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Thoughts about the River of Truth

Thoughts about the River of Truth

The atomic clock on a dresser near my rack projects the time and temperature on the bedroom wall in the darkness of night. All I have to do is open one eye and reliable information can be instantly observed

Half of this info is available if my body comes out of REM sleep and I’m facing the other way: it is night time. Facing the other way just confirms what my bladder is telling me: it is 3 a.m. This is a natural part of aging into an old guy. If I lay in bed more than 5 minutes after eye opening my mind gets into a left brain/right brain argument which always ends with me headed for the can. But if both sides are fully engaged it is almost time to go fishin’.

This really gets the synapses popping, trying to figure out where the fish will be and their general attitude once out on the water. This inner dialog is almost always academic, because you ALWAYS have to get out on the water and work your initial hunch with a cast or two…or maybe not. If the River level, wind direction, water clarity, barometric pressure or several other unknown variables have changed when the Lund goes in the water the boat may vector upstream instead of down before making a cast or two–which may trigger a location or presentation change. Or both.

A River guide’s mind works that way. The river is forever changing. Pulling finned bounty from her belly means getting in sync with her mood–not trying to bend an awesome force of nature to my way of thinking.

There is no hypocrisy on the River. It is driven by natural truth. The unseen hand of the Creator. Failure to accept this knowledge will bring consequences this warm velvet glove of sleepy water can turn into an unforgiving fist.

The digital read out on the atomic clock tells me I won’t commune with nature today. The temperature out in the natural world is 83 degrees @ 3:15 a.m. Besides that, today is Saturday. I don’t like to guide on Saturdays because there is too much humanity out there on the River already.

People are the problem with finding harmony with nature on the River. Especially those few people who decide they are capable of running our lives better than we can. Talking about spouses and the government here. Taking a spouse is a personal choice. Mine has been directing a considerable component of behavior for 48 years now. Not ashamed to say I love her with all my heart.

Out on the River it is humanity and the unseen but ever present hand of the government which perpetually harshes my mellow.
The government–not any concept of global warming–which forces me to deal with perpetual flooding out on the Mississippi. Government hubris convinced those who would lead us that maintaining a navigation channel and pushing farming practices that remove filtering green space have added so much non-organic silt to the River in my lifetime that the Immortal River may be facing mortality. At least when if comes to trying to make a living from her piscatory bounty.

The single minded USACE mission of turning the Miss into a navigation canal has finally succeeded after 141 years. The FWS believes they are entitled to tell me how to run a guide business on “their” water and charge me for doing so–even though these people have never run a business or guided fishermen. Kinda like Bernie Sanders who is campaigning on a $15 minimum wage but doesn’t pay his own staff that much.
The FWS places signs on unforgiving metal fence posts proclaiming this is “their” kingdom. During perpetual high water these fenceposts are hazards to navigation on the Miss, as they are just barely submerged. If it could be proved I placed an obstruction which damaged somebody else’s rig would I be held liable? You betcha!

News is quietly breaking the government weaponized ticks by injecting them with microbes back in the 1950’s. Could this be the genesis of lyme disease? Not about to go down the conspiracy rabbit hole here. Humans conspire. Always have. It’s in our nature.

Not that I’m planning to conspire against our government. It’s our government. The USA is far from perfect, but our government has done a better job of shepherding our republic than any other government in world history. At least until it started believing it could do a better job of running American lives than the people could back in the 1930’s.

This is when the lock & dam systems tried to harness the Miss. The government actually started believing it was smarter than the Creator!

The fallacy of this belief is evident out there on the River of Truth. In spite of all the regulations, restrictions, licenses, fees, permits with all the traps & snares and man caused habitat degradation it is still possible to find catharsis out there on the River of Truth.

I will make no apologies for failure to include any nuggets of fishing wisdom in the blog this time other than the FACT that you need to get your mind right to find consistent success.

Weeds are a major driver of fish location and presentation on the River now–even with those wily walleyes. Come Monday, it will be all right. Come Monday I’ll be out there, Lord Willin’–not ranting from inside the house where the atomic clock says it is now 4:45 a.m, time to go fishin’…but the clock says it is also 83 degrees. And it’s Saturday. Guess it’s nap time. gut doesn’t say it’s time to feed, so g’night.

