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The Reality of the River

The Reality of the River

If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, just tell him what your plans are. Experience gleaned from a half-century working on the Immortal River teaches there will be at least a full month every year when going fishing with legitimate expectations for favorable results is a fool’s mission.

The second half of march and first half of April were generally tough–but fishable. The second half of April moved right into pretty much waste of time status–perpetual cold fronts and muddy waters.

Every morning the first cup of coffee is savored while perusing www.wunderground.com and the USACE River level and forecast. With Sunday morning comin’ down, it LOOKS like the River will stabilize at the level where USACE delineates between moderate and major flood. This observation is akin to being ” a little bit pregnant”.

As of yesterday essentially every boat ramp is inaccessible with a “dry foot” policy. Parking lots have several feet of water covering them. Those with a railroad trestle or road bridge require a Limbo maneuver to negotiate.

IF the River level stabilizes along the imaginary line between moderate and major flood by this time next week, fishin’ will be worthwhile by the 1st week in May. Accessibility will be a major issue. But a River Rat will find a way.

With water still flowing through the trees the only barriers to stop fish may be shoreline along railroad tracks or areas which are normally dry & solid ground.

Sometimes getting there requires snaking through flooded timber between trunks and under limbs to arrive at calmer waters. Visibillity in these places is generally greater than 18 inches. With dark bottom the water column here will warm quickly to above 55 degrees. something about that number pushes the “eat” button on species like bass and pike AND displaced walleyes.

My Lund Alaskan draw about 18″. The 14′ AlumaCraft Jon boat, about half that much. The jon is really too small to guide more than one person. Fine by me. Fishin’ between now and mid-May will almost certainly be an adventure…with quick potential for turning into a pickle.

Pickles aren’t a problem on fishin’ missions with just one “strap”. But i certainly wouldn’t put a client’s life in jeopardy–ever. Right now there are only a half-dozen trips on the books where clients will need to make an informed decision between now and opener of Wisconsin’s general fishing season. If you aren’t one of these folks there are a few open dates in both May and June when the hazard level on the River will likely be more “normal”.

After coming very close to the Big Adios over last winter I’m just thankful to still be vertical and able to fish. And tussling with a toother where wild flowers usually grow is a sure recipe for a grateful grin.

Changing by the Hour

Changing by the Hour

On Easter morning water temp in the river mainstem was hovering around 40 degrees. 72 hours later it jumped into the mid-50s. Most walleyes got ‘er done.

With Easter now 6 days behind us the marble-eyes are sliding back downstream a little higher in the water column. Males are like teenage boys after the prom. They wanna go for pizza and beer. Females just dropped a third of their body weight. They want an in-your-face presentation several feet off the bottom.

Snowmelt is causing the River to rise steadily. If you check the USACE flow chart at https;//water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=arx&gage=genw3 the rise is an incline plane at about a 45 degree upward angle, moving from “action stage” almost up to the ‘moderate flood” level.

These two factors–sharply rising River levels and water temperatures –are changing fish location literally by the hour, BUT one common denominator is a key to finding them: fish the lazy side of current seams in an increasingly angry River.

Once you find active fish they will likely be in a tight little pod. Come back after lunch and the pod has probably moved on. Talkin’ walleyes here. The AIM tourney is happening today on Pool 9, so I’m not keen on spilling the beans–even though the catch and release on site format is good.

I think most of the larger walleyes are spawned out. Yesterday I was fun fishin’ with my first mate , Mike Yauk. We had a spawned out ‘eye which weighed about 10 lbs.that hit a Rayburn Red MR-6 crank, casting and retrieving on the quiet side of a current seam. this bait tracks down about 8 feet. She was the 3rd spawned out female to be tussled with and freed since the year’s most important day for Christians..

Current seams and warmer water have been key in bass location over the past week as well, with presentation also a factor. Mike me were on a “fishin’ mission” to boat 50 gamefish yesterday. We accomplished this mission in 2 hrs., 46 mins–a catch rate of one gamefish every 3.26 minutes. About 90 % of this catch was quality bass. Most basshit B-Fish-N Pulse R’s in sassafras pattern on a 1/8 oz Draggin jighead or Z-Man Ned rigged TRD.

