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Showtime!

Showtime!

I have been savoring the ‘ice out til snow melt arrival’ since last Monday, beating up a nice mixed bag of sauger/walleye pretty much every day. Some bigger ice sheets are coming downstream as the backwaters continue to shake off winter, with River rising quickly since yesterday.

Surface temp on the Pool 9 mainstem was a solid 40 degrees yesterday. Clarity is decreasing as we’ll be well into ‘action stage’ by this time next week. Temps in several backwaters yesterday were a solid 41–some places 42. In a couple sheltered, dark bottom areas that can be super at ice out it was 44!

Don’t look for temps to rise much with all the cold water coming down from northern pools–but fish are already beginning to stairstep shallower. A week ago walleyes were holding at 27-29 fow, sauger @ 29-31. Sunday before the River started coming up sharply walleyes were @ 21, sauger @ 25fow. They were a little tougher to find yesterday, as rising River level has to be factored in to the depth location.

Perch are starting to show up in good numbers by the dam–so i’ve been told–but i never come within a mile of there in the Spring. Don’t wanna play bumper boats. I plan on looking for river tigers in some of the more anonymous spots in a couple days.

Consistent success in the Spring on a sharply rising River requires being out there pretty much every day–trying to figure out where fish are headed and not where you found them just a few hours before. This can take awhile. you might run out of time some days before putting it all together. BUT once the rise slows and levels stabilize this process usually only takes a couple of hours.

The Miss isn’t like smaller inland Rivers where spawning time can be pinpointed in a 48 hr. window–like the Rock R. in south-central Wi. The spawn happens on the Rock on April 1-give or take 2 days. This pattern has held true with only a few exceptions for almost 30 yrs.

Walleyes USUALLY spawn here on pool 9 about 4/20–give or take 5 days. Last year they went on 4/3. In 2019 they went in fits and spurts…and the River stayed at flood stage pretty much until freeze up in late fall.

Water temp rise of almost 6 degrees in just 4 days over the past 10 days & finding water up to 44 in quiet areas of some running sloughs has me wonderin’ if this year will be like ’21–or not.

Pike spawn @ 45 degrees. Maybe I’ll look for toothers instead of perch later this week. First guide trip on the books is 4/1. In no big hurry to get back to work. Not real eager to work more than a couple days a week after that. Guiding is hard work most days. Harder once you’re “elderly” by definition. Sure, Lord willin’ I’ll still be on the water 5+ days each week. But many of these days I’ll be FISHIN’ not guiding.

With sales tax, income tax, refuge use tax, guide insurance, licenses & fees added to almost double prices on fuel, lures & gear–not even factoring in depreciation and ‘unexpected’ stuff failing or breaking, the cost/benefit analysis says the money doesn’t even come close to covering the price of this lifestyle.

But, I still feel driven to help folks become better anglers so plan on blogging and FUN FISHIN’ more regularly in 2022. Gotta go tie up some purple bucktail FLIES for pulling with plastics in 3-way rigs. killer presentation when looking for fish as they begin to stairstep shallower. tight lines

State of the ice

State of the ice

Just got off the ice @ Visager’s. Was able to kick ice out of maybe 20 holes tapped yesterday. Caught a few SMALL gills, a 9″ crappie and an 8″ perch last nite with similar results this morning, fishing in 3 fow with a tiny Northland tungsten jig. Shore ice was still good this morning with 7-10″ of good ice. Shore ice is starting to erode @ south end of DeSoto Bay. Pretty much surface ice. When you break through there is only about 4″ of water before boot bottoms out on walkable ice as of yesterday morning. Suspect this will change drastically over next 48-72 hrs.

Main channel of pool 9 is pretty much open from south of Lansing up to lock & dam 8, although access is still questionable from day to day. Lots of dunnage & general crap working its way downriver now around Stoddard.

I plan on getting out fun fishin’ in the boat tomorrow. Will not start guiding until the 25th.

One good thing about a lot of time on the water over the past 50 yrs. is knowing pretty much where the wintering holes are. I won’t put transducers back on the boats until ice is less of a hazard. Most of the catchable biomass is within a foot of the bottom right now. No need for thumb sucking, looking at the sonar just to lose the signal cuz the boat hit some ice–the River is dangerous enough when keeping your eyes on the water.

Channel opening Up

Channel opening Up

Pool 9 main channel from below Lansing up to lock & dam 8 is ALMOST open today. Many ice jams still between the wide open spots. With temps below freezing until after this weekend access will be dicey until St. Paddy’s Day…and challenging after that!

It’s smart to head UPSTREAM when ice is still a factor in the event some massive floes are pushing down. Also smart to have a plan B exfil point UPSTREAM in case your launching point gets blocked with ice.