New Normal is scary reality

New Normal is scary reality

When a septic drain field fails, it immediately gets your attention. This is what’s happening RIGHT NOW on my beloved Mississippi. Sharing this with you now before turds start hitting the bathroom floor.

Water tables in the heartland are at record high levels. The Miss drains 2/3 of the continental USA, with human encroachment eliminating green space, levees protecting towns and several other factors funneling it on downstream.

In my lifetime siltation has caused incredible reduction in the flood plain. When I was a kid you could boat from the backwaters around Savanna and Thomson on pool 13 to the channel a half-dozen different ways. Now channel access is limited passage to just one shallow dredge cut. The massive dredging at Potter’s marsh near Thomson which was supposed to last 50 years got silted in in just 5. the USACE has learned nothing from this and many other examples. Siltation is now a serious issue over 100 river miles north on pool 11 at Guttenberg.

Last year the Miss on pool 9 only dropped to ‘normal’ summer levels in August. The rest of the year we were at or near flood stage. Some trees which hold back the siltation on river island’s have greater tolerance for ‘wet feet’ than others. Silver maple is very tolerant. 70+ percent of trees in the islands are silver maple. Hundreds upon hundred of maples died since last summer. Remaining trees have had ‘wet feet’ since ice out. Many are showing October colors in mid-July. They won’t be around next year.

One branch of USACE(Corps of Engineers) is trying to add diversity to island fauna, planting oak, hackberry, river birch. etc. under the mature tree canopy. Great idea BUT its already failed several times. What is that definition of insanity? One plan is to augment slightly higher ground in flood plains by dredging adjacent low spots and moving spoils to make higher ground. Apparently the engineers haven’t learned water will take the easiest path. The River is always trying to shorten it’s route downstream. God designed it that way! Trying to fix one problem will likely lead to a worse one as nature takes it’s course. If man is so mighty, why has he only built one bridge across the Miss every 20 miles or so? Didja know, these bridges are among the very worst in the USA?

Over the past several weeks I’ve interviewed several USACE and FWS folks. They get their marching orders from D.C., authored by congress–the same bunch who mandated the USACE maintain a 4′ channel in 1878, and demanded it be deepened to 9′ in the 1930’s. The efficiency of these single-minded idiots already started showing results when I started seriously fishin’ the River 30 years later. My, oh my! Look at that beautiful ship canal today.

Back in the 1980’s thunder from the people caused congress to address a dual purpose use for the Immortal River, with recreation and conservation sharing near equal status with navigation. The genesis of this movement was in establishing the FWS wildlife refuge system several decades prior to that–a half-assed plan which might have finally been mitigated to functionality when congress passed laws making it so…but in typical congressional fashion they went to lunch and never returned when it came to funding.

So here we are, mid-July. Still at action stage with just one toilet flush of a rainstorm in the twin cities sending the Miss back up to flood again. A couple of the USACE folks I talked to–the natural resource instead of the navigation wing are optimistic. They see the glass as half full. Fact is, glass has spilled over from the table to the floor and they keep planting trees on perpetually flooded islands which will soon be no more.

Once again, the orders come from congress, every member of which is too busy posturing to keep their own trough full than to DO THEIR JOBS. Think these fat foxes will ever vote in term limits for their time at the chicken coop?

A couple of federal employees said they “wish” the River would go down. Well, wish in one hand and s**t the other and tell me which on fills up first!

bottom line: I’m convinced the Miss is at a tipping point from where there is no return. People won’t demand congress does something about it until their own personal toilet overflows–like its gonna do with the borderline hurricane hitting Nawlins right now, and beaches in the state of Mississippi closed cuz changes in gulf pH from too much fresh water coming in from the Miss have places wads of toxic algae on the beaches.

Can’t take it anymore. Gonna go to the closest launch where I’ll only get wet to the knees putting the Lund in and go catch some bass. The skinny on exactly how to do this will be right here when I finally get off the water. Stay safe!

Walleyes, willocats & wingdams

Walleyes, willocats & wingdams

The Miss is on the rise again, just a couple of weeks after dropping to the ‘Action’ stage when lock & dam gates come out of the water. Predictions call for a bump of about 2′–but significant rain can bring us quickly back to wet Armageddon–combining hell AND high water makes for generally tough fishing.

