BOHICA on the Big River

BOHICA on the Big River

USACE just published River projections through 10/13. Gonna rise 1.5′ over next several days, tickling flood stage at 629. Still headed up on 10/23 farthest projections go out. At 629 essentially water is coming through the trees all over. Nearly impossible to find 2′ visibility, which is key.

In 2018, my last trip was 11/2. Cancelled today’s trip with a good chance the 8 trips on the books won’t happen either. Those folks with 2019 gift certificates will get first shot at re-booking. IF we’re able to get back on the River before freeze up the target will be mostly walleyes, perch & crappies.

Will probably be at least a couple weeks before a new blog gets posted. Know up front it may sound like a high-pitched whine. Just got back from fishing the Delta @ Venice, about 100 miles south of Nawlins. They have been at flood down there for 211 days this year SO FAR.

Truly a BOHICA year on the Big River (Bend Over Here It Comes Again)

Deciphering Fish in the ‘new normal’

Deciphering Fish in the ‘new normal’

After 6 weeks of ‘low summer pool’ water which began on august 2, pool 9 has returned to ‘new normal’ levels–a couple of feet above ‘action stage’.

Action stage is when access becomes difficult at most boat ramps on the pool–about five feet below ‘minor flood’ stage when water is coming through the trees taking away many fishin’ spots which load from downstream. Translation: tough fishing.

For the past week or so the River has been running at about 627. There is still definition on most of the islands and backwaters, providing edges where predators can push prey and we can tempt ’em with a hook.

Frequent rains of seasonal change muddy some of these areas for a day or two–but it is still possible to find water with 2′ visibility–a major key to hooking up.

A couple days after a rain areas near any trib entry point provide a likely place for fish to locate–especially away from current that is carrying sandgrass downstream.

If you know fish are in the area, but sandgrass is a problem, switch to a low profile, single hook presentation like a jig and add a small split shot or barrel swivel a couple feet up the line to intercept weeds. Catching fish means getting your hook down through the floating stuff where it can remain a viable presentation for most of your cast. Picking up weeds on the hook at the end of the cast may be inevitable, but you’re still in the game.

The only option is to move across the River, out of the current, essentially to a point where you can throw a bait without feeling compelled to curse on every cast.

Stable river levels have allowed the main channel and many backwaters to clear. Water temps are in the mid-60s. Action for all species is good, once you find a place where fish are holding and get down through the weeds.

Yesterday I had a half-day trip with a couple Illinois anglers who were staying on an S & S houseboat rental–an annual family tradition for decades. The patriarch announced fishin’ was a waste of time, citing just a half-dozen bluegills in three days.

It was my first day on Pool 9 in over a week. Just returned from fishing bull reds and offshore in Venice, La. Being away from the River this long and predictions of a ‘seasoned veteran’ will put a knot in any guide’s gut…but when the River is stable with mid-60s temps, you can usually find a few.

The old guys remaining on the houseboat snorted when advised to grease up the skillet. 10 minutes later my guys texted them pix of a 34″ pike which garwoofled a chatterbait. A few minutes after that, pix of a double on LMB, then pix of WB, then 3 lbs. of SMB the hard way: 2 fish fighting over the same oxbow @Rat-L-Trap!

They ended up catching about 35 good fish. Just one legal ‘eye. But plenty for a couple good frys with pike & WB.

Tomorrow is another day, with meaty urologists calling for more rain. they are overpaid for being wrong so often. Fishing for LMB & SMB will remain good through mid-Oct…or until water temps drop to about 55. Then walleyes, pike, crappies and perch will be primary targets for awhile.

Perch on the Move

Perch on the Move

There is no doubt yellow perch are the most unpredictable species of all fish often sought by fishermen. Their behavior is literally a case of ‘here today, gone in an hour’.

Of course, perch schools tend to search for food making lazy circles near the bottom. Chances are, once you catch a couple they may be back around in 20 minutes or so.

Perch in the Miss also have seasonal pattern changes, migrating to deeper green weeds–most commonly elodea–when October rolls around.