Removing the sonar transducer is a good idea until ice is less of a factor. Probably won’t put transducers back on the boats until April Fool’s Day. Don’t need ’em at ice out anyway. Walleyes/ saugers are in wintering holes. Walleyes holding 29/32, saugers a little deeper (maybe a lot deeper!) Pulling saugers out of water much deeper than 35′ will kill them as air bladders rupture. Better stewardship of the resource if you just fish shallower than 30’…bigger fish, too!

Early on I drag a lot of hair jigs & plastics. Seldom use minnows. Also fish echotail blades, especially the Teddy Cat. Once ice is a lesser nuisance pulling 3-ways can be very effective.

With ice sticking around longer this year than last, i anticipate peak spawn will be mid-April, the traditional time. Last Spring the walleyes were spawning April 1, with water temp 48+ in several backwaters where they often drop eggs when spring comes early.

Filled the Lund up with boat gas today. She was just over half-full. Pump shut off at EXACTLY $100. LETS GO BRANDON! The idiots who are currently running this country dumped Russian ‘blood oil’. Talking about buying from Venezuela or IRAN. Great way to cut to the chase and jump into Armageddon–in which case both slot & bag limits will be waived in my boat.

The only guys out ice fishing in a traditional march spot this afternoon were jerry Boardman & me. Jerry got off the ice about 3:45. Bottom 6′ of the Vex LIT UP. Put 8 butterflied fish in the smoker @ 5 pm. Gonna eat good tonite!

Open for Business March 20

Open for Business March 20

My new Yamaha is ready to push the Lund up River soon as the ice goes out. I need to run it slow for a couple of hours to break my new baby in. As of today pools 10 & 9 are still essentially locked up with ice, although some black ice is starting to show up. Long term forecast calls for highs in the mid-20s weekend of the 12th so open water options will be limited until probably the 15th.

Ice floes will make navigation truly dicey until probably the last week in the month given the way March is beginning to shake out. Traditionally, walleye spawn peaks about April 15-20 most years. 2021 was an outlier–females got serious about precreation around April Fool’s Day and SMB were on a crazy feeding rip less than 10 days later.

This year I expect more traditional progression, But the River herself will tell us what to expect when the time comes. The Miss is the epitome of a ‘dynamic’ ecosystem!

I’ll try to blog on at least a weekly basis once things start to open up. Right now in the process of getting all 3 boats rigged and ready. Good chance this will be my last year for guiding. True, it has been pretty much a dream job for the past 45+ yrs. Guiding is hard work for a young guy…and damned hard work for an old one. I fished 207 days last year, have been out 35 times so far in 2022–all but 7 of ’em in Alabama & Florida. 200 days on the water has been pretty much the average every year for the last 50 years, but I can’t see fishin’ that much going forward.

Seriously crunched the number on fixed expenses of the guide business last week. Based on 100 trips per year, it costs $105 every time I launch the boat–figuring nothing significant breaks.

With gas already up over 40% from last year–with no end in price increase in sight–I’ve had to bump the base rate to $275, holding the line at $50 per hour after that. The average crankbait has also doubled in price. The River and toothy critters will usually eat a couple every trip, But losing any more than that seriously diminishes an already skinny bottom line. Fortunately, most of my clients have been truly generous with tips. This validation for doing my best to put fish in the boat but MORE IMPORTANT helping a client become a better fisher is pretty much the only reason I’ve been able to hang in there for so long.

Guided sportfishing is under the hospitality industry tent. The boat is no place for a whining guide. My job is providing the client with the best possible fishing experience. This effort and my promise that you’ll end a day on the water with more knowledge than when we started are my only focus.

But this is MY blog. You don’t have to read it. Just know that in this space the first Amendment is sacred an unbridled. Enough rambling. gotta get ready to catch some perch tomorrow morning. tight lines.

Winter perchin’

Winter perchin’

Haven’t blogged since last year. have only been fishing 5 days this year. Won’t get out again until this afternoon. It’s a real long walk to where I’m fishing. Yesterday I saw 2 sets of fresh tracks out to within a couple hundred yards from where i’ve been catching perch, so its just a matter of time before the rest of the world shows up. ‘Nuf said about that!

What I WILL share is some winter River perch fishin’ philosophy. Maybe only worth what it costs you to follow this blog.

The most crucial thing is finding the perch. Once located they don’t move much–and if they do move, they’ll likely be back if you wait awhile. Hard mud bottom with remaining green weeds is a good place to start looking. Yesterday I found fish in 7.7 fow–NOT a few yards away in 6 or 9 fow. The bite was slow until 1:45 p.m. Caught a nice mess or decent fish until about 2:20, then it got slow again. Just 2 fish in the next hour so i went home.

