Plan B: Smallies on the St. Croix

By Bill Schultz - August 1, 2006
For years, I have wanted to fish smallmouth bass on the Upper Mississippi River, northwest of Minneapolis. I had heard that it is one of the best river smallie spots in the country. In early June, I had the opportunity to make that trip and was planning on fishing the stretch in and around Monticello, Minnesota for up to four days. I know rivers can be unpredictable, especially when you have not had a chance to fish them before or due to changing weather conditions. To be safe, I had a Plan B and
a Plan C.

I arrived in Monticello the morning of June 9 on an overcast and potentially rainy day. The river seemed to be running fast and wasn't as clear as I had hoped. I had heard the river was strewn with rocks and boulders, so I stopped at the local bait shop and got some good tips on how to head up river from the launch at the city park. With notes in hand, I gave it a shot and found the day more challenging than expected. I caught eight smallies up to 19" but had trouble fishing unless I put the anchor out. The highlight of the day was not banging any rocks with my boat or engine. I had hoped for better and easier fishing, so it was time to try Plan B.

Plan B was to check out the St. Croix River at Hudson, Wisconsin. Plan B turned out to be a winner. I had never fished the St. Croix but had always wanted to. On the morning of Saturday, June 10, I put in at a private launch located near the interstate exit as you head into Hudson. The Hudson city launch is beautiful. On the weekends, it is limited to residents, but on weekdays is available to anyone for a $5.00 fee. Unlike the Mississippi, the water was stained, but somewhat clear, and I was relieved to see that rocks and boulders weren't going to be a problem. The 10 or so miles I fished were more like a long, very deep lake.

My plan was to look for structure and on the St. Croix, I expected that to be rocky shorelines. Shortly after leaving the launch, I headed under the I-94 Bridge and toward a rocky shoreline to the east to begin my search for smallies. Two passes of about 75 yards produced 10 smallies of various sizes up to 14". As I do on most rivers, I began by throwing Rebel's Teeny Wee-Crawfish, which over the years has been my top producer for river smallies. I modify it somewhat by changing out the #14 treble hooks on the back with #10 trebles. This increases my hook-ups, fewer fish pull off in current and a bonus is that with the extra weight of the #10 treble on the back, it suspends. Importantly, adding the #10 treble does not hinder the great wiggle and vibration, which I feel is a key reason why this lure is so effective.

Once I finished fishing the rocks below the interstate, I decided to explore south looking for more rocky shorelines. A mile or so just south of the first no-wake zone, I found what I was looking for on both sides of the river and began catching more smallies casting to shore with the Teeny Wee Crawfish. Each day this proved successful. I also had some luck with Texas-rigged three- and four-inch Ozark Smoke YUM Dingers and tubes inserted with fairly light jigs. I'm not a big tube fan in most rivers because of the many snags, but this didn't seem to be a big problem on the St. Croix. I would position the boat in seven to 10 feet of water and work the tubes from shore back to the boat and also parallel to shore. Had the Teeny Wee-Crawfish bite not been so hot, I would have spent more time fishing the YUM Dingers and tubes.

As a first-timer on the St. Croix, I wanted to explore even more, so each day I took a run north toward Stillwater, Minnesota. I only made it about a mile north of the Hudson no-wake zone where I fished the rocks in and around the marina on the west side of the river. As with all the other areas, this also produced some great action.

   

The weekend days I fished were mostly overcast and a little cool, so there were not high numbers of big pleasure boats that normally use the river. This was a huge advantage as the waves from these boats can be big, making fishing difficult.

I stayed with just a few presentations, but I am sure that most of the typical smallie presentations will produce fish of various sizes. I met a local enthusiast, on my last day, who fishes the river on a regular basis. He is a catch and release guy, but when I mentioned I'd like to get a picture of some nice St. Croix River smallies he put a couple of beauties in his livewell and found me for a picture. He was fishing slower presentations than the Teeny Wee-Crawfish, using tubes and a jig-n-pig. He also mentioned as summer takes hold, the bigger fish tend to go deeper.

Throughout the three days on the St. Croix, I worked one rocky shoreline after another, producing 60 smallies each of the first two days and 70 by 2:30 p.m. the third. I hated to leave that last day, but I had a five-hour drive back to New Berlin.

If you plan to give the St. Croix a shot, I would suggest staying at one of the chain hotels off the exit just east of the primary city exit. I did find that on summer weekends in June they fill-up fast, but weekdays shouldn't be a problem. There's also a nice Super 8 about 10 miles away in River Falls, Wisconsin.

Plan B was definitely a winner and got me on the St. Croix River for the first time with three days of great smallie action. Next time, the St. Croix will be my Plan A and maybe yours also.

Author Bill Schultz

Bill Schultz
Bill Schultz lives in New Berlin, WI and is a contributing writer for www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com., www.lake-link.com, www.smallmouths.com, www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com and various outdoor magazines, including On Wisconsin Outdoors and Kayak Angler Magazine. He is a smallmouth bass enthusiast and since catching his first in 1994 has caught and released over 19,000 smallies. His focus has been the big waters of Green Bay in Door County along with rivers and streams throughout Wisconsin. Bill is a popular seminar speaker and is on the Pro Staffs for Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Adventure Technology Paddles, St. Croix Rod, Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine, Uncle Josh Bait Co, and has sponsorships with a variety of other fishing and outdoor companies. Email: smalliecentral@gmail.com