A rise of two feet will wipe out grassy edges and push water back up in the trees again, but walleyes and other species don’t leave the River. They just follow the food.

The wingdam bite is just taking off as River rise predictions are posted, moving walleyes back into patterns where you can hook up consistently once patterns emerge. Wingdams are placed perpendicular to the current to funnel water, helping the Corps of Engineers fulfill their Congress mandated mission of maintaining a channel for navigation. Unintended consequences of this mission are a primary reason why the River has essentially been at flood stage since March 24, with man-caused efforts almost sure to cause more frequent and severe flooding in years to come. A blog explaining this situation will be published soon as I get a few days off of the water. Back to wingdams.

These rocky structures have been around since Congress’ mandate in 1878–initially built from willow mats and ‘one man rocks’. Typically, they are placed in runs of 3, 5 or 7. As a general rule, fishing USUALLY picks up first on the wingdam furthest downstream. The caveat is, not all wingdams are created equally. I call wingdams with anomalies Friday wingdams, as workers eager to start the weekend leave a significant low spot or drop a pile of rocks at other than the intended location. Friday wingdams are perpetual top producers!

With a typical wingdam bite, holding your boat at the 8 foot contour upstream from the rocks will put your bait in front of fish and generally keep you ‘safe’. Time on the water is the best way to ‘read’ a wingdam’s fish potential on any given day. If flow has it looking ‘fishy’ I usually confirm this with a quick trolling pass above the windam with a search bait like the Bill Lewis MR-6, then spot-lock and cast above the “sweet spot” which got placed on a Friday.

When River levels first start dropping to the point where they attract active fish, probe the water just DOWNSTREAM from the rocks. The structure breaks current flow, attracts bait and subsequent fish when it just takes too much effort to stage upstream.

From ice out to just a couple of weeks ago main channel conditions have been generally too brutal to offer consistent ‘eye action. Most of the active walleye population is pushed into running sloughs and backwaters.

By far the best way to catch ’em is fishing a little bullhead critter called the willocat on a modified Lindy rig–with an egg sinker and long shank #4 Aberdeen hook 18″ below a barrel swivel.

Under flood conditions, look for current breaks below sandbars where edges drop away quickly to 10-12 f.o.w. Cast and just crawl the bait back in a s-l-o-w retrieve.

Walleyes HATE willocats! The relationship is like a crow/owl thing. Walleyes will flat-out attack ’em even if they aren’t hungry. Willocats are also very durable bait. You can usually catch at least two eyes per bait–thus the Aberdeen hook.

The downside is, willocats are expensive–about $24/dozen. Most guides can’t afford to furnish this bait–especially in a truly brutal 2019. Willocats are also incredibly toxic. Get horned and the pain is excruciating and will last for hours.

Most folks use leather gloves when hooking willocats through the lips to fish. Capn’ Hook’s Bait in Genoa is the only place on the River which sells a plastic scoop called the “minnow cinch”. The willocat slides down the scoop and gets held in place long enough to hook it up.

Why would any walleye chaser use $2 per minnow bait which is profoundly toxic? Because it works! We would use baby rattlesnakes which had to be hooked near the tail and baited up in total darkness if they worked.

Gotta get back to the river. Stay safe out there1

The Cosmic Fishin’ Pendulum

The Cosmic Fishin’ Pendulum

with over a half-century of fishing the immortal Mississippi I hve concluded the Creator regulates fish behavior and environmental parameters with a metaphysical pendulum–when fishin’ is bad, it is awful, when the pendulum swings the other way–spectacular.

Thus far in 2019 fishing has sucked so bad that it pegged out and stuck against the wall BUT with River levels dropping below 630 at Genoa beginning last Thursday, multi-species fishin’ action has been spectacular…and getting better every day. Yesterday a buddy named Frank challenged my contention of going out fun fishin’ and coming in after catching 20 fish, betting me a half-day’s guide wage we couldn’t reach 20 gamefish in a 4 hr. trip.

If you subtract the travel time to get to a certain ace spot, our time from 1st cast to boating #20 SMB or walleye was just FIFTY TWO MINUTES. Went back to this well again this morning with a 7′ St.Croix panfish wand and a little Pop-R and hooked up with 7 cookie-cutter 16″ SMB in just 10 casts.

