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State of the Bite

State of the Bite

yesterday client Mark put his PB walleye in my boat. 29.25″ very FAT. Fish hid a glow B-3 blade bait in 21 fow. Her belly was firm. Water temp 42.2 degrees. She was the 6th walleye over 24″ on consecutive trips over the past 9 days. Three of these fish were “keepers’–over 27”. All were released. Allcame from 29-21 fow, successively shallower in this time frame.

Primary target on yesterday’s trip was pike. Clients hooked 5 in just over an hour after first going after walleyes. Fish hit a Northland Tackle magnum spinnerbait, A Z-man chatterbait w/6″ SwimmerZ paddle tail and an RT97 magnum Rat-L-Trap. A few years ago Bill Lewis Lures renamed this lure to RT–97 (Red Head Uncle Ted) quite an honor!

Pike had just moved into a shallow, weedy, dark bottom bay where they will spawn over the next several days. Water temp here yesterday was 44. Forty-five is go-time.

In the process of prospecting for walleyes ‘stairstepping’ shallower the clients caught several SMB up to 19″ on blades and BFishN PulseRs w/ Liquid Willowcat.

The perch bite is CRAZY right now!! Hundreds of egg laden females have been taken up by the dam, on jigging spoons & basic pinch of crawler/split shot rigs. Fish are now in <15 fow.

All conditions indicate walleye spawn will occur around the full moon on 3/25. This is extremely early. Historically, they go 4/15.

TV production–a blade bait shoot with Midwest Outdoors has my schedule locked up the last week in March (don’t worry Trey your 3/25 trip is set in stone).

Once the TV crew gets their ducks lines up there MAY be a couple of days where i would be willing to guide. Regardless, I’ll likely be fishin’. Next open date is 4/3. The SMB should just be going nuts by then!

A tale of three fishermen

A tale of three fishermen

First, a short fishin’ report: Water temp on pool 9 has broken the 40 degree mark. 42 is ‘go time’ for crazy pre-spawn walleye action. Quiet winds and a little sun and the bite will go from steady to easy.

Yesterday was open water fishin’ trip #36 for the year. Trips on Saturday & Sunday provided rare insight into the grand scheme of things. Saturday i guided 19-year-old Trey Kegebein. He was 16 the first time he jumped in my boat. Something special about that kid. Trey has a fire in his belly for fishin’: skill set, focus, determination and eyes wide open quest for knowledge.

Saturday we stayed out long beyond what he paid for–with his own hard-earned money. Trey took home a couple of truly fat pike, reporting back with belly contents :lotsa juvenile sheepshead & lotsa eggs. This reveals at least two things going forward. The pike haven’t spawned, little sheep are a major forage.

This pyramids out to deeper knowledge: find sheep and gamefish won’t be far away and baits in chrome black/blue should trigger a bite.

All the fish Trey caught came on a #BFishN tackle B3 blade bait with a7’3’MLF Avid #StCroixrod, Seviin reel spooled with 15 lb. hi-vis Sufix line & tow more subtle but critical accessories : 16-22″ of 17 lb. floro leader & a #4 snap.

My very first ‘trophy” walleye –28″–came on a Heddon Sonar blade back in 1965 on Pool 13 below the Bellevue dam. I was fishin’ out of a 16′ jon boat powered by a 10 hp Johnson. There were essentially no trolling motors of livewells back in. The Sonar was the template for the B-3 blade. Better paint, eyes, and spectacular colors made a great lure legendary.

Catch & release was an unknown concept back then. My marble-eyed 8 pounder was a trophy to me at the time. I could hardly wait to show it to my Dad. meanwhile, it was dragging behind the boat on a cord stringer with a couple other fish. My buddy and i were working the face of a wingdam. When it was time to move i told Jeffy to pull in the stringer.

He did, saying looks like your torphy ‘eye is about 4 lbs”. I turned to correct him and saw the front of a fish with guts hanging out which had been eviscerated by too short a turn with the Johnson.

I was devastated by loss of a PB and stinging truth of chop-busting by a good buddy. Scarred me for life.

