Each year on the St. Croix I see less and less sauger, or for that matter white bass too. Also now I am seeing sunfish and perch become much more abundant. I have guided for 17 seasons and the white bass used to be so thick that at times they were really a nuisance (fun problem to have!). Saugers were also much bigger and more abundant.
Sunfish were never in the places they are now and perch was a rare catch.
I feel you can catch sunfish and perch in any lake, I wish the true river species, the hallmark of the river – saugers and white bass would some how start to heavily populate the St. Croix again.
Low water levels
What a difference a year makes. Last year the flow and water level was very high – this year the opposite. I do like that aspect of river fishing, it keeps you guessing. Then after a while you can develop a bit of fish sense and get a feel for where the fish might be based on water levels and flow. This river sense is rewarding when you get it right. Then on other days you can only scratch your head and wonder where they are?
The low water very well might cause the walleye to leave the spawning grounds much faster – as I believe heavy flow keeps them near the spawning grounds longer. So with the low flow they could be gone soon after opener. My theory will be tested, by up coming fishing trips, and I will report back and let you know.
Talking about jigging here, a good jig bite is about as much fun as you can have. I find the bite the most fun when they will rob you but yet you can still catch fish! Guys in the boat hoot and howl about missing fish or getting robbed! It is fun when minutes later they set the the hook and say “got one.”
Early Spring thoughts.
When the light snow rolls over your bow in January and the water is in the mid 30′s it is amazing when you get a violent strike on your jig. The cold air and water makes the bite all the more surprising. No matter that I have been floating my boat on this fishery for a long time, it is still surprising that the fish hit in the frigid water. .. But then the water warms and the weather is nice, fishing now is easy to get your head around.
As the calendar of March comes to an end the bite changes with the warming water and high flow that the river receives from snow melt. Most years the water rises that is, because as you are aware the snow cover of last winter was very slight and in fact the river is lower than any other time I can remember for mid April.
Because the water is low this spring season the “flow reading” for current seams and fishing these current seams has been absent. Since the flow never increased many of the best catches have been in the spots fished in late winter, places I fish in the March 1 and earlier time frame.
Late April marks the time frame that trolling is highly productive as the water reaches the low 50s. This is another yearly surprise to me that the fish will hit trolled lures when the water is cool. Maybe it is a surprise (even though I know they will hit the lures) since I learned to troll in the heat of the summer, and trolling crankbaits is a summer technique to me. I do troll from opener on on the St. Croix of course but trolling in April is non conventional.
The fun part is that jig fishing will still work. So at the same time anglers are trolling they are also jigging and both catching fish. This is a good reminder that fish even during the cooler water temps do not necessarily prefer one technique over the other.
‘Charlie “Turk” Gierke
Fundamentals of fish holding depths based on light penetration/water clarity Part Two
Part one spoke on the principle of fish holding shallower as light penetration and/or water clarity decreases. This is first in a series showing this principle in action.
Rock piles, points, islands, and reefs.
Starting with the least complicated scenario, it is clear fish move shallower onto these structures when the wind increases and/or the light penetration into water decreases (such as a sunset or heavy clouds), this is an ironclad rule proven time after time. The important rule to remember here is fish location or movement is determined by the degree of light penetration change. So moderate to light winds do little to move fish shallow, but strong heavy winds will flat out put fish on top of shallow structures. Also cloud cover obviously differs from a setting sun for fish movement.
How to: Two proven techniques amongst many techniques that work on any lake with shallow rock piles, points, islands, and reefs is to anchor up within casting distance and cast cranks and slip bobbers. For bobbers bait choices are leech, night crawler, or minnow, cast to the top or lip of these structures. Make sure the slip bobber is weighted with split shot so it will easily sink upon a bite. When slip bobber fishing let the bobber sink, reel in the slack line and when you feel the weight of the fish set the hook with hands at forehead level. This rod simply brings fish to the net when fishing bobbers or cranks better than any I have ever seen.
Fan cast original floating Rapala’s or Husky Jerks to the same area, be sure that your crankbait hooks are sharp you would be surprised how fast hooks become dull. When setting the hook sweep sets to the side at the angle of the retrieved line work best.
Fundamentals of fish location based on light penetration – Part one
The main thesis is fish are caught in shallower depths as light penetration decreases, and fish are caught shallower when water clarity decreases.
Non-water related factors that determine light penetration into water: light intensity, current, and wind.
Light intensity. The actual amount of sky cover and rain affect the amount of light. The other main factors are a setting or rising sun, a full or new moon. Heavy clouds, rain, or a setting sun decrease light penetration.
Current. Fast water flow decreases the amount of light penetration into water.
Wind. Strong winds, the more wind, the higher the waves, and the higher the waves, the less light penetration into the water.
It is important to note that all three factors presented above are temporal, meaning they relate to time situationally as these factors change from minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour. Usually current flow will not change from hour to hour, unless you are on the Mississippi River fishing below a lock and dam and the Corps of Engineers open or close the dams.
Water clarity effects on light penetration.
The darker or dirtier the water the less light penetrates into the water. Like a shade on a lamp or dirt and salt spray on your cars headlamp, waters with low clarity diffuse the light and reduce its penetration. There are two factors determining water clarity on lakes and rivers
Baseline Water clarity. Each lake or river has differing water characteristics of suspended and dissolved particles and may have tannins as well. These suspended and dissolved particles and any potential tannins derive a waters baseline water clarity that from my estimation is usually static or similar from day to day. Waters high in suspended and dissolved particles or tannins and lignins have low water clarity.
Temporal water clarity. Rivers and streams water clarity varies and differs over time thanks to their tributaries. When the snow pack melts, and April showers come, the creeks, streams, and small rivers contribute suspended load and dissolved load of eroded sediment into the now darkened water. The result is water that reduces light penetration.
To put this together conditions change, daily and hourly, observations need to be noted to help you get the net wet. When the winds pick up the fish move, when the clouds roll in movements happen again. Heck now all of a sudden best lure colors choices might change as well. River fishing has taught me fishing is not hear today gone tomorrow, but here one hour gone the next. For lake fishing the variables such as current and temporal water clarity naturally do not play as big a role as in a river. To sum up the theory again, fish are caught shallower as light penetration decreases. Sounds simple but if you parse out specific situations in rivers it can be complicated.
My guide service uses these highly specialized river rigs for walleye on the Mississippi:
Vertical jig with bait
Vertical jig with plastics (
such as ringworms, paddle tails, fork tail, etc.
Dubuque rig vertical jigged
This rig is a walleye slayer with both a jig and a long leader to a plain hook, here we use a combo of plastics and bait or both bait or both plastics.
Drag the above three presentations upstream or downstream
Dragging is absolutely deadly and it is one of my best presentations I employ in my guide boat to put customers on fish
Troll floating Rapalas on a 3-way rig
This set up is normally later in late winter early spring such as March. This trolling is best when the current starts to flow fast again and water tmps rise. The fish fight like whales against the flow here and it is a blast to get them the net.
Pitch (cast) Jigs with plastics
Lunker sized fish tactic. 8, 9, and 10+ pound fish are caught this way
Pitch blade baits
Lunker sized fish tactic. 8, 9, and 10+ pound fish are caught this way