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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.

closing Dam Frenzy

closing Dam Frenzy

As the River continues to drop and clear, closing dams are tremendous places to find numbers of active fish. Closing dams run parallel to the main channel. Purpose is to keep water in main channel rather than following nature’s course downstream through a running slough.

Closing dams are not perfect. Every one has a couple of anomalies like a mis-placed rock pile or low spot which are fish magnets. The backside of closing dams off of the main channel have little anomalies like sand bars, eddies and current chutes which also attract fish.

The key is bait. Find bait and fish won’t be far away. This morning i got on the water at 1st light, planning on catching a mess of SMB to fed my fishing addiction.

I started by spot-locking on the backside of the closing dam where current causes depth along the shore behind the closing dam rocks. A short distance away the bottom comes up to form a sandbar. The perfect ambush spot!

After 5 casts with a topwater failed to produce I switched to a #Zman ned rig w/ finesse TRD and a few drops of Liquid Willowcat. 14-incher on the 1st cast–and 6 of the next 8 casts fishing a current seam at the leading edge of the hole behind the wingdam.

Then a school of white bass showed up, herding river shiners to a point where they could be ambushed. Caught several pump/snapping the Ned off the bottom on my #StCroixrods 7′ panfish series ultralight. Fish weren’t huge, 9-11″.

Rigged a 1/16 oz. white RoadRunner with a 1″ Kalin fliptail on my Croix NINE FOOT panfish series rod, while the water boiled with whiteys. It takes about 5 mins. of pure joy to whup a WB on a 9′ ultralight panfish rod. By the time this fish was at boatside, the whiteys had skulked back downstream to plan their next attack. Picked up the Ned rig and popped several more SMB and a short walleye.

Then the surface started raining shiners again with WB in hot pursuit. Quit counting @ 25 fish…but had to catch one more. This turned in to about 10 more. Started counting again. At 23 fish a 16″ SMB slurped in the Roadrunner. Takes awhile to bring a critter like that to boatside on a 9′ buggy whip.

Kalin fliptail came off in the melee. This and special pain in both shoulders told me this was enough fun for one morning.

Got off the water @ 9 a.m. Pretty sure the WB @ SMB will be chewing there for awhile. July & Aug. produce closing dam action like this on a regular basis if the river level is right. Time of day can play a role in fish activity. But if the bait is there, you can bet predators will be close by, too.

My passion for fishing knows no bounds. Catching fish until you’re tired of catching fish isn’t an easy benchmark to achieve. But I’m there now. Just heard the Admiral fire up the lawnmower. 10 a.m. Might have to go help her after my nap. Or not.

River dropping like a stone

River dropping like a stone

A few weeds coming down the main channel this morning. Water is stained out there, but not so bad in the running sloughs. River is dropping like a stone. fishing really good for walleyes, pike and those stupid bass. Panfish getting re-oriented. Bite will be good by Wed. morning. Water temp 84!

Hot weather pattern means I’m fishing from 5-10. Kinda reminds me of the summer of ’88 when we had a bunch of 100 degree days. This summer not so bad–yet. ’88 was an exceptional yr. Boated 1004 eyes from June thru Aug. Similar pattern developing this yr. as the River level begins to fall.

Have several openings during the week for most of July if ya wanna get out–but until this weather breaks I’m only gonna fish half-days, getting out at first light.

My special Saturday rate applies for those who wanna fish from 11-4 until projected high temps drop below 85. Yes, fishing is HOT… but so is the weather.

Smart old dogs don’t even stay on the porch when there is air conditioning and cold beverages on the other side of the door.

here we go again

here we go again

After about a week of truly wonderful water levels the River is projected to jump a bunch into action stage again just in time for the July 4 weekend. Action has been really, really good for walleyes on the rocks the past few days. Looks like we’ll have maybe 2-3 days to cash in on this bite before the River spikes again.

Bass/pike fishin’ is pretty easy and should remain so as these fish push back into the nether reaches of running sloughs away from the main channel as the River begins to rise.

the key for catching just about all active fish will be targeting areas which load from downstream as the River goes up. this pushes cleaner water at the upstream edge of these areas providing 2’+ visibility which is key in finding aggressive fish. Right now the water temp is about 73 degrees.

Obvious emergent weed edges will be a little tougher to find by the weekend, as rising water makes these edges submergent again. Optimistically, this just concentrates fish into fewer areas, which should make fishin’ easier…once you know where to find these areas!

truly, there is nothing more important than time on the water. Those folks who are out there pretty much every day have a good handle on where fish will be and how they will behave under these ‘new normal’ conditions.

i’m out there pretty much every day and it still takes me about an hour–every single day–to figure out both fish location and attitude.