Fast forward to yesterday. I canceled Sunday’s trip due to red flag wind warnings. A few days before my old pal Jesse Simpkins of St. Croix rod fame called and said he wanted to fish. Telling jesse i was already booked I set im up with Mike (Fish N Mission) Yauk, one of the most dedicated, focused River Rats I’ve ever had the pleasure to share a boat with.

I call Mike the “Ace of Blades”. The B-3 and BFishN Big Dude are what he fishes about 90% of the time. Focusing on every single cast, road @45 degrees. Tense & Intense.

Mike taught this old dawg a couple tricks on fishin’ blades. I passed this knowledge on to Trey, with a couple of personal tweaks.Sunday morning, Mike passed this knowledge on to Jesse Simpkins.

Sunday morning my eyes opened @ 06:11. Called Mike @ 06:13. He was already on the water, waiting for Jesse told him i would be there in 20 minutes. Arrived @ the launch 06:32. Mike & Jesse retrned to the ramp and picked me up.

We didn’t boat an ‘eye til 08:11. We were on fish BUT light penetration was zip. Went to a glow pattern B-3 and BOOM! Jesse simkins was wrstling with his PB sauger, 19+”.

Over 30 years earlier I put Jesse on his first ever 5 lb. LMB. We’ve had a lot of adventures since then. Meanwhile, his work at St. Croix rod, before that with Plano tackle allowed jesse to share the boat with world class anglers of many different genres.

The Bible provides absolute truth. Iron sharpens iron. It took Simpkins about 3 casts to learn blade bait fishin’ with Mike’s expert advice. Jesse ent on to put the first 4 fish in the livewell.

Here’s the point of this blog: Two critical components in becoming a better fisherman are time on the water and fishing with experienced fishermen!!!

Mike’s skills and social media expertise put him on the St. Croix pro staff a couple years ago. maybe the only reason I’m with St. Croix is possession of revealing photos of Mr. Simpkins. Nah. But this is common banter among old fishin’ buddies.

Several hours into the trip we were talking about the AVID rod’s perfection in fishing blades. Jesse said he loved Mike’s work. I said all the Best rods on earth company ever sent me was factory seconds. Told Mike I was fishin’ with a DIVA. Prompting Simpkins to tell me what i could do to myself. Could really feel the love…

Final Point. Time on the water + fishing with more experienced anglers are two of the three legs of becoming the Compleat Angler. The third is sharing your knowledge and experience with those who truly want to learn.

This is both the best and worst part of being a fishing guide. Having guys like young Trey Kegebein in my boat in my final year of working is a wonderful blessing.

Maybe earliest walleye spawn EVER!

Maybe earliest walleye spawn EVER!

Before monster cold front blew in on Tuesday dropping the ambient temp FIFTY NINE DEGREES water temp had risen to 38 with river running low and exceptionally clear.

The last full moon was 2/24. The next one is 3/25. If this weather pattern continues uber warm trend we’ve seen for several weeks I think we’ll see a quick spawn commencing within 3 days of the next full moon.

Since 2/19 I’ve put 134 ‘eyes in the boat “fun fishin”. Seven of which were slot fish. biggest 26″. About 1 in 12 saugers is 14″+. Turned a fat 19″ into a sandwich a couple days ago.

My guide season kicks off tomorrow. Wind will be a major factor for at least the first 3 days. This will limit presentation to essentially vertical jigging. Pitching plastics and snap-jigging blades is much more effective.

Walleyes have been holding in 21-30 fow. Sauger a little deepr. Perch still in deep water too 19-29 fow relating to current breaks.

Dance card is already full until 3/10. Several openings 3/10-3/15. Next open day is 3/25.

So far this year I’ve been on the open water 34 days in 6 states. 100% fun fishin’! This has made me realize i’m like the guy who beat his head against the wall cuz it felt so good when he quit!

This will be my last year of guiding. Fifty years is enough! Looking back, 1973 doesn’t seem like all that long ago. The MinnKota 65 & Lowrance paper graph were ‘state of the art’. Serious walleye guys were fishing out of 18′ vee boats with bench seats and 25 hp motors. There were no line counter reels. Used to catch double digit eyes in Sept. at nite, fishin’ #18 blue/silver Rapalas, seven rod sweeps back..

