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whackin’ walleyes with willocats

whackin’ walleyes with willocats

The mighty Miss is as low as it ever gets right now–620′ @ Genoa. Navigation beyond the main channel is beyond treacherous BUT this is a profound opportunity to locate structure which will eventually be covered with water again.

The last time the River got this low was back in ’06. Dozens of spots which paid off handsomely over the past 15 years are now visible again. Of course for the short haul the fish have moved on.

Besides being ultra-low, the River is also ultra-clear. I’ve actually gone to flouro leaders on some finesse rigs instead of straight braid.

Movement has been a major key to hooking up lately. Countless fish will follow a lure the entire length of a cast then ghost away at boatside–just like a muskie.

Hooking up now usually requires considerable animation of the lure–twitches, pops, hops, rips….dozens of fish hit right at boatside when you do a “figure L” –changing direction with 5′ of line out.

SMB are jumping all over Pop-Rs and Chug Bugs when the water is flat, provided there is shade or overcast. Clouds or a little breeze to deflect light penetration are part of hooking up consistently, too.

Lately I’ve been catching a pile of walleyes–many too big to keep–on live willocats, or soft plastic willocats and leeches doused with “da juice” from www.liquidwillowcat.com

Most of the time the basic egg sinker/barrel swivel/#1 octopus hook and tightlining the leading edge of a hole is an effective way to hook up–maybe with an ultra-slow drag back toward the boat.

But on the last several trips, many hook-ups happened when moving the bait or lure rapidly–pretty much at the ‘reel ‘er in, let’s try another spot’ speed.

When this happens once or twice, it isn’t a pattern, BUT a half-dozen times a day over several days and it becomes a senseless retrieve that makes sense.

The next issue of Big River magazine will be out in a couple weeks. One feature is about self-rescue when stuck out on the River. This ALMOST happens to me every day. So far I’ve only had to jump out of the boat once to push. This was semi-planned, as it was the only way to get over closing dam rocks without tearing up a motor.

Willocats cost about $2 each. Not cheap. But when chasing quality walleyes, they are a pretty much sure-thing lottery ticket…if you’re fishing where the fish are.

Care & feeding means keeping the willocats aeriated and in the dark. A couple days ago I bought 5 dozen. Two dozen died overnight after bringing them home cuz the battery on the aerator died. Watching Grant turn to ashes by burning a $50 bill would have been less painless.

I save/freeze the dead ones to barter with Eric Ingvalson for his Liquid Willowcat product, a.k.a “da juice”. Just sayin’….

Fishing Behind Bars

Fishing Behind Bars

River levels on Pool 9 have been dropping like a tungsten sinker for the past several days, a full .7 ‘ faster than the USACE flow chart predicted over just the past 24 hours.

Fish move quickly on a quick drop like that, pushing out of cloistered backwaters into running sloughs–which really are running–and beyond, out to areas just off the main channel.

There are 77 wingdams and closing dams on pool 9. A dozen–maybe 15–are fish magnets once River stage is below 623’ @ Genoa. Presentation is key in consistently hooking up when conditions are ‘just about perfect’ on one of these rocky structures. Most of these are on Lakemaster chips in good electronics—easy to find. But there is a world of difference between fishing a wingdam and CATCHING fish on a wingdam.

With only about 15 wingdam options at average summer pool on an average summer day there is a good chance at least one boat will be camped where you want to fish. When somebody is camped on a string of rocks, River courtesy dictates moving on. Unfortunately, some knobs just don’t get it–or don’t care. THIS is the primary reason my special Saturday guide rate is $1000/4 hrs.

Fortunately, there are quite a few juicy rock piles which aren’t on the charts, plus other options driven by low River levels–like the sharply breaking, trailing edges of sandbars.

Conditions beyond the channel now and going forward are similar to those found on the lower Wisconsin River. Anchoring up at a precise location on a current seam can result in crazy good action in less than 5 fow–with , 2′ of water just a rod length away.

Conventional wisdom says walleyes & SMB won’t be in < 5 fow at high noon on a sunny day–but they ARE if you know what to look for, how to navigate there safely–one how to fish once anchored up at the gateway to a true honey hole.

Yesterday clients boated about 15 ‘eyes under these nebulous conditions. We watched as folks from two boats had to get out and push trying to get there. Not fun! Especially if you don’t have the means and know-how to get free and on your way. There will be an article in the next issue of Big River magazine covering this topic.

The River is ALWAYS changing. Fish are ALWAYS adapting to that change. Running aground is inevitable–even when you’re out there almost every day.

But sometimes just two big steps from a keel-plant pickle a gold mine awaits. Stay safe out there!

Listen to the Old Man !

Listen to the Old Man !

I am perplexed by the number of EXCELLENT fishermen who hire me because they are frustrated in finding consistent success on the Mississippi. In just the past few days I’ve had absolutely stellar walleye guys and truly serious bass guys in the boat who have been humbled by the River.

The Old Man humbles me too–on a daily basis. It takes me AT LEAST an hour to figure out where the fish are lurking and what it takes to put bendage in a client’s rod–at least an hour, every single day.