I think once you find winter perch over an area of several acres and catch a couple there is little value in moving several hundred yards looking for ‘active’ fish. maybe you’ll catch a couple more 300 yds. away. Maybe because they just decided to bite again.

When perchin’ I take six rigged rods with baits i have confidence in. Sometimes I set a tip-down…usually after Feb. 12. More on that in a sec.

Baits are in both horizontal and vertical presentation. Vertical: L’il Cecil, Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon, Custom Jigs & spins Candy Stripe jig. Horizontal: Northland Puppet Minnow, Mini Mert, Rat Finkee. Fish will pull the knot of the last two so the lure won’t fish horizontal. Got to check this orientation every time the lure goes down the hole.

Won’t go into colors, lure size and stuff like that–but know these factors can be very important!

Once perch are located I’ll start trying baits to see which ones they respond to the most, then tweak the presentation from there. Yesterday they wanted a certain color l’il Cecil and a certain configuration and color plastic on a certain color Mert in a ‘plop &hover’ presentation, hovering about 1′ off the bottom.

it took over 2 hrs. with just a half dozen fish on the ice before figuring things out, then maybe 1 perch every 15 minutes until they finally decided to eat.

This is the typical mid-January pattern on the River. The fishing diary I’ve kept since 1976 says the bite usually changes pretty close to Feb. 12 most years, remaining constant until ice-out.

I think a lot of this is due to a rising River cuz of snowmelt. More oxygen? More color in the water? yeah maybe. Don’t know. This is a good time to set 2 tip-downs and jig with a 3rd line (where legal)

This marvelous time is 4 wks. away. Probably won’t blog again ’til then. Maybe even longer than that. Likely too busy catching perch. I no longer guide ice fishing, cuz this mid-winter period can be slow. Finally got fed up with clueless folks mad at me cuz fish wouldn’t bite even though they could see ’em on the Vex. Can’t wrap their heads around the concept that fish get a vote too!

Lord willin’ I’ll start guiding again 3/15 and start blogging more at that time. meanwhile, If you want the GPS coordinates to the winter River Tiger concentration camp they can be yours for the same price as my 6 hour holiday weekend guide rate: $10,000. BUT unlike open water rate, you have to poke your own holes…and no cheese sandwich will be provided.

Ice/no ice/ice?

Ice/no ice/ice?

Bucketeers were on the ice at Visager’s and Green Lake this morning. Nobody on shore Slough or DeSoto Bay. Dam tailwaters @ Genoa open–of course–but access by boat elsewhere is somewhere between tough and impossible on pool 9 today.

Forecast calls for high of 65 on Thursday after heavy rain on Wednesday. These factors MIGHT blow some ice out and allow access–but there will still be ice coming from upstream. You don’t want to launch at a spot you can’t get back upstream to.

Not much can be done about ice conditions on the River BUT the fridge is a whole nother story. Ice maker has been down for a couple days. 10 minutes work with a pipe cutter and Shark Bite coupler & back in business. Ice is KEY to some of my more colorful blogs. With fishermen there is a caveat to “in vino veritas”. We still strive to tell the truth as we see it. At least i do. Since I can’t launch the boat or safely hoof it out on hard water, getting the icemaker fixed may keep the day from being a total bummer

Miami

Miami

Jerry’s Sports Service hung my new Yammie 90 the other day. She is beautiful. There are 3 veteran guides on pool 9. All of us run Yamaha. When you work water where all mistakes must be paid for immediately–sometimes in full–a dependable motor is critical.

Today fishin’ will be limited to maybe an hour allowing the start-and-store in the fuel tank to lay up til early March with the Yammie running at idle the whole time, ticking away at the 2 hr. break-in period.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been fishin’ out of my ‘stealth’ boat–a 14′ jon (also yammie powered). Put a couple 27+ walleyes in the boat in this time frame, maybe a dozen non-slot fish…and a pile of shorts and saugers.

Water temp has actually warmed over the past week, up to 37.5 yesterday. Fish have been holding in 21-24 fow. Pulling 3-ways with 5″ sassy shads @1.2-1.4 mph has produced most of the bigger fish, although a couple came on Northland perch pattern Buckshot rattle spoons, kelly green hair jigs and cotton candy Pulse-Rs on B-Fish-N tackle pyrokeet jigheads.

There is an absolute PILE of fish in the wintering holes where I’ve been chasing ’em lately. Many of which are probably sheep. Have thought about taking a screen shot, but a fish usually shows up and the urge passes.