There is an old joke about ‘the most fun you can have with clothes on’. This morning I didn’t see a single boat. Not one. Could have gone full Monty total noodle frontity and pegged the life experience fun-o-meter…but didn’t, only cuz it was a little chilly out there this morning in a hoodie–and the fish were exploding all over the surface.

Will leave you with that thought–or the thought before that if you’re just a little twisted

Beating the Hex Hex

Beating the Hex Hex

A major hexagenia (mayfly) hatch started coming off just before noon today Kinda unusual, as the heaviest hatches usually start rising to the surface and taking wing about dusk.

We typically have 2-3 major hex hatches over the course of the summer. When they occur, fishing is generally tough for a couple of days because there is so much easy food floating on the water.

Rodeo clowns (now called bullfighters) cops and firefighters are hard wired to run toward danger. The same strategy works on a major mayfly hatch. Instead of trying to find a ‘no-fly zone’ , go looking for a floating cortege of bug carcasses headed down the River. The fish will already be there!

A 4 wt. St. Croix flyrod with a hex imitation is the purist’s way to fish during a mayfly hatch, but I never could make sense out of matching the hatch when the hatch is in the bajillions.

There are three presentations I’ve found to be effective under these tough conditions:

  1. a little Beetle-spin spinner

2. A Road Runner buffet rig (2 roadrunners on a spinnerbait wire)

3. A clear Chug Bug or Pop-R w/ a hex-fly on 4″ of mono tied to the lure’s rear hook eye.

My favorite is by far option #3. With over 115 species in the Miss, don’t be surprised if you catch white bass, smallmouth, largies, pike, crappies…and even WALLEYES, blooping this offering through the carcass parade! I think this is effective because the topwater lure mimics feeding fish, drawing in others to investigate .

Don’t expect to set the world on fire, as you’re competing with the real deal. But you’ll typically catch a respectable bunch if you keep your line in the water.

If you like fishing channel cats with dipbait, scoop up a bunch of carcasses and add ’em to your favorite concoction. They work as good as mixing in turtle livers. Either additive is a great way to expand your personal space.

Disaster Perspective

Disaster Perspective

Just got back from a fishin’ marathon in far N. Wisconsin, fishing 10 lakes over 4 days. Every lake full to capacity–and then some. Roads closed, access roads flooded or washed out…multiply this number by 10K–then hold that thought.

The Miss is just beginning to drop, passing through ‘minor’ flood stage down to ‘action’ stage where dam gates go back in the water. NOAA projections call for this to happen by June 12. For the first time this year they added the qualifier that levels may exceed projections with in this week long window.

If we don’t get major rainfall upstream, the level will continue to fall, with better fishing every day. Revisit that thought about 10K belly full lakes.

‘Minor’ flood is like the old adage about being ” a little bit pregnant’. Flood stage = disaster. Disaster is disaster.

If there isn’t gullywasher rain upstream our condition should be at the sip from table before lifting coffee cup stage. One serious rain and we’ll be back at the “crap! grab some paper towels stage.

Between now and then we’ll be catching fish casting cranks like the Bill Lewis MR-6 on the slow side of current seams for walleyes, SMB, WB and other species…or going walleye specific casting/dragging Lindy rigged walleyes with an 18” leader below a 1/4 oz egg sinker back in running sloughs where sand bar breaks at 10 fow drop into deeper water where there isn’t excessive turbulence.

Return to that 10K belly-full lakes thought for a second. I don’t think we’re gonna see a wingdam bite all year. Walleye action will be back in the running sloughs on search baits like the Rat-l-Rap and chatterbait and spot-specific holes and edges with willocats all summer long.

Willocats are like crows-n-owls with walleyes. Marble-eyes ATTACK ’em. Downside is, this superbait goes for about $20/dozen. Sharp spines are toxic. Getting horned is WAY beyond painful.

I like throwing the ‘Trap…only hurts when the hook finds you instead of fish. with over 115 species in the River, walleyes won’t be the only thing caught. Most that hit lures are looking for one thing:food. That’s why they’re cruising away from the main channel this year to begin with!