It helps being on the water at least every other day. usually every day–except Saturday or a holiday weekend. Different species require wildly different tactics sometimes. I usually start by fishing the target species where & how i last found them, based on River level, conditions ( like rising/falling, turbidity) wind velocity/ direction, humidity…

None of these critical factors have anything to do with the boat, sophisticated electronics, tackle…

It’s all about the River! Most folks who struggle out there sally forth with a conqueror mindset. Truth is, you’ll NEVER come out ahead of the Old Man. The first hour–or two– is spent going full tilt Zen, trying to get in harmony with all the variables in the natural world.

Then it’s a pyramid thing, matching presentation/location to what the River is trying to tell you. This is when boat position & control have serious impact. Moving just a few feet can have profound impact, factoring in wind, current, mudlines…

Boat control and presentation need to be constantly reassessed. Yesterday’s walleye trip was a prime example. The client wondered why we spot locked over a sand bottom in just 3 fow. Why would walleyes be in such a spot on a partly cloudy summer day??

Short answer is–cuz the food is there. Looking deeper, all the other variables involved in plugging into the River is WHY the food is there. We caught quality fish all morning long. When clouds covered the sun, an oxbow Rat-l-Trap tore ’em up. When the sun beat down, an orange floating jighead/crawler on a seriously modified Lindy rig or hair jig bent those beautiful St. Croix rods.

Not just a hair jig–a hair jig in a specific weight/color combination AND a dose of Liquid Willocat. 10 perfect casts without it, nada. 10 casts with da juice = 2 hook ups.

Tomorrow is a bass trip, the next trip is walleyes on WINGDAMS. There are walleyes in the weeds, walleyes in current breaks with sand bottom, walleyes on the rocks.

Largemouth bass are just completing spawning right now. Smallies have already moved into summer pattern. Smallies will be easier to find cuz they’re more homebodies than wanderers (under these conditions) . Sight fishin for LMB on beds is tough…but there are couple little tricks which enhance odds for ticklin’ a big one.

LMB will be in summer pattern in a few days. When this transition takes place the largies will be travellin’ guys , following the food. They can move MILES overnite.

This is part of the reason it takes me at least an hour every single day. Bottom line: The Miss is perhaps the last true American democracy. The fish get to vote, too!

So there ya go. Will probably only get out a couple hours today. need to do some riggin’, tweakin’ and shuffle stuff around on the ‘honeydew’ list. The Old Man is near the top of the list–but my precious wife, “the Admiral” drives priority behavior every waking moment.

It’s a Biblical thing : Proverbs 32 . Not in every Good Book. But in mine, it reads “See Proverbs 31”. Think I’ll go harass some perch. tight lines.

Gills on the Beds

Gills on the Beds

Bluegills & Punkinseeds have moved to spawning beds in <3 fow within the past 36 hours. They will likely remain on the beds until arrival of the full moon on May 25.

Best spots are where you can actually sight-fish ’em (major clue here!)

Because there is so much filamentous algae on the bottom now a tiny float is key in presentation, pegging float 1′ above any little slow-falling jig. Black & kelly green were hot colors yesterday, with the Wolf Finkee jig by Custom Jigs & Spins super deadly.

Since water is so shallow and a float is part of the presentation, stay a long cast away from the beds to avoid stirring up the mud with the trolling motor. This is one instance where an actual anchor is a super means of boat control.

Start at the outside edge of the beds and work deeper to avoid dragging a fish on the line through the colony.

Bear in mind new bag limits are in place on the Miss-15 fish in Mn & Wi. Still 25 in Iowa. Outrageous!

gotta go. gotta guide

don’t be a deep thinker for May perch

don’t be a deep thinker for May perch

Unseasonably warm weather a couple weeks ago was enough to trigger submergent weed growth in fairly shallow dark-bottom bays and backwaters.

Even though water temp has only tickled 60 degrees so far this Spring, perch and gills have moved there for one simple reason: bugs

A major source of a ring perch’s diet is invertebrates. Perch love bugs–and bugs love weeds. Find ‘good’ weeds and you’ll find perch!

The best of all weeds for holding bugs that perch love is elodea–commonly called ‘coontail’.

Given the incredibly fertile water and increased clarity in pool 9 in recent years elodea is growing all over the place in the summertime, in some cases in water over 10 feet deep.

Our little burst of summer heat wasn’t enough to trigger weed growth in deep water–but desirable weeds are growing to the point of becoming emergent in < 4 fow in quiet sloughs on both sides of the River now.

The downside is, filamentous algae (aka ‘pond scum’) is flourishing too, making presentations tight to the bottom where perch like to prowl a perpetual ritual of pond scum removal from any hook dropped down there.

Two presentations have mitigated this situation for me: pegging a bobber to place a pinch of redworm 12″ off the bottom or a modified Lindy rig with a soft floating jighead on a 12-14″ leader behind a very small egg sinker keeping your hook in the strike zone and –pretty much–out of the weeds.

Crappies which were still suspended over deeper water just a week ago have begun transitioning toward the wood, with many now suspended down about 4′ over 10 fow

Pike are pretty much shallow everywhere, following their forage base. There are DEFINITELY a lot more little snot-rockets now than when the limit was 5 pike daily.

Managing any river system is difficult. Managing the Miss takes this difficulty to a whole nother level. I challenge biologists from ANY agency to show me the science behind the bag limit change on pike in pool 9.

Within 3 years I predict a steel leader will be part of any presentation if you don’t want to donate a lure to a toother. Walleye and panfish limit changes were smart and long overdue. But from a river rat perspective the new pike bag liimit is just plain dumb.

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!