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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!

Tough bite for Awhile

Tough bite for Awhile

Pool 9 has come up a bunch over the past 10 days, with higher water yet to come. As of this morning water is now over the road at Blackhawk Park, just past the Trading Post ramp. Ice just went out on the south end of DeSoto Bay, almost as far north as the houseboats and garage size slabs of ice are easing downstream all over the place.

If water wasn’t coming through the trees it might be worth donning the waders and trying to launch a boat. BUT water is coming through the trees! This is a real game changer.  The incredible perch bite we’ve seen this time of year simply isn’t going to happen. The walleyes typically spawn April 15-20.  A lot of water will come down the river between now and then. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Talk around local watering holes and cafes where old guys foregather is about the record flood of ’65.  I was a freshman in high school then.  Laughed about the chumps sitting in class on beautiful days in early May…until about 15 hours into a 36 hour sandbagging marathon. Our efforts saved the farm between Savanna and Thomson down on pool 13 and a lot of other farms…by just two tiers of sandbags around a drainage ditch pump station protecting all of Stransky’s bottoms.

I didn’t keep a fishing diary back then. But the crappie fishing was the best I’ve ever seen from the deep south to the cool blue north. Minnows a foot beneath big red-and-white Dayton bobbers, fished on 15′ cane poles. The poles had 15′ of heavy braided dacron line which was tied about 18″ behind the lone guide on the pole’s trip..just in case a big un broke the pole!

There are no trips in the guide book until late next week, but trips might very well be cancelled well into April.  Word from the north country is that there is still a good 2′ of snow up there.  it’s all gotta melt and come this way eventually. Cold nights and little rainfall would be the best scenario. God has got a plan.  he just hasn’t revealed it yet.

If you’re a high school kid reading this blog looking for the fish-catching skinny, no dice for the short haul. When something good finally starts to happen here on the River you might want to check this blog.

Hopefully it will be 54 years before you hear old geezers talking about the flood of ’19.  Meanwhile, get out and fish often. 54 years is just a blink of the Great Rainmaker’s eye

a 2014 Reboot in the works?

a 2014 Reboot in the works?

The walleye/sauger/perch bite has been pretty good for the past 10 days through the ice below lock & dam 8 at Genoa.  We haven’t seen this kind of action since 2014–at least for an extended period.  There is +/- of semi-safe ice below the fishing float.  Access is safest from ABOVE the same, parking at the old tobacco shack. There is a trail through the snow to reach the west side of the River. A long walk–but try to shorten the angler by breaking your own trail and it quickly becomes work through the deep snow.

There are a lot of humps, bumps and flats below the dam, with bottom structure determined primarily by what happens to the current as it negotiates the first 3 wingdams. Perch are generally on the flats in about 12-17 fow, with walleyes/saugers holding about 21-23 fow.  Most productive baits have been 1/4 oz. Buckshot Rattle spoons and #3 blue/chrome or firetiger puppet minnows with a little meat.

Use extreme caution if you try to fish this bite, which will almost certainly end suddenly within the next 10 days.  it’s all about the snowmelt and how fast it comes, exacerbated if the next round of precipitation comes down as rain instead of snow.

Meanwhile, the vanguard of the perch migration is starting to show up at the usual early March spots. Caught nothing but 8-9 inch males over the weekend ahead of the latest arctic blast that showed up on Sunday. I plan on getting back after them tomorrow.  My favorite bait is the Custom Jigs & Spins Li’l Cecil in 3 specific color patterns, with a 1/16 ounce Northland buckshot rattle spoon/dropper chain w/ a couple of red spikes a close 2nd. So far the bite has been slow.  Small minnows on tip-downs might increase your bag by day’s end–But carrying/towing a minnow bucket and all the gear is a chore  through that deep and miserable snow.