The Navy SEALs mantra is “the only easy day is yesterday” . Pretty much true on the River…but fishin’ is certainly easier–and better than it’s been since 2017.

Bottom line: any day you can get out on the River is better than any day spent NOT on the River. When a fish finds the hook, it’s even sweeter than when fishin’ is too easy. For some of us, not fishin’ is NOT an option. So there ya go.

Fishing the yo-yo River

Fishing the yo-yo River

The effects of 4″ of rain a couple days ago may prove short lived. River came up almost 2′ at Genoa. Projections call for it to fall sharply in the next 24 hours. This fluctuation came on so quickly that a lot of fish pretty much sheltered in place

Look for bass to stage at choke points in running sloughs as River levels drop sharply. This can be a time when a distinct mudline change can hold a pile of active fish!

If I could throw just 2 baits to start with they would be a white tandem spinnerbait and my beloved oxbow Trap. Doesn’t make much sense to leave active fish once you’ve found ’em.!

Buzzbait bite has been good on humid days when surface tension is high. Frog bite good too. Not gonna say much about the plastics bite…but it involves Ned riggin’ with a willocat plastic and da sauce.

EZ Summer Fishin’

EZ Summer Fishin’

The first thing each morning and last thing at night I check the pool 9 hydrologic table and forecast on wunderground.com…figuring the River level has gotta shoot back up to the action stage cuz somebody flushed a toilet in the Twin Cities. Over the past 72 hrs. we have received about 4″ of rain locally. But the hydrologic prediction only nudged up a bit. Holding steady–right now–for the next week or so.

This ‘low’ water has revealed quantum changes in areas away from the River mainstem–most notably sandbars and shoals where they’ve never been before. Plenty of ‘new’ snags are out there, too. Just waiting for your prop to come whizzing overhead.

Siltation over the past couple years and islands created by USACE to limit wind fetch have fostered development of considerable weed growth–some good, some bad.

Most exciting is development of distinct weed edges which make perch and bluegill fishing much easier. Perch tend to seek out elodea. Gills do too, but really like transition zones between eelgrass and American water lotus( lily pads) . AWL also attracts crappies. All the pannies are there to chow on benthic macroinvertebrates ; the edumacated term for “bugs”.

I like fishing a 1/8 oz. Northland buckshot rattle spoon along deep weed edges for perch. Short walleyes and the occasional legal are there in the mix. My 2nd rod is an amazing 9′ St. Croix panfish rod. the reel is spooled with 6 lb. Sufix braid. this one is rigged with either a Teddy Skunk Perchanator when looking for perch or the considerably lighter Bimbo Skunk when gills or crappies are the primary target.

I suppose using 2 lb. floro might result in more bites when fishing water with at least 2′ visibility. But if you’re fishing where the fish are, you’ll get hung up. Using light wire hooks and a straight pull-back on the rod without stressing it will free your bait about 90 % of the time when using braid…90% more time fishing instead of tying knots means more fish. Enough foot-long perch, crappies and 10″ bluegills don’t seem to mind the heavier line to make this more productive than boy scout practice through hook eyes which get smaller every year.

Of course, bass & pike are cruising near the pannies. That’s a whole nother blog. I have the day off. The Admiral wants perch for supper–and i know where they live. gotta go.

Shad Fly Shake

Shad Fly Shake

Yesterday afternoon I went up to a vantage point here the River can be visualized 10 miles in both upstream and down, looking for clear water after 2+” of rain.

The River was linear ‘chocolate milk’ for as far as 10 X 50 binocs could see. I felt a bug land on my arm. Experience teaches the wisdom of looking before you swat. The bug was a mayfly, a.k.a. shadfly, river fly…or hexagenia.

Experience also teaches when a shadfly lands on your arm @ 1700 hrs., 500′ above the River bottom that a whale of a hatch is about to come off. Last night was one of those nights when the hex hatch could be seen on radar.

Shadflies only live 24 hours. This morning about 7 gazillion carcasses are floating on current seams easing downstream, attracting every fish species with the ability to scarf a mouthful down.

Combine a mountain of shadflies with a linear fountain of ‘chocolate milk’ and you get a shadfly shake that no fish can resist. There are only two presentations with a hook conventional wisdom says will work under these conditions: willocat or a Pop-R topwater lure with hooks removed and a large hex fly imitation trailing behind the rear tie-eye on 40 lb. mono.