Heavy siltation in pool 9 backwaters which is now forever in place after extended flooding in 2019 has made ‘deeper weeds’ in the backwaters a relative thing. A couple years ago they used to stage in about 8′. This year its more like 6′–and finding water even this deep takes considerable looking.

Over the past few days I’ve landed on a couple pods of heavy jumbos which have been holding in the same general areas they are typically found several weeks later in the year.

The fact that they have been cruising in these same areas for several days now makes me thing they MAY be in seasonal transition.

My perch search in autumn is straight forward–dip Teddy Skunk Perchanators between elodea fronds until striking gold, then go after bigger fish with #northland 1/8 oz. buckshot rattle spoon.

The Perchanator is more effective if you raise the bait a couple feet then let it free fall every couple minutes or so.

A couple days ago I landed on a pod of perch which were 11.5-14.5″. Kept just THREE to feed the Admiral and me. Went back yesterday and they were still there! Houston, we have a pattern!

Froggin’ Around

Froggin’ Around

The river has been running so high for so long that the summer pool level pool 9 is at now seems a little unusual. There are many truly significant changes beyond the channel, with sandbars and mud flats where we’ve never seen them before–or far larger and shallower than they used to be at normal summer pool.

90+ days of flood stage this year has created ideal conditions for aquatic plant growth. Many backwaters which have been semi-navigable at summer pool are essentially floating salads of dubious dept–great if you like froggin’ for bass.

Crappies are just beginning to transition from weeds to wood. Still catching fish in the lily pads and sandgrass edges in as little as 2 f.o.w. –but they are also starting to suspend several feet down tight to deepwater wood.

Bluegills are all over the place–and no place. Once you find ’em it takes awhile to frog around a driftpile or weededge to find the spot-on-the-spot where you’ll find bite a minute action.

Perch are hanging in 18″-7 f.o.w., tucked in the elodea (coontail), also relating to clam beds. I like to use my new St. Croix 9′ panfish rod to drop a Teddy Skunk Perchantor in openings in the elodea, and a seven-footer with a little Northland jigging spoon over the clam beds. The clam bed bite is classic perchin’ –they come and go. Stick around for an hour and they’ll be back to feed again.

The walleye bite has ben mostly around main channel rocks and a few select areas in the deeper running sloughs. Trolling is still possible, but weeds are starting to become an issue. Water temp is still in the low 70’s, but it won’t take long to drop below 60 when all the sandgrass in all the backwaters upstream will turn things into a linear floating hayfield as the more-abundant-than-ever weeds start to die

With low water, time of day is now a factor in finding active walleyes. Favorite weapons are still the Bill Lewis MR-6 in threadfin shad pattern and Rat-L-Trap in oxbow–especially during lower light periods over the rocks or coming off of sandbars into deeper water.

Haven’t blogged in awhile cuz I’ve been on the river pretty much every day, often all day, for a solid month now. have the day off. think I’ll go fishin’

Fishing is Hotter than August

Fishing is Hotter than August

Pool 9 finally came down out of ‘action stage’ with the New Albin boat ramp opening up on Aug.2. Fishing for almost all species has been about as good as it gets ever since the last week of July and should be stupid easy for the forseeable future.

The longest I’ve been able to stay off the River since the end of July is about 36 hrs. don’t like being out there from about noon Friday til 3 pm Sunday unless its after panfish or channel cat which allow you to get away from high speed humanity.

haven’t been fishin’ for nearly 8 hrs as this blog gets written shortly before 2 a.m. because of cleaning and eating walleyes and sleep.

No time to get philosophical in this blog. A couple more hours sack time would be nice before putting the Lund in the water again–so here goes;

ctching quite a few legal eyes throwing that new Bill Lewis MR-6 in chart. blaze, blue chart and my new fave of faves–threadfin shad. Fish are heavy on the rocks right now, changing location more by time of day than river level. They are always following the food. Spending lots of time from middle to end of wingdams and humps on closing dams. Catching 2 nice ones for supper last nite took exactly 10 casts and 10 minutes. Weeds aren’t much of a problem yet. Time of day=shade. Often a factor.

