Good changes around the corner
Every year the shad, the main forage on the river system either Mississippi River or St. Croix, become so numerous that an angler’s jig or crankbait become not as appealing to the fish. With shad more numerous to count, pods in the thousands, smallmouth bass, walleye, sauger, white bass all roam the edges of these massive schools and like wolves herding caribou to pick out the weak quadrupeds, the game fish pick out the weak forage and eat, and eat well they do.
This period of fish herding the shad really starts about mid July and is at its peak in late August to mid September. After mid September something starts to change and anglers start finding fine catches again.
Here is what happens. Every fall as the water cools, even cooling as slight as into the high 60s, an angler can see the shad actually come to the surface twitch, swim in a circle or two and die. When a large number of shad die off, the weak are culled out if you will, and the rest of the shad continue to grow. The shad that continue to grow can actually live as long as three years, though this is rare. As they become large enough, walleye for instance stop preying on them as readily as a smaller shad. So in essence a once full cupboard becomes bare, and your jig looks good again.
So how does this affect your fishing in the fall? Simply put, find the shad and you will find the fish. I usually drive to my milk run fall spots and if walleye angling I run the breakline at about muskie trolling speed, and I watch the sonar, if no bait go to the next spot.
You do not always have to match the hatch here and fish a crankbait or minnow, though they do excel, and I will talk about that presentation in a moment. You can jig the bottom and do well, even with a crawler though fatheads are normally better. You can also run spinners. Trolling a Rapala Shad Rap is very effective. I also run a double crank set up on the river called a tandem crank. Take a stick bait like the Rapala original floater F11 and F7 and tie the two together with an 18” braided leader (20 pound test). Tie the leader to the back wire of the F11, not the hook or split ring. Tie the other end of the leader to a snap and attach the snap to the front of the F7. This tandem rig shines near bait in the fall. Also the front lure will look bad in the water, but the fish will pound it nonetheless.
Highs and lows, ebb and flow,
The outdoor environment we love keeps us on our toes,
Ol’ river comes up and down as it flows
Follow the shad to where they go
and soon you will strike walleye gold.
When the walleye fishing is slower than its steady catching pace of May and June, the opportunity to catch other species at a fun catch pace is an opportunity that I try to realize right now in the height of summer.
As mentioned above the cats bite well in summer, traditionally speaking, and specifically when targeted with “catfish baits”. I referred earlier to the large flatheads biting best at night. Channel cats of all sizes can be caught in the day more readily than their cousin the flathead.
Smallmouth bass are biting pretty well right now. I discuss these tough fighters in my current report.
Muskies are also another semi kept secret on the St. Croix River.
Summer is here and summer is gone….
Charlie “Turk” Gierke
June 2014 St. Croix River high water recap.
One morning three or four years ago after launching my boat and waiting for guests to arrive I landed a few casts with my buzzbait around the docks and rocks at the launch, I looked at the St. Croix River water and realized that it was barely moving.
This was odd because the area experienced a rain event that added a good push of water into an already high river, hard to be exact now, but I remember the river rose a good three to four feet in about five days.
Instead of an increased flow as expected from a rise in the water level, the river was not moving much and in fact was flowing less than before the water rose. How in the world could this be?
My first thought was that the launch location was now in an eddy away and not getting much current from the main current. This eddy or backflow was taking place to an extent, but upon starting the trip and boating into the main channel my belief was confirmed and in fact the flow now was less than before the river level rose.
What was happening was the Mississippi River into which the St. Croix flows had also received a deluge and was high enough to essentially back up or severely restrict the St. Croix’s drainage.
So what does it mean for fishing? The implications are that normally high rising water increases flow and pushes fish out of the main channel into current seams if the water is moving fast enough. Please note the St. Croix can have fast flow for the Croix, but still not be fast enough to push fish into seams – a whole other topic entirely.
Here the opposite was happening the river rose and the flow decreased, odd to even type the statement, but it happens. In fact this last high rise that occupied all of June 2014 and was officially labeled a minor flood behaved the exact same way as my example from the past. The river water level rose and the flow decreased.
In my mind this creates a dilemma of game fish being spread out, because when water rises high enough and floods trees I am thoroughly convinced many of the small fish enter the endless cover that 12’ of high water provides.
Baitfish in the trees is a better situation when the flow is high concentrating all fish both game and bait in the shallows, but when the flow is low fish occupy the entire channel. Fast water concentrates fish and low flow water spreads them out.
Again in high fast moving water with baitfish in the flooded trees the walleye are shallow too, and focusing your fishing efforts shallow is wise.
Last June and especially late last June of 2014, the flow decreased and game fish where more prone to use the entire main channel.
The backed up water provided an opportunity to angle right down the middle of the river in places I see as low water spots, places where the current is normally too strong in high water but now fishable. I absolutely took advantage of this and clients caught some nice walleye in these places.
Reading the water based on the actual flow and not a theoretical flow is necessary in river fishing. In theory during last June’s minor flood event the water should have been ripping through unfishable spots that where in fact fishable.
May 2014, because of the high water my boat has been many times all alone and loving every minute of it. We are not killing the walleye, but fishing is more than just hauling them in left and right. It is views like this on a Monday that lets your mind go beyond the here and now and think about the beginning and the end, and the miracle of life.
The Mississippi River from Prescott, WI all the way down south to the Iowa border is open year round for walleye and sauger fishing. In other words the season for walleye never ends here on the mighty Miss! Once the weather breaks and gets in the high 20′s, 30′s, I conduct guide trips down on the Mississippi.
Generally speaking there are windows to do this in January and February. The fishing can be fantastic, we fish light lines on Limit Creek medium light rods (LCS69MLF) mainly employing jigs and plastics and/or minnows. The fish are delicious from the frigid waters, and consumption advisory differ little from the rest of the Minnesota inland waters, and for the general population the river is listed as ” a meal a week is safe for consumption.”
This open water bite for good numbers of 1 to 3 pound walleye and sauger during the height of winter is a fun adventure for those never experiencing it, and treat to return to for those that have.