With the aforementioned conditions these fish have now moved on, looking for warmer water with visibility of at least 18″.. ..essentially upstream end of backwaters which load from downstream. If water is coming through flooded trees from upstream you won’t find any fish there.

It takes me at least an hour to figure out the fish every single day. during flood conditions finding fish can take twice that long. That’s fishin’ on perhaps the most challenging –sometimes rewarding–riverine system in the USA.

Mike just posted a hilarious video of me on social media, saying when i was born i tried to reel in my umbilical cord & Chuck Norris is my co-angler. Start believing you are master of the River and She will humble your quickly and severely. That’s why I love her so!

Stay safe out there! Watch for dunnage when running under power. Wear your PFD & kill switch. tight lines.

Showtime!

Showtime!

The FULL MOON is tomorrow night. The River is well into ‘action’ stage easing toward minor flood. Water temp has been between 39-42 in the River mainstem. It is now 44-45 in shallower, quieter waters. Ambient temps will warm into the 70s by next week. These factors combine to mean one thing regarding walleyes on the Upper Miss : SHOWTIME!!

If you’re looking for a dance with a fat girl, leave the minnow bucket at home and tie on a B-Fish-N Tackle pyrokeet jighead with a Pulse R, Moxie or Rib Fin plastic. Purple firecracker is a go to. In truly stained water maybe something with a little orange in it. Regardless, a couple drops of ‘da juice’ : Liquid Willowcat.

Target < 10 fow on the slack side of current seams especially where there is rocky rubble bottom. The fat girls are thinking about food. they’re thinking about dropping 1/3 of their body weight. The best presentation is slow, in-your-face swimming close to bottom with an occasional ‘pop’ to trigger fish.

The strike window is small. Gotta be in-your-face. Males are like teenage boys right now. They are focused on spawning too. But wanna go out for pizza & beer after a hot prom date.

Location>Presentation>Bait Profile>Color + TIME ON THE WATER = set the hook!

Early walleyes spawn?

Early walleyes spawn?

Water temperatures on River mainstem was a solid 40 degrees on 3/24. In some places over 41. In backwaters like hole-in-the-wall and trib entry points 44+ degrees.

With the full moon reigning the night sky on April 4 I think there is a 70% chance we’ll see walleye spawning by April fool’s Day. Of course, there is a lotta snow up north. If night time temps up there get down near freezing for the next couple weeks I think the ‘eyes are gonna go early.

Yesterday i found some nice perch on the River mainstem in 6-8 fow over a dark bottom next to 20+ fow. Water temp here was 41.8..

Since I have a pike trip early next week I went looking. Found them below wingdams. Aggressive on a 5″ K-Grub. Soon they will be transitioning into shallows to spawn. This might happen by tuesday’s trip.

yesterday all walleyes were caught pulling B-Fish-N Tackle rib fins in 14-17 fow or spot locking on current seams at this depth and pitching Northland Tackle 1/4 oz bucktails parallel to the seam & shallower.

Being on the Water 200 days annually for a half century–mostly on rivers–has taught me not to spend too much time trying to re-live yesterday’s bite. it takes me at least an hour to find the fish, every single day. This is ESPECIALLY true in the Spring.

Tomorrow I’m gonna try to catch a mess of redhorse for the smoker. they are really starting to move. Fair chance a brown trout might show up. On the river you never know what’s gonna stretch your string.

The bite is ON!

The bite is ON!

Water temps warmed to 39 degrees on 3/15. Walleye/sauger very active on hair jigs. Also caught fish pulling pulseRs & 3-ways with small cranks and pitching blades and PulseRs.

Active fish were in 21-22 fow but sometimes responded when pitching a little shallower.