More ‘seasonal’ weather is in the forecast. As of right now the river mainstem and running sloughs are pretty much open. Tundra swans are still in the area. When they leave both the other boats will be maringally winterized ( the baby boat has a 2.5 Yammie).

We usually have about a week of ‘warm’ weather in late Jan. when access to tailwaters is possible. At this time I won’t fish deeper than 30 fow–even though saugers typically hold twice that deep. Realeasing small saugers from this deep in cold water just ruptures their air bladders and kills ’em

Hate to see the gov’t step in and MANDATE a closed season in the tailwaters when you catch a fish you truly hold the future of the fishery in your hands. If this fish was ripped out of 60 fow you just killed the future.

This will probably be the last blog til hardwater time. I’m thinkin’ maybe about the 15th–just 10 fishing days before Christmas.

F>L>P = more cold water ‘eyes

F>L>P = more cold water ‘eyes

Water temp on the Big River this afternoon was 33.5. Fish are cold blooded. With water this cold, they don’t have to eat. The first step in putting fish in the boat is FIND THE FISH.

With water temp pretty close to freezing they don’t move that much. Walleyes are in winter pattern. I keep 4 rods rigged & ready for cold water ‘eyes: Hair jig, Pulse R, Jigging spoon & 3-way

Once I found the fish today only shorts and sauger ate the hair and spoon. Switching to 3-ways produced an immediate hook up with a 23″. Too big to keep.

Tweaked the presentation just a little and fish responded nicely. Hot bait today was 4″ sassy shad on both droppers. Old school all the way, backtrolling @ 1.2 mph in 21-24 fow.

It’s all about the ol’ In-Fisherman formula… Fish, location, PRESENTATION. kept one unlucky 19.7″ for the pan. 2 fish 2 big for the slot released, also 2 legals and 3 shorts

Find the fish and you can catch ’em. It’s all about presentation! Walleyes for supper again tonite!

River Level @ sweet spot

River Level @ sweet spot

River level at Genoa on Pool 9 is now at about 623.4–real close to perfect as we head into the hardwater period.

Weeds are still a factor, but you can get away from them. Water temp is now hovering in the low 40’s. Walleyes, sauger & perch all active at a level you would expect. All are sliding into wintering holes.

Walleyes have been holding @ 21-23′, sauger a little deeper. Perch moving to wintering areas back in the sloughs, also near quiet rocky/rubble humps in 13-16 fow just off the main channel.

When you can get away from weeds, dragging 3-ways tends to produce more quality fish than vertical jigging or pitching/dragging. Gotta admit i really like the Northland rippin shad in fire tiger or purple/white for snap-jigging ‘eyes.

When vertical jigging sauger are more susceptible to a completely different jigging action than walleyes. Regardless, I use 10 lb hi-vis Sufix when vertical jigging and mono when pitching dragging or pulling.

I’m now running Star Brite (1 oz-3 gal) and letting the motor hang vertical for a couple minutes before trailering. hard to say when the last day of the open water season will be.

Walleye time!

Walleye time!

There is a new video up on you tube–Fishing roots>Legends of Fall/bass. Sorry, I don’t know how to add a link so you can click on it BUT it might be worth checking out if you wanna learn more about fishing the Miss.

Legendary guide Ronnie Barefield & me put about 50 bass in the boat with camera running–no jump cuts. Rotten Ronnie & me have been best of pals for over 40 yrs. Age shows. We’re like a couple ol’ haggard hawks, revealing tips & secrets about fall bassin’ on the Miss while rippin’ many lips.

If i knew how to post a link, you wouldn’t have needed to read the previous. THAT said…water temp has dropped to 43-44 degrees since we filmed that show on Oct. 28. Bass have pretty much gone dormant. WALLEYES are quite active–already ‘stair stepping’ into deeper water on their way to wintering holes.
Yesterday they were holding in 17 fow. Warming trend this weekend might push them just a tad shallower where pitching/dragging B-Fish-N tackle Pulse R’s is a great way to get ’em.

Pulling cranks on 3-ways @ 1.6 mph is also killer this time of year…if you can get away from the grass!

A couple days ago I went back through the north cut into Ronkowski (hole in the Wall) Looking for crappies. Entire cut coming in from the upstream end was blocked with AT LEAST AND ACRE of eelgrass. Have never seen it this bad there since i started guiding pool 9 over 20 yrs. ago.

Fried up a 21″ sauger last nite using Mary Christoffer (the Fishing machine) recipe: equal parts Bisquik & corn starch, 1T. vanilla, salt/pepper–stale beer & a FORK.

Just mix the batter to the consistency where it clings to the back of the fork but not between the tines. There were just 2 pieces left. Fish for breakfast!