SMB are also stupid easy on rocks, particularly at sharp current breaks. Pop-Rs in calm wind then there is shade, oxbow Traps, wacky-rigged Chompers salty sinkers or flukes otherwise.

Tremendous frog bite going on for LMB. Weeds are at max growth in the backwaters.Frogs are the best way to get at ’em.

Crappies have pretty much moved away from the deep weed edge bite and are already sneaking toward the wood. Small flukes are offering some surprising results on slabbers when probing wood looking for other stuff. northland Tackle makes a new one which is smaller than Zoomor Yum–and deadly.

Pike are pretty much suicidal back in submergent weeds where you can work a buzzbait now. Pulsing the retrieve rather than a steady retrieve triggers a lot more fish.

Bluegills have been hot flipping a Bimbo Skunk with a tiny piece of redworm. Most I’ve been catching lately have moved out of the sandgrass and are now tight to wood. Perch are congregated in elodea (coontail) in 2-7 f.o.w Catching them mostly by dipping the perchanator between the tails until active fish are located or jigging a little Buckshot spoon. both baits tipped with a tiny piece of redworm or Gulp maggot.

Channel cat have been most active in running sloughs with a hard bottom, fishing above driftpiles in 5-12 fow with sonny’s dipbait, tweaked with a handful of Shad flies.

There are 2 ‘secret sauces’ I use almost every day: Liquid Willowcat on plastics and 1/2 crawler and 1/8 oz jig for ‘eyes and SMB…and 15 drops of CBD oil on the tongue every morning. Was supposed to have total shoulder replacement. Too busy fishin’. Steroid shot in the shoulder only helped for about 6 wks. Started with the CBD back in March. Now making 500 casts a day without pain. Worth a shot, guys. Nap time again. Back to the grind at first light.

BTW: use EXTREME caution when navigating beyond the channel. River level has dropped like a stone over the past 2 wks. and there are nasty flats, sandbars and growler wood just under the surface in spots they haven’t been before–at least not this year.

Snap-burning cranks for summer ‘eyes & smallies

Snap-burning cranks for summer ‘eyes & smallies

The only thing which has kept me going with perpetual high water since ice out mid-March was knowing that when River levels finally dropped below the ‘action’ stage @ lock & dam 8, fihsin’ would be off the charts.

That day has arrived! Gravel is starting to poke through the mud at the New Albin boat ramp. Access should be possible here by Sunday afternoon–Monday morning at the latest.

When ‘fun fishin’ instead of guiding I like to catch 20 fish then go home. The past 2 days this mission has been accomplished in just 90 mins. each day, throwing an oxbow pattern Rat-L-Trap.

Wingdam action is just cranking up, But its real hard to justify heading toward the rocks to chase ‘eyes when magnum white bass and quality smallies smack your bait every 4 minutes until your arms get tired.

I’ll be fishing rocks for wallies throwing a Bill Lewis MR-6 after the weekend, anticipating almost sure thing success. A major key to consistent success on warm water walleyes–and bass– relating to rocks in the Upper Miss is a technique I call ‘snap burning..

Water temps and fish metabolism are both high right now. It’s virtually impossible to retrieve a crankbait faster than walleyes, smallies or white bass can swim. Fan casting an area with the quickest burning retrieve your reel can muster catches fish–speeding the lure up with quick snaps of the rod tip catches even more fish!

In the typically stained water of the Miss gamefish will frequently follow a lure back to the boat and turn away at the last instant.

Doing a variation of the Esox angler’s ‘figure8’–a ‘figure L’ with a 90 degree change in lure direction about six feet from the boat with a final quick snap of the rod tip often turns those myopic lurking cruisers into would be destroyers just before the lure is lifted out of the water.

I use 20 lb. ‘Moon shine’ PowerPro braid to absorb the shock when those cruisers try to become destroyers–anything less and you might mistakenly call the fish a frigate as it swims away with your bait

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