The coming week will reveal a lot about timing of the spawn this year. I’m leaning toward April 5–2 wks earlier than the norm. But with the spawn on 4/1 in 2019, maybe earlier is the new norm.

I plan on being out there regardless. Guide business is now tkaing booking dates for 2023 season. Still have 5 open dates in march & 9 in April.

My latest book ‘Flames & Fins’ (An old river guide looks back upstream) should be available @ Capn Hooks, River n Ridge and City Meats by Saturday.

Got off the water @ 7:30 last night. It is now 06:35. Plan on launching in one hour. Gotta go. gotta guide. The grind begins!

The March March Begins!

The March March Begins!

Water temperatures on the pool 9 river mainstem have risen two solid degrees, up to 34, over the past 48 hours waking walleyes, saugers, perch & pike up and pushing them out of wintering holes.

Walleyes tend to ‘stair step’ in spring and fall, moving shallower in the Spring in preparation for spawning when water temps rise to 45-48 degrees. A week ago walleyes were in 29-32 fow with saugers slightly deeper. By march 5 these fish have already moved into 21-24 fow. A few more degrees they will be in 16-20 fow and crazy hungry. When they go up one more step and start cruising the <12 foot contour the spawning show is about to get underway.

Walleyes usually spawn at night, during the full moon period–especially if this lines up with the 45-48 degree magic temp. USUALLY the spawn occurs April 15-22 on pool 9. Two years ago they spawned around April 1, with many dropping their eggs back in grassy areas in the running sloughs instead of quiet waters off the River mainstem over rocky-rubble bottom.

This year the B-Fish-N Tackle B3 blade bait has been smokin’ hot for multiple species. This piece of metal was first introduced down on Pool 12, known as the Zonar–or maybe by Heddon lures called the Sonar, back about 1960.

Whatever you wanna call it, I’ve been using this chunk of metal since I used to chase ‘eyes below the Bellevue dam on pool 13 since 1965. Never ceases to amaze me. Why would a walleye slurp in a chunk of metal laying on the bottom when there is so much natural food in their enviroment?

Experience teaches you don’t wanna be pondering the possibilities when the B3 is in the fish zone. Sometimes fish have been slurping in the metal when the bait is just laying on the bottom. Sometimes they stop its progress after a quick rip as it flutters back down. This is a tough bite to detect unless you’re paying attention!

The nature of the bite will certainly change as waters continue to warm. A hair jig with a minnow is very popular on pool 9–purple for walleye, kelly green for sauger. Since Valentine’s Day I haven’t put “meat” on the hook yet…and boated–conservatively–200+ walleyes. Some on #Northland jigging spoons, some on plastic paddletails and a pile on blades.

Gonna kick off the guide service on March 15. This year i will be able to accommodate up to 6 anglers as I’ll be working closely with Mike Yauk of Fishin’ Mission guide service. Mike is on pro staff with #stcroixrod ,#B-Fish-N tackle and a couple other manufacturers.

My latest book “flames & fins ” (an old river guide looks back upstream) is now available on amazon &kindle. Lotsa stuff in there about the River and how to fish it.

As of today–March 6–access is still an issue on pool 9. Ice tends to block many access points. A couple days ago I needed help sliding my ‘stealth boat’ , a 14′ jon, across about 100′ of ice so i could put it on the trailer. Navigation is also an issue on the River mainstem. Keep your eyes open! Many tons of ice are leaving thousands of acres over quiet backwaters and running sloughs moving slowly downstream. Smacking into a six-inch thick chunk the size of a card table can put the pin in the party hog of an otherwise happy day. Don’t ask me how I know. Stay safe out there

guide Season opens March 15

guide Season opens March 15

I am now taking bookings for the 2023 guide season beginning on March 15. The river is already opening up. Put 150+ walleyes/ saugers in the boat so far ‘fun fishing’ . Ice will likely still be a factor until the end of March, but by mid-month it will be possible to navigate around the ice floes safely, so its time to go back to work.

Really not keen about guiding on the weekends, but will consider panfish and/or catfish trips from noon on friday to noon on Sunday. Other than this time frame, open for multi-species until late November.

