Wild Side: Good old days on the Big RiverFrom the Twin Cities to St. Louis, fishing on the mighty Mississippi is excellent. There are more walleyes and sauger to catch than ever.
By: Dan Wilcox, Outdoor Columnist, River Falls Journal
From the Twin Cities to St. Louis, fishing on the mighty Mississippi is excellent. There are more walleyes and sauger to catch than ever.
Navigation Pool 4, from Alma up through Lake Pepin to Lock and Dam 3 above Red Wing, Minn., is a walleye and sauger factory.
According to Kevin Staffer, Minnesota DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor at Lake City, there is an abundance of walleye and sauger for anglers to catch from Pool 4.
The saugers have been consistently having successful years of spawning and recruitment. They grow remarkably fast, reaching nearly 17 inches in only three years. Sauger spawn in gravel bottom channel areas, so their spawning habitat is consistently available over a wide range of river discharge.
The walleye population is more affected by river flow in the spring. Walleyes migrate upriver from Lake Pepin into the Red Wing reach of the river as the ice melts in the early spring. Telemetry studies with walleyes have revealed that they spawn on rocky bottom areas and in years with high water, on flooded grass areas in the floodplain. The Pool 4 walleyes have had good years of reproduction in 2001, 2006 and 2007 when the spring floods allowed them to spawn in the floodplain.
Like the sauger, Pool 4 walleyes grow fast, feasting on the abundant gizzard shad and emerald shiners. Walleyes also grow to a catchable size of 17 inches in only three years. There are many walleyes in the 3- to 8-pound range and occasional trophies available to catch.
Last year, I tried for pre-spawning walleyes near Red Wing in March. It was a nice day, so we didn’t suffer from the cold or wind. The fish weren’t biting much, but I did catch one that made the day: A 30-inch, 10-pound “momma” that went back into the river.
Last week, Dean Campbell of River Falls and fishing guide Tim Mathison of Prescott fished on the Mississippi River below Lock and Dam 3. Despite the cold wind, they caught a number of saugers including some 20- and 21-inch lunkers. Those fish are nearly maximum size for that species.
A good cure for cabin fever after a long cold winter is to get out and fish the open water on the Mississippi River near Red Wing. The river remains ice-free year-round courtesy of the thermal discharge from the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant.
Early season anglers mostly use the lightest jigs that they can send to the river bottom, tipped with a twister-tail and a minnow. A small treble “stinger” hook off the end of the jig can help catch the light biters.
Vertical jigging works best when drifting with the current. Let the jig rest momentarily on the bottom and then raise it up rapidly. The fish often bite as the jig floats back down.
There are lots of boats and anglers out on the river this time of year. Be courteous and don’t anchor like some Iowegians do. That causes tangled lines. The walleyes and saugers stage at different places before spawning between the head of Lake Pepin and Lock and Dam 3, so there’s no need to battle the crowd in the tailwater.
Enjoy the “good old days” of fishing on the big river.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at email@example.com.