There was no spot lock, let alone something like Live Target. We watched the flasher dial, the waves, the birds…on the River we kept a close eye on the River, cashing in on subtle nuances like bubble lines, mudlines and crawdad holes.

Believe ’24 will be a drastic change for the USA. Blood in the streets. Chicoms will take down our comms satellites. No more shiny objects for you, kids! Gonna have to learn how to fish like Grandpa did. That’s pretty much what I do every day. tight lines.

Open for business March 1

Open for business March 1

Since mid-January I’ve been fishing my way across the deep south in alabama, Louisiana. and Arkansas. Finally got back on the River yesterday–1st open water adventure since 1/7.

Averaged about 9 walleye, sauger & perch per hour, pitching B-Fish-N tackle B-3 blade exclusively. About 35% “keeper” size. Many shorts, one fat girl 25+”…and enjoyed a 15 minute dance with a big sturgeon.

This caused a great degree of introspection. Other than sugar sand beaches, gators & armadillos and fishin’ in a tee shirt why travel south?

This will be my final year of guiding on the Miss. My primary motivation in guiding is to teach others about the River and try to put them in touch with many of the 130 species of fish which swim here. Nothing is sweeter than putting a veteran hook on their PB of a target species or seein’ a young’un experience serious rod bendage from an angry pig-beast of a fish.

Sadly, after 51 years of guiding government bureaucracy a steady parade of self-entitled weekend warrior “bassholes” have goaded me to pull the pin. Technology exists to release fish on site. But coliseum tourneys persist with my home River pool, pool 9, the epicenter of basshole invasion. Tourney guys come in here, take quality fish out of the pool and give absoutely NOTHING to the resource. It’s all about money. Greedy communities and young turks seeking glory.

Meanwhile, the FWS charges me $3 for every client who shares my boat and ends the trip a better angler than when they came aboard. Enough!

My final guide season kicks off 3/1–2 wks. earlier than usual. My dance card is wide open thru mid-March but i’m only gonna work 5 days max.

Friday night I’m doing a FREE walleye seminar at the Community Center in New Albin. Show starts at 6 p.m.

Between now and then I expect 100 walleyes/saugers will come across the gunnel of my boat, Lord willin’, if the catch rate is even close to yesterday. The very best time to catch numbers of quality fish is between ice out and sharp River rise due to snowmelt.

This may be a non-issue in 2024 cuz there isn’t much snow up North to melt. Also, River levels are low from Minnesota almost to the Gulf. Last year we experienced low levels not seen for over 30 years.

Will this be a year of extreme low level or perpetual flood like we experienced three years ago? I don’t know. Will this season be a scorcher like 1988? Will early Spring turn into unseasonably cold weather in April & May? Don’t know that, either.

Either way I hope to be out on the Immortal River 4-5 days a week til winter comes again and try to blog more frequently. tigh lines.

10 days too early

10 days too early

Haven’t blogged much recently since i’ve been touring the deep south since early january. Fishing the gulf out of Ft. morgan , ala. was disappointing. Fishing Bussey Brake in Louisiana and Greer’s Ferry lake in northern Ark. not much better, only cuz my nephew Darrin–an up-and-coming bass tourney guy didn’t want to target hybrid stripers & walleyes–which are both about ready to make their spring spawning runs up into the Red river and other tribs on the north end of this sprawling highland reservoir–probably by the end of next week.

LMB & SMB will be moving to shoreline probably 2 weeks from now. Bigger fish are holding on main lake point brushpiles in 50-70 fow now–just a long cast from shore in this extremely deep, clear lake.

I’ll be back on the river catching walleyes , sauger and perch early next week. hanging up the guide shingle on March 1 this year.

The reason this blog is about Greer’s Ferry is all about opportunity. Haven’t fished it in years. But this lake gave up my PB walleye (13.2) and my Dad caught his PB LMB ( 10 lbs) at Greer’s Ferry, also my PB hybrid striper (17 lb) after 2 much bigger fish spooled me and broke a rod…so when Darrin wanted to take a road trip, i was all in.

Here are some things to ponder: Greer’s Ferry is just a long day’s drive away–about 12 hrs. from pool 9. We stayed at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Higden located at the Narrows–essentially the crossbar in a capital “H” of this 60K “H” shaped lake. The winter rate here is just $250 per WEEK –at essentially ground zero of an incredibly beautiful highland lake–Lotsa waterfalls framed by 100+ ton boulders.