Since 2001 I’ve been guiding almost exclusively on pool 9. My first paid trip on the River was back in 1965 down on pool 13. a lot of water has come down the River since then. In this time frame I’ve come to realize that the River is a democracy: the fish get a vote too. Sometimes they vote no.

I won’t promise you’ll catch fish. but i will promise to do my very best to keep you safe and you’ll complete the trip a better angler than when you got in the boat.

I guide for all species. If you wanna chase walleyes or bass or panfish, that’s what we’ll do BUT a lifetime of experience teaches the best times on the River are listening to what she tells you and fishing accordingly.

Lord willin’ I will guide two more years. guiding is hard work. After a half-century I’ve worked long enough. right now I’m at the top of my game. but years are taking their toll and I want to step out of the way before I’m part of the problem until part of the solution in teaching folks about the river and how to fish it safely.

As many of you know I was inducted into the national Freshwater fishing hall of fame as a legendary guide in 2020. don’t mean nothin’…other than I have nothing to prove to anybody.

Truly looking forward to sharing the boat with long-time clients–and sharing the River with some new ones. I am profoundly blessed to have spent my life doing what I love to do. Every single day on the River is a tremendous gift.

In 2023 i plan on fishing 6 days a week, just like I always have, but guiding maybe only three. If you wanna book a trip I urge you to reach out early and select a date. folks want to know the BEST day to go fishin’. My answer is, you can’t catch any fish with your line out of the water. The Mississippi River is truly a force of nature. Select a date and we’ll take on nature eyeball to eyeball.

If you don’t wanna fish with me, I’m good with that. Just please , PLEASE be careful out there!

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

Haven’t blogged in awhile cuz serious gut issues almost sent me to the Big Adios. Two weeks away from the River was an eternity. Finally back in the saddle with a 9″ perch bump board scar on my belly.

A lifetime of Fishing the Big River and KEEPING A DETAILED DIARY tells me ’23 is shaping up a lot like the first quarter of ’14 & ’04. In both those years we experienced a substantial January thaw with single digit & below zero temperatures kicking in and remaining until about Feb. 12. Even with days that ambient temps only got into the mid-20’s after that, ice fishing was generally steady and productive ’til ice out…and on days when temps got up into the 30s it was pure bucket-fishin’ joy!

Fishing open water below the dams has been good to the point of almost too easy for sauger, walleye & perch during this January thaw window. This will come to a screeching halt tonite as temperatures bottom out and the River starts making ice again.

Great news if you like ice fishing! Several super mid-pool spots have been tough to access due to spring holes and open water in little tribs. Extremely low water level at initial freeze-up made fishing spots like Hayshore a waste of time. The thaw made the deeper water at the southeast corner of this backwater almost impossible to anyone without a hovercraft or similar ice boat. Folks who were able to slide out there had a field day on quality perch.

But “ya shoulda been here last week” is worthless info. I think the cut between Millstone Landing and weed edges in Hayshore with >3 fow will lock up enough to allow lightfooting out to those jumbo ringers. Don’t look to me as the vanguard of this expedition. Days when i was among the first to fall through the ice in December and last to get wet late March are over–unless I fall off a plank extending out from shore.

Peak bite for the past month has been from first light until about 11 a.m. with another short feeding window from about 3-4 p.m. “Peak bite” is a relative term in mid-winter. Some days the action is slow early–then it slacks off.

BUT I’m thinkin’ that will change mid February. Open water running in under the ice from those tiny tribs is adding oxygen to backwater water columns. When arctic high pressure from the predicted two week cold spell backs off fish under the ice will become more active, for a longer period of time often suspending a little higher in the water column instead of hugging the bottom contour, to 2′ up.

Fish metabolism will still be slow until water temps warm into the 40s. The finny critters will eat when they feel like eating and respond to a striking presentation with the lightning-fast reflexes of a gutter wino reaching for a half-full bottle of T-Bird or Muscatel.