Fishing action for the next 4 months–at least–will be driven by how fast the snow goes away.  For the past 2 years, snowmelt came quickly.  With the Miss draining 2/3 of the USA, River levels were high until August last year. The big concern is, we have even more snow this year.  More snow than we’ve seen in the tri-state area since maybe ’79. There has been profound siltation in backwaters from pool 11 south over the past 40 years, in the Corps of Engineers never ending quest to turn the Miss into a ship canal. Water volume is essentially the same as decades ago. But with siltation in the backwaters reaching the point where it is now, flooding is the new normal.

For the past couple of years, ambient temps by month’s end have been in the mid 50’s.  Should that happen again this year, fishing will literally be a wash well into summer. BUT forecast through mid-March has ambient temps 7-10 degrees cooler for daily highs. If this prediction comes true and continues until April, snowmelt should be slower and we’ll be able to fish longer between now and the historic walleye peak run time of April 15-22 before the River level becomes outrageous.

My first guide trips on the books this year are the last week in March.  Barring an obscene amount of rain in the meantime, fishing should be pretty good. I’m guessing it will be possible to launch at the power plant and head upstream in 7-10 days. You won’t see my Lund out there for at least 2 weeks. dodging ice floes is tolerable.  Taking out a pricey transducer–or worse–removes a great deal of the incentive for catching those walleyes/sauger/perch.

Being in the vanguard is sweet–on the River. Being first in line at the prop shop, not so much.

Another strange fishin’ year ahead?

Another strange fishin’ year ahead?

It’s been awhile since posting a blog.  If you’re looking for the skinny for a hot bite happenin’ now, better check elsewhere. Not that i’m not fishin’ and breathing are basic life functions.  It’s just that 2019 is showing ominous weather patterns reminiscent of topsy turvy 2018. Checking River level, and the website www.wundergound.com are two things done first thing every morning. Logging in the fishing diary I’ve kept for nearly 40 years is something that gets done after every trip. There haven’t been any entries in the diary since last Wednesday, as I was doing a seminar at the Rockford show on Walleye Patterns.  Posted on FB about Wednesday’s outing and the impact of both water color and the barometer on the crappie bite.

 

Crappie activity is about what you would expect for this time in February. The diary says the crappie bite picks up in both length of activity and fish aggression about Feb. 14. Longer daylight hours are a big part of this. Barometric pressure has even more impact, with ambient air temp a byproduct of barometric pressure hovering around 30.00 rather than spiking at almost 31.00. Part of that wunderground website contains a calendar noting actual temps, forecast temps and traditional temps a couple weeks down the road. The point where this chart morphs from forecast to traditional is worthy of note: the forecast is a solid 10 degree COLDER than traditional (22 instead of 32 for daily high) 22 is the average traditional high for LATE JANUARY.

 

Will longer daylight trump colder temps? Water temp under the ice doesn’t change until there is a little snowmelt. Snowmelt adds color, flavor, increased 02 and change in pH. We got a little kick of that when temps crawled out of the arctic vortex for a few days last week. looks like we’re headed for stable temps in the mid 20s for highs for the next 10 days, with a little snow which should trigger fish activity ahead of it. BUT if the barometric pressure stays high, it may have a deleterious impact on fish activity. We won’t know until late Feb. get here in a couple of weeks.

 

Last year we were back on the main River in boats the last week of Feb, and on the running sloughs by March 12–this is about 10 days ahead of the 10 year average. March weather came in April last year. We had 7 SNOWS in April! The River came up shortly after April Fool’s day and didn’t get down to normal pool until August.  The walleye run came in fits and spurts–mostly a MONTH EARLY in the ‘seasonal’ March weather. This is why we didn’t have much of a hot pre-spawn bite…and the fish were mostly done long before the typical April 20 spawn date.

 

I fear it may be late March before we can run where we want to go in boats.  But it is what it is. Breathing. Fishing. Both happen when the time is right without even thinking about it.  I promise another report within 48 hours when the Lund is back in the water and the E-Tech is purring like a kitten.

Might be something in the meantime on the ice fishing bite. But I don’t guide ice fishing anymore. Too much work. Just go fun fishin’ when the bite should be easy and not much work…or the Admiral hints she wants perch for supper.