Long term, the River situation is grim. Many island trees died since last year’s prolonged high water. This year’s perpetual flood will have even bigger consequences. Dead trees make islands more prone to sending sediment downstream. Siltation–the quiet crisis that leads to flooding–will be exacerbated

Flooding will be the new normal in years to come on the ever-changing, Immortal River. Stay safe out there!.

Searching for Seams

Searching for Seams

This has been the toughest year in over a half-century of fishing the Upper Mississippi. The fish want to bite, but vision has been minimized by high, dirty water forcing predators to rely more on vibration along their lateral lines, hearing and scent to survive.

The strike zone is very small–sometimes just inches–when the pool level at Genoa is above 630.2. Water is coming through the trees providing 100,000,000 potential ambush points. But which one do you cast to, and will that cast be in an orientation for optimum attack?

In a world where the best visibility is only about a foot, finding areas with the best availability. This eliminates about 99% of fish producing water when the river is flowing at 632. Finding the 1% requires a lot of running…and visibility can change over just a couple hours, forcing the fish to move on or hunker down.

Fish are ALWAYS on the move in the Miss, driven by the need to eat and not be eaten. With flood conditions they are swimming in brand new territory, looking for a bucket sized area here they feel safe, but every smaller critter is in peril.

Sometimes they will take a chance and move out to the quiet spot on a sandbar seam or backeddy behind some rocks where there was once dry ground…like a big flat slab of concrete which is a boat launch at normal pool levels.

When they find such a spot fish tend to stack like a SWAT team making a building entry or speed skaters falling into line in a 1500 meter race.

One fish doesn’t make a pattern but TWO do when they come just a cast or two apart at the same angle and retrieve.

Most of the time casting your bait upstream and bringing it back right in their face produces the most strikes. Fish are designed to face into the current. Have you ever seen a plane come in for a landing BACKWARDS?

In low visibility situations, the strike window is considerably smaller. Casting the lure downstream where it can ‘struggle’ slowly keeps your offering in the much smaller strike zone longer.

When fish are hunkered near a bucket-sized open spot in heavy cover an ‘in your face’ technique like pitching can be effective. The Tokyo rig or shakey head can work very well..but you want to have a winch to move fish quickly out of cover.

Waiting for the Edges

Waiting for the Edges

Flooding is the new normal on pool 9. In 2019 the only two months with near “normal” levels were March & August. This year we went from ice out to flood in 36 hrs. with essentially no late ice bite.

So here we are two full months after ice out still well into the ‘action’ stage. Pool 9 is the only pool on the Upper Miss where the ‘action’ stage is directly related to River access instead of gates going back in the water at dams.

Last year I whined enough to NOAA and the Corps of Engineers to change this definition, arguing the number of folks who travel great distances to fish this pool ere frustrated cuz they would get here and most–if not all–ramps were tough to access without hippers.

The new magic number for River access on this pool is now just over 625 at Genoa. Access is possible on the Army Rd. at New Albin just a couple tenths higher than the posted number which designates the lower edge of ‘action’ stage. We are now at 630.8–or close–with dam gates going back in the water at 631.

The number to watch for on this pool is 627. When the river drops to 627 there will be more hard edges as areas start loading from the bottom with little or no water pushing downstream through the trees, also bringing more areas where visibility is >2′. This is KEY for finding active fish!

Fish want to bite, but predators are having difficulty pinning prey against a hard edge for easy ambush. Sure, there are hard edges like the dam tailwaters and rip-rapped railroad beds. There are also softer edges like current seams where predators can pin prey with little effort. This includes predators with fishin’ poles.

Where there are no edges a predator will find just one or two fish. Muskies are not the only species which can claim to be the ‘fish of 10K casts until stage 627 at Genoa.

The gov’t puts out a comprehensive chart on the website https://water.weather.gov/ahps2hydrograph.php?wfo=arx&gage=genw3

On this site you can find not only the projected levels on pool 9, but essentially ever water where there is gage reference in the USA !

This also includes long term probability projections, which are usually pretty close. These projections tell me we’ll probably see 627 here in another week, and drop down to 625 by June. But all these numbers are subject to change with a gullywasher upstream.

Until we see 627, keep your line in the water with a search bait like a spinnerbait or Rat-L-Trap in obnoxious colors with a little flo orange/green/blue. The ‘oxbow’ pattern ‘Trap is perfect.