Every day on the Immortal River is a blessing. It is also a study in constant change. Keeping a diary won’t put fish on the ice or in the boat–but it certainly provides a jump-start in honing presentations that lead to rippin’ lips.

Hunkered down

Hunkered down

don’t look for an inciteful fishing tip on this blog. Obscene conditions make any outdoors activity beyond stupid for the next couple days BUT if forecasts are accurate ice fishing should be outstanding this time next week..

Following is a personal rant more about life than fishing. However, if you believe fishing is life, feel free to stick around while this old river rat rambles.

I haven’t been on the ice ONCE yet this season due to some serious health issues which put me in hospital AGAIN from Monday through Thursday. Mayo LaCrosse sent me home worse than I went in…with a pneumothorax and a broken of piece of wire still in my belly. The experience convinced me the Hippocratic oath (do no harm) has morphed into the Hippocritical oath as medical care works through the 21st century.

Paramedic training back in 1980 taught me to be objective & pragmatic in all things medical. Being a paramedic is mostly about patient assessment, then taking the appropriate measures focused on patient care.

Not so today!! Health care is all about flow charts, checking boxes and following one size fits all protocols mandated by the gov’t while looking at a computer screen instead of the patient…and gov’t mandates are dictated by Big Pharma. In a nutshell, this is the sad , sad truth.

Say an MD has 10 patients but only time to care for one. The guy with Cadillac health insurance and a hangnail gets the slot instead of the guy with a more serious–even life threatening problem.That’s a fact, Jack! It’s all about the bottom line. The Cadillac reimburses @ close to 100%. medicare–even with a good supplement–maybe 70%.

I’m not the guy with a hangnail. From a pragmatic and objective standpoint the wire surgeons left in my belly along with a shriveled up gall bladder shrink wrapped around several gall stones can be put on hold for another month because the mortality chart says there will be better results 6 mos. after being on a blood thinner than 4 months or 5 mos, 29 days.

Well, Skippy, the sun sets on lake Michigan about 13 minutes earlier than it does here on the Mississippi river. If you’re looking at the patient instead of a chart on the computer could there be greater benefit for the patient if a gall bladder was removed @ 5 mos. 29 days? how ’bout 5 mos 14 days?

In my recent hospital experience I can provide a half dozen flat out stupid, zero common sense decisions driven by check boxes rather than good patient care–beyond little things like sending me home with a broken off piece of wire in my belly and no way to vent the toxic stew which will come out of my gall bladder if it decides to wake up again.

Take note any malpractice attorney reading this blog! Also all you folks who have the epiphany that the widow Peck will likely have the mother of all garage sales if this course is maintained. Now hear this: I will seek out and haunt anybody who short changes the Admiral for a St. Croix rod or shotgun.

That said, if not belly up I plan on getting out on the ice next thursday. If this is part of God’s plan look for another blog shortly thereafter.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL!

Heading toward hardwater

Heading toward hardwater

With water temperatures hovering around 35 degrees a couple of calm nights with ambient temps in the 20’s will lock up many backwaters. Ice was blocking the new Albin ramp until a couple of days ago. Temps in the upper 40’s and a strong south wind blew the ice out of there.

We won’t REALLY see ice up til the tundra swans move out. They are still here in force.

Quality fish destined to be released into grease the past week or so have either been slack bellied or with partially digested 6″ shad in their gut. With water temps in the mid-30s walleyes aren’t eager to eat. but they are opportunists, A 6″ shiner fluttering in their face has been too much for a couple of them.

A striking presentation is another in-your-face technique which often results in a hook up. My go to baits this time of year are a HUGE Northland puppet minnow with a minnow head on the bottom treble and a Vibrations Tackle Teddy cat ith either a minnow head or entire minnow impaled on the back of the bait. One of those little rubber bands used to keep a hook in a senko keeps the bait on the Teddy Cat longer. Yesterday the active fish were holding in 22-27 fow. But that was yesterday.. Tomorrow is another day!