You can find prime, multi-species action here in about 10-14 days. The PERFECT spring road trip!

Although modern electronics like 360 & Livescope are a definite advantage getting guide Tommy Cauley to mark up a fishing hotspots map is really all you need to be a serious player here. Tommy’s phone # 501 940 1318.

In two weeks deep cranks like #billlewis MR-12 will be killer. We caught most of our fish on drop shot rigs with #Yamamoto plastics and #ZMan TRD & craw Ned rigs, plus a few on #B-Fish-N Tackle Big Dude blades ( which will also be killer in 2 wks.

If you’ve got decent electronics 2 lb. class crappies are essentially sure thing, suspended over and out from deep brush.

Much as I crave fishin’ my beloved Mississippi, at least a couple trips to other venues is a good way to keep your mind right. Paid $60 for an ARk. annual non-resident license with plans to head back down there early Nov. when guide work around here pretty much shuts down for the year.

The only downside of fishin’ Greer’s Ferry is a lack of amenities like restaurants. Twice we ate at the best mexican restaurant in town–pretty much the only restaurant on Tuesday nite. Breakfast every morning was breakfast sandwiches from Sonic. Beer was a 20 minute drive away in Fairfield Bay.

A steady diet of this kind of cuisine is not good for 70 year old guts Oatmeal & toast for breakfast his morning. Fresh walleyes for supper tomorrow night.

Jammed Up

Jammed Up

Bumper boats yesterday below the dam @ Genoa. Tailwaters will be the only open-water access on the River for at least another week. Walleyes have been holding in 29-32 fow, saugers a little deeper BUT I refuse to fish deeper than 32 fow cuz of air bladder rupture in fish that can be quickly cranked in from deep water.

Most can be released to “swim away”. no different than a heart shot buck. But you can’t hear a sauger ‘crash’ on the bottom like you can a deer in the timber.

A big part of me says this valuable resource could be best protected by closing all fishing north of the Genoa launch until maybe March 15. But 4 out of 5 voices in my head say the last thing we need is more government infringement on our unalienable rights to access the Immortal River.

Just got back from a couple weeks fishin’ the Gulf out of Ft. Morgan, Alabama. Fishing sucked. Unlimited seafood & sugar sand beaches were nice. Where I was going with this is tennis shoes. One mange-bearded, jihadi nitwit stuffs a cherry bomb in his Nikes and everybody younger than
75 has to remove their sneakers before boarding the big bird forever after. What a huge raft of crap!

A couple of years ago the FWS held public meetings over charging hunting & fishing guides a fee for every person they take out on our resource for pay. In spite of overwhelming rejection by the public I’ve gotta pay $3 for every person I take out on the River fishin’ to educate them on good stewardship for the resource.

With tis gin-blossom camel’s nose under the tent of freedom it’s just a matter of time before access is limited to vessels powered by renewable resource propulsion.

The global warming hustle is just another way to control the people. But before i go down this rabbit hole rant, back to the brutal honesty of the River.

The new albin access is still locked up with ice. About 5″ of cloudy stuff just out from the ramp. Some small pocket of open water are beginning to appear.

NOTHING trumps SAFETY on the dangerous Mississippi!! If you launch @ the power plant you can make it up to the Genoa dam–but nothing says ice won’t block the ramp when you try to take the boat out.

Don’t go out there without a workable exit strategy downstream. Victory & Blackhawk park are a couple possible options on the East side of the River. No workable exit options on the West side for 10+ miles downstream. MAYBE highway 82…in a couple of weeks. MAYBE.

Last early spring I got jammed up by ice twice trying to get back to the new Albin ramp and had to go with the Plan B option to get home. Catching walleyes/sauger downstream from the power plant launch is not a problem. Far fewer boat to contend with.

Ice jams WILL be a problem for at least another month even if our El Nino winter continues. Plan on it! If the weather trend continues i might hang up the guide shingle prior to March 15.

Last spring I boated 300+ fish from mid- feb to mid-March, even though having a respectable gut-zipper from serious surgery on jan. 11 put a serious hitch in my git-along.