I haven’t had a paid guide trip on pool 9 for almost 6 months. Still go fishin’ here just about every day. Catching fish, but most days its a lot more work than the classic definition of fun.

Look for another blog when there if Facebook notification by me. Until then, be patient! God is in control!

Harmonic Convergence

Harmonic Convergence

We are at a point of harmonic convergence RIGHT NOW on the upper Mississippi River spawning run.

My last blog was about barriers & current breaks, The massive lock & dam systems which break the River into 33 pools are the ultimate barriers.

The average date of major spawning on the Miss is April 15-22. Last year was an outlier. Spawn came in fits and spurts. Not all walleyes go at the same time. A few dropped their eggs in a warm spell about 10 days ago when water temps in the mainstem were at 45-46 degrees…then temperatures dropped almost 10 degrees over several days, shutting down the bite.

Now mainstem water temps are back in the upper 40’s.

The full moon was last night–the 19th. Three days either side of the full moon is a big factor in fish behavior

River is rising sharply again, up 2 more feet by Wednesday.

IT’S SHOWTIME!!!

This is a no brainer. Go to the ultimate barrier: the dam
Fish a 1/4-3/16 oz jig with a purple/yellow (or white) B-Fish-n Tackle Pulse R. Steady retrieve, just off the bottom. Set the hook!

Repeat.

There is no mystery in this. If you enjoy “combat fishing” this weekend will be the combat zoo at it’s finest.

This homey don’t do combat. Don’t like crowds…which tend to bring out the worst behavior in some of those foregathered.

With no trips on the books due to flooding, I’ll be chasing smallmouths. They start migrating out of wintering areas at about 55 degrees. have picked up several of the scouts in recent days. Next week is gonna be a hoot!

Barriers & Current Breaks for high Water Spring Perch

Barriers & Current Breaks for high Water Spring Perch

Water temperatures have warmed to 43.7 degrees. The bite is on for pre-spawn walleyes & perch! The only tough part is getting to places where fish are congregated.

No easy task with essentially every boat launch flooded and water spread across the flood plain from railroad track to railroad track.

Fish don’t want to fight the current, but use the current’s flavor to lead them to areas where they will spawn–walleyes in a few days and perch in a week or so.

Edges and barriers are key to fish location. hard shoreline along a highway or railroad track is a good illustration of this structure. Fish need to stay wet to swim. When they find a barrier, they stop and re-assess.

With river levels on the way down now, flood plain is draining. Water is a slave to gravity. Choke points like drain tubes and narrows near bridge pilings funnel the water, which is several degrees warmer cuz it has been simmering in the shallow, dark bottomed flats of the flood plain.

These conditions draw fish like gangbusters! The Admiral wants perch again for supper, so I snuck out to a spot which met these parameters that has been producing fish for over a week.

Fish are almost all males, which are now actively milting. You get just as much meat from a 10″ male as an egg-laden female. meat from males is firmer as we get closer to spawn. harvesting males has virtually no impact on the population. It sickens me that folks feel compelled to fill their livewells with bloated female perch–but I don’t make the rules.

10 nice male perch is enough to feed the Admiral & me supper, usually with just a couple fillets left over for breakfast. If you need more fish to feed the family, why not take the young ‘uns along to catch a few?

My pre-spawn perch rig is almost too simple: a 7′ St. Croix panfish rod and reel spooled with 4-6 lb. mono. At the business end there is a 1/16 oz egg sinker, a small barrel swivel, 12-18″ of leader and a red #6 long-shank hook.(sometimes adding an orange bead makes a difference).

For bait, a pinch of crawler will work. A couple red wigglers usually works better.

Just cast out, raise the rod to a 45 degree angle and slowly swim the bait in–with the accent on slowly. Perch can be finicky. The closer you can get to zero weight resistance, the better. No need to make a mile-long cast. The fish are headed for the rocks–which are pretty much right at your feet.

Got to clean some perch, then launch the Lund to look for some walleyes. Last time they were in about 12 fow, feeding on B-Fish-N tackle Pulse Rs in the new white glow pattern. Water clarity is looking better as River levels drop. Thinkin’ maybe cotton candy will be the ticket today.

Can’t catch any fish with your line out of the water, so adios for now!