse run

Redhorse run

Attitudes are ugly in some of the throng of perch jerkers jostling below lock & dam 8 at Genoa. I won’t fish within a mile of the dam–just on principle–this time of year. Why hire a guide to go play ‘bumper boats’?

Instead, I like targeting small tribs & bays for the perch, chasing ‘eyes & sauger staging off of spawning areas downstream. Today the ‘eyes were holding @ the 16’contour. Caught ’em on Northland Buckaroo & B-Fish-n Tackle Pulse R’s w/ 3/16 oz Precision jighead in ‘pyrokeet’ pattern 4 eyes–all legal–then went on a perch search. Same place where the fat boys cooperated 48 hrs. ago only gave up redhorse the past couple days. Bite is so fast, i had to go to just one rod: my St. Croix 9′ panfish wand.

Redhorse are a phenomenal pull on this type of tackle! Flat-out fun. Fish have been averaging about 2 lbs, but i had a 5+ whopper yesterday.

Fish were in about 4 fow ,over sand w/ moderate current. Switched from “standard perch rig” of 1/8 oz egg sinker/swivel/14-16″ leader/#6 long shank Eagle Claw gold hook/redworm to a couple OO split shot/hildebrandt spinner hoping the Redhorse would leave it alone. Nope! When an 18″ redhorse gernips a red wiggler fished 18′ under the surface w/10′ line out you want to have a firm grip on the rod!!

Redhorse are great smoked, pickled or made into fish patties…kinda like sheepshead–a rough fish that fights hard and is spectacular eating when correctly prepared.

1st LMB of the year!

1st LMB of the year!

About 30 years ago i did a TV segment–catching bass on Rat-l-Traps just after ice out with water temps of just 45 degrees. Today’s outing beat that mark–multiple LMB on the ‘Trap with surface temp of just 39 degrees!

In just the past 24 hrs. surface temp in the Miss mainstem has warmed to 40 degrees, with a solid 42 in a couple of the major tribs. In several dark-bottom sloughs away from current the temp today was a solid 43. By tomorrow afternoon 45 degree temps are possible. This means go-time for both bass & pike!

Meanwhile, most folks are focused on walleyes & perch. Both are on the move. Walleyes today have already ‘stairstepped’ shallower, holding about the 18′ contour. perch have pushed against barriers like the dam and into particular backwaters which hold solid populations of ‘bugs’ –the primary perch food.

Today pitching/dragging both plastics and hair had a definite edge over vertical jigging with meat for the ‘eyes.

Most years the major walleye spawn on pool 9 is real close to 4/15. I think they may go several weeks earlier this year, looking at moon phase, relatively low water level for this time of year, 40 degree surface temp in the mainstem and a forecast DROP in levels by this time next week.

Of course, this is conjecture—but LMB with an aggressive ‘Trap bite in , 5 fow this time of year certainly indicates a different paradigm out there!

i don’t pretend to have the answers. I just get out fishin’ pretty much every day. The Miss is always dynamic. But this spring its dynamic on STEROIDS. Conventional wisdom is out the window. Fish the fish. Multiple LMB on Rat-L-Trap in 39 degree water?? this is nuts! But it is what it is.

My only regret is not being able to fish again until TOMORROW.



A few days ago Pool 9 was as low as I’ve ever seen it in March with ice still in a lot of the backwaters. According to the NOAA website: The River will see significant rise beginning today, pegging out well into the ‘action stage’ by this time next week.

With rapid snowmelt far up in the cool blue north this rise could bump even higher, maybe tickling minor flood stage by April Fool’s Day. No problem!

Once we get to the ‘action’ stage access will be tough at some boat launches, BUT the walleyes & perch will be on a real feeding rip!

The rising River level will bump most ice out of the backwaters by next weekend, creating a possible navigation hazard. Pulling the transducer off the stern of your boat might be a wise idea for the next week or so.

Water won’t warm much for the short haul due to all the giant ice cubes. Walleyes will still be in the wintering holes–pretty much. But probing shallower edges in the afternoon might produce some big ol’ eyes.

I’m kicking off the 2021 guide season next Monday. A number of dates are already spoken for. But there are openings, too. Honestly, I’m not too eager to get back to work. Thinking about going to that special Saturday rate ($1000/4hrs) right out of the chute. Guiding is hard work. Even tougher once you’ve been on the planet for 7 decades. I LOVE fishin’ more than i need money…not that i’m that good at fishin’ BUT after maybe 48 hrs. of not being on the water the spectre of eventual mortality pushes me to get back out there every day possible.

This ain’t your problem. At least not yet. The time is at hand to git back to it.
Brother Dick Neefe is no longer with us. But, stealing a line from this premier river rat….See ya out there on the water.

Back on the Grid

Back on the Grid

Been a long time since we’ve howdied! I’ve been down in mexico Beach, Fla. since late january. Had to get a trans service on the ol’ Silveroo after pulling Spring weather back this way.

Quite a few folks still out ice fishing the backwaters. But ice edges are fading FAST. In about 3 days a hovercraft will be about the only way to get out there safely. The main channel is open from lansing up to the dam on pool 9. AS of yesterday, pool 10 tailwaters still pretty much locked up.

Yamaha tells me I’m now on their national pro staff. Thankful for that! Will be headed down to Jerry’s Sports Service in Beloit to mount the new Yammie on the stern of my Lund. Beaver will have my 2019 Evinrude E-tech 90 up for adoption after that. One sweet runnin’ motor!

Down in Florida I got out fishin’ pretty much every day. sometimes twice. Caught an Octopus, stingray, a pile of pompanos, whiting and reds. Biggest saltwater thrill was sight fishing a 39 1/2″ bull redfish in the surf. She garwoofled my signature series Rat-l-Trap RT-97 and peeled off over 200 yds. of line before she decided to run back toward the beach…then toward Panama City. What a fight!

In freshwater, fished the Dead Lakes near Wewahitchka a couple of times. The SMALLEST bluegill was 10″!!! Little white beetle spins and Roadrunners the hot baits. Best part—the best fishin’ there will start in about 2 wks.

Best part of trip was grabbing a 3 yr. old boy by the britches as he was about to fall off a 4′ wall into 9 fow, with no easy way for rescue. Went on a rampage with the MBFD demanding life rings/ ladders be placed. Couch potatoes seldom drive change. There are sweet ‘tators, mashed ‘tators and agi-tators. The rings/ladders will be placed next week. Both the local PD & FD gave me “challenge coins”. probably to get me out of dodge. Anyway, I plan on getting back on theRiver tomorrow and will keep you posted.

Lots of ice will be busting loose out of backwaters soon. Launching and heading upstream is smart…but floes can come in behind you. Having an alternate plan to recover the boat is wise. PFD’s won’t work if you don’t wear them. Even if you do, herpothemia can kill you pretty quick. So don’t go overboard.