Lord willin’ this spring will be more productive. Only the Creator knows what’s in store for us. Beyond the reality of the River, any country which allows the government to take down a statue of Tommy Jefferson and sets illegal aliens free after they beat up new York coppers is setting the stage to focus on much bigger concerns than fishin’ in 2024.

There’s a bad moon on the rise

The last hoorah

The last hoorah

The end of open water fishing season is never easy–even when it lasts into a brand new year.

This morning a commercial fisherman broke open the New Albin ramp. Minnesota slough is still pretty much open. But getting to the fish was a lot like late season duck hunting–breaking a hole to set decoys or in this case to get after fish.

With 31 degree water temp the bite was lethargic. My one legal walleye will provide an especially tasty feast. The half-dozen sheep, saugers & shorts over the course of about 3 hrs. were truly welcome tugs, however there comes a point where being chilled to the bone trumps thrilled to the bone–even with a propane heater in the boat.

Sorry to digress from the fishin’ report. There are three phases in a fisherman’s life cycle. Started with phase 3: getting back from fishing then jumped into phase 1: getting ready to go fishing. Of course the entire cycle revolves around phase 2. If you need to ask what THAT is there is no point in reading my blog.

The open water option will still be available at dam tailwaters for about a week. Lotsa fish there. Easy bite. But playing bumper boats cancels out the fun factor. Only saw one other fishin’ boat out there this morning. It was beached so occupants could walk thru the woods and go ice fishing. After a lifetime of sitting on a bucket the only way this is personally enjoyable is with no wind, above freezing temps and to keep the Admiral from badgering on about how good ice-caught perch are.

Lord willin’ I’ll kick off the guide biz again on 3/15, hopefully getting out fun fishin’ a few times before that. thanks for reading this blog. Will blog again in a week or two

cold water bite is hot!

cold water bite is hot!

In my last blog there was mention about negotiating the River when ice floes are a factor. Bottom line: don’t launch the boat unless you have a solid ‘Plan B’.

Yesterday I wanted to launch @ Army Rd. east of New Albin. Ice blocked the ramp 50′ out. So I crossed the River and launched @ Blackhawk Park, attacking the ice jam from the River side of the Army road ramp. The ramp is now open, providing quicker access to the River for today’s walleye/sauger catching escapade.

Fish are solidly in wintering holes now. Water temp about 35 degrees. Slow presentation w/ plastic or hair like the Northland buckaroo w/ a A STINGER HOOK vertically jigged & hovered just off bottom works well when they feel like eating.

Slowly pulling a 3-way with a Moxie or Ribb Finn on a 1 oz. jig on the short dropper and a shad pattern FLY on a 4-6′ dropper will also tear ’em up when fish are in at least a neutral mood.

If they won’t eat but you’re on fish they will usually strike a reaction presentation like a B-Fish-N B3 blade Northland Puppet Minnow or buckshot Rattle Spoon.

TUNDRA SWANS tell me when its time to lay up the boat for awhile. They have not migrated to the Chesapeake Bay yet. 3 days after they do, the River will lock with ice to the point where a Plan B launch/recover option is dubious. this is when i’ll start ice fishin’.

the Mississippi River is an inherently dangerous place!! ANY outing there needs careful planning with redundancy for every aspect of the trip. Today’s mission: catch 4 saugers for dinner. This should take about an hour.

Mary “fishing Machine” Christoffer has the best walleye recipe of all time; equal parts bisquik &Corn starch. 1T Vanilla, salt & pepper. Beer and a FORK. Mix the batter til it clings to the back of the fork but not between the tines. Fry for a couple minutes. don’t burn your mouth!

p.i.d. perspective

p.i.d. perspective

There are still quite a few tundra swans on the pool. Experience teaches that ice is MARGINALLY safe on sheltered backwaters 3 days after these big white birds vector East to spend their winter on the Chesapeake.

On the way to Stark’s in PdC this morning to get the guide boat ready for a hopefully short nap I saw five vehicles parked with folks lightfooting out on the hardwater nearby.

The first folks out there will certainly ponder the p.i.d. perpective before their escapade is over.