You still have the competition of 7 gazillion copies of the real thing to contend with…but the Pop-R makes fish think the commotion must mean there are some juicier bugs and come to investigate. Honestly, I don’t know what fish think…but thoughts tend to go elsewhere after about the 3rd walleye slurps in a hex fly behind a bass popper.

One more tip from the old guide…there is a bucketful of river fly carcasses beneath some light poles at the boat ramp. Two cups of carcasses blended into a jar of Sonny’s Super Sticky is a wickedly effective bait for channel cat. Applying just a dab behind each ear is a truly effective way to establish social distancing, while assuring prompt service for any purchase you are making.

The River is predicted to rise just over a foot in the next couple days, down from a projection almost 2′. The chocolate milk will pass, the bug carcasses will float away and the action on the Immortal River should be headed back towards ‘crazy good’ levels by early next week.

A perfect morning on the River

A perfect morning on the River

I seldom fish when guiding. Watching clients catch 25+ bass and pike in the first 90 minutes of yesterday’s trip, mostly on #Rat-L-Trap & MR-6 were heavy on my mind when eyes opened @ 0:430. Check the pool level at https:water.weather.gov/ahps2hydrograph.php?wfo=arx&gage=genw3. Noted pool levels were stable, with forecast rise of over 1′ by the weekend. Then checked forecast on wunderground.com . Doppler clear, hourly called for rain to start shortly after noon, then get serious.

Hooked up boat and got on the water by 6:30. Headed to spot where Kelly & Tonya POUNDED them yesterday. Explained the spot was a choke point by which 250 acres of backwater must go through when River is rising or falling. There was a distinct mudline at this spot, which changed considerably in the 3 hrs. I was on the water this morning.

Plan was to catch 25 gamefish and go home. By 7 a.m. had caught released 8 pike and 16 LMB, mostly on the oxbow Trap. 25th fish was a 17″ walleyes–which is the reason we stopped there first thing on yesterday’s trip. Change of plans!

Switched to a B-Fish-N Tackle 1/8 oz Draggin jig &sassafras PulseR. Added a squirt of Liquid Willowcat. Picked up a pike on the first cast. After another 20 or so bass and pike, went back to the Trap looking for a second walleye to feed the Admiral lunch.

An old River Rat motored up to tell me he had just read my latest book “Tails, Trails & Tales with the Old Guide” found on kindle ebooks. Said he “laughed, cried and couldn’t put the damn thing down” until he finished it.Just what a guy who is too full of himself needs to hear!

While we chatted, went back to the Trap and caught another dozen or so LMB and pike. Another Old River Rat who recognized me pulled up in a pontoon, asked if he could anchor up nearby and fish for gills. THIS is the etiquette that is the rule rather than the exception when you fish during the week.

We talked fishin’, the cwazy stuff going on in Mn. and world in general while he caught a mess of respectable ‘gills and I caught another half dozen bass/pike on the Trap.

Said he didn’t have kindle.Wondered where he could get the new book in paperback. Told him Amazon would have it in a week or so but that he could find my other book “Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide” on amazon now, and locally at the Driftless Center.

Admitted that what he was really angling for was a free book and that his 81st birthday was coming up next Monday. Told him I didn’t have any copies in the boat. Gave him my lone walleye as a birthday dinner.

Motored back to the launch and waited patiently while a guy from Decorah tried to put his boat in. he saw that I was waiting, then hurried to launch and get his rig out of the way. Tied off to a steel corner post on the dock, jumped back in the truck and started to pull out, not noticing the mooring rope was caught under one of his trailer bunks.

Boat lurched, plowed into trailer. Dock came halfway out of the water. Truck to a screeching halt. Finally got things squared away and said fishing must be tough or I wouldn’t be getting off the River @ 09:30.

Told him that actually, it was about as good as fishin’ ever gets. He asked sheepishly where/how I was catching all these fish. Normally wouldn’t say a word. Figured he wasn’t much of a threat to the resource so told him EXACTLY (knowing the fish wouldn’t be there tomorrow with the River on the rise) Took the oxbow #Rat-L-Trap off my Croix Legend Glass baitcast rod and gave it to him. This is just the River way.

Clouding up. Looks like rain forecast is spot on. Believe I’ll take a little nap. Feel truly blessed to be American born and River raised. Just about every day on the River is great. But sometimes its perfect.