Both intrepid and stupid end in “pid”. If you manage to get out & back without getting wet the reward is a Pretty Impressive Dinner. But if you go just one step too far on mostly clear ice which is 1″ to barely 2″ thick this morning the result is a Precarious Immersion Dunking.

There were a couple times in the not so distant past when I was both the first one out on the ice and the first one to fall through. These experiences have taught the wisdom of avoiding the P.I.D. dilemma entirely…waiting for the tundra swans to vamoose before grabbing the short rods & bucket.

This afternoon at the Army Rd. boat launch east of New Albin there was clear ice as far as you could see in both directions. The spud indicated there is just shy of an inch of ice.

Tailwaters below both Genoa and Lynxville dams remain open. Lord willin’ I’ll take the smaller boat out tomorrow afternoon. From now until Spring experience teaches the wisdom of always heading upstream from the launch point. If ice floes start pushing south you SHOULD be able to return to the launch and load the boat.

Even then, heading out without a common sense based Plan B can quickly rachet into a P.I. D. scenario which doesn’t include french fries & slaw.

This scenario happened twice to me last Spring. Both times I had a solid Plan B ready to go. In the first incident the Admiral called 9-1-1 against my specific order not to. I AM 9-1-1! All that was needed was help shuttling the trailer from launch A to launch B. She followed direction the 2nd time around. Same scenario, but with 2 different launch points.

I’ll admit it was a wild ride up the upper Iowa River to the hwy 26 ramp with the big boat kissing sandbars several times when i sped over them @ 35 mph. going any slower would have likely led to visiting the “what to do when you run aground ” playbook—essentially, just going to Plan C.

In the first incident I launched @ Highway 26 and headed up Minnesota slough. The outboard on the little boat crapped out about 200 yds. downstream from the Army road ramp–which was blocked by good, thick , solid ice just a 50 yd. belly crawl from shore. Wearing a PFD while pushing a PFD cushion in front of me I was standing in the parking lot when the NAFD showed up.

The small boat is a 16′ flatbottom jon. Between the launch and anchor rope I only needed about 75′ of line to slide the boat across the ice and winch it on the trailer. I had plenty of rope in the truck which was parked at the ramp just a couple miles away. When I got back the NAFD had used their rope to slide the boat ashore, with plenty of manpower to lift in on to the trailer. Their assistance wasn’t needed, but appreciated. I thanked them with a case of beer.

As a USCG licensed captain I would NEVER expose clients to either one of these scenarios! The Mississippi River is a truly dangerous place!!! From a river rat perspective all decisions include a sober risk/benefit analysis before proceeding.

Anyway…the tundras are still here. Until they leave i’ll be fishin’ out of the small boat with redundant “what if” options fully considered. Bottom line, my arms are far too short to box with God.

Sooo…if you’re compelled to explore the p.i.d experience before the white birds fly. Please be careful & file both a travel plan and next of kin contact before heading out.

Walleyes tumbling down the steps

Walleyes tumbling down the steps

Water temperature has dropped to 42 degrees on Pool 9 over the past 24 hours. it will continue to fall into the upper 30s over the next week or so. B-Fish-N Tackle and Echotail blades are my favorite walleye weapon between now and ice-up–which may not happen on flowing water til early December.

Right now the ‘eyes are holding in 17-20 fow. They will slide deeper as surface temps continue to drop. The most effective presentation for me has been spot-locking a little deeper than the target zone and snap-jigging the blade thru the fish holding depth. Presentation will change to more of a vertical jigging presentation as fish tumble to deeper wintering holes in 22-30 fow.

The only downside to snap jigging blades is the back treble hanging up on the line just above the lure. This can be minimized by using a #4 snap (not a snap swivel) attached to a 2 ‘ leader of 20lb floro.

Engage the reel before the bait hits the water. Let it fall thru the water column on a semi-tight line with the rod tip @ a 45 degree angle to the water. Snap the rod tip about 10-12″ just as the lure begins to contact the bottom.

The best rod I’ve found to employ this technique is a St. Croix Avid 7’3″ MLF w/ 10 lb hi-vis Sufix braid.

Don’t forget to let your outboard hang vertical to drain before leaving the boat ramp if the temp is below 32 degrees!