Mississippi Walleye

By Judy Nugent - November 1, 2006
For serious walleye fishermen there are two times to fish the Mississippi River, the spring run and the fall run. Simple, but deadly. During both of these times of the year the elements are the same: cold weather and hot fishing. For most of us the weather alone is a mess and we are reluctant to leave the comfort of our warm home. But fishermen in Alma have another definition of "mess" - but I'll get to that later. After the ice shacks have been dragged off the lakes and the raw weather of March is in full swing, die-hards made their way to locks and dams for the annual ritual. And this year's run should be as good as ever.

Getting there
Fishing starts early on the float with cars in the parking lot before 6 am. Fishermen bring their gear down to the signal board and let owners Jim and Tim Lodemier know that they are ready for the shuttle boat. In the early season it can be very busy with 30 - 40 people waiting to fish. Taking 18 people at a time the shuttle boat brings fishermen out to "the float." Sometimes referred to as a barge, the float is essentially a floating dock that can support over 150 fishermen at a time. Fishermen get off the shuttle boat and head for their favorite spots.

They all come to the float for the same reason - trophy walleyes. Jim Lodemier says, "In March and April you don't necessarily get lots of numbers of walleyes but the quality is great. This is your best shot at a big fish." And by big fish, Jim means 8 pounds and up. While there is a lot of catch and release, there are plenty that go home to be mounted.

Techniques
To up your odds at taking home a monster, you need to get accustomed to the best fishing techniques to use. Says Lodemier, "Guys come to the float with different techniques, but if they stay long enough they all start doing the same thing. There is a variety of currents you have to deal with depending on how the gates are set and you have to have enough weight to get to the bottom."

The first technique is the classic river rig. This starts with a three way swivel. One is tied to your main line. The second, has an 8 inch drop line with a sinker on the end. The third is an 18 inch leader connected to your hook. For the river rig use a straight hook tipped with a minnow. When the water warms up later in the season, leeches can also be effective.

Try a 2 oz sinker on a 30 inch snelled hook, size 6.

The second technique is a straight hair jig. These are tied directly to your main line and are rarely tipped with live bait. Known as "Killer Jigs" they are flatheaded jigs with a treble hook stinger. Use 5/8 - ¾ oz jigs. Color preferences are as diverse as the fishermen, but most are using natural colors, blue, black or green. The water clarity can help you decide if you need the brighter colors such as chartreuse or pink. Some fishermen also use sonars, a blade bait, to get their attention. The pulsing action of the blade brings the walleyes to you.

Because of the current, bring a medium to medium light action rod to help you feel the jig.

Now that you have the right lure, you need to perfect the presentation. "You've got to let the jig hit bottom," says Shurson. "Be prepared for snags and if you aren't getting snags, then you aren't deep enough." Whether in a boat or on the float, cast up towards the dam. Let it sink to the bottom and then alternated flicking the jig with retrieving a few cranks on the reel. To do this correctly, snap the rod tip up. Then let the jig sink back to the bottom. When you snap the rod tip, the jig should rise a good three to four feet off the bottom. Another choice is to jig vertically over the side of the float. Rip the jig up with a full sweep of your arm. Shurson adds, "if you fish sonars, they buzz pretty aggressively when you snap the rod like that."

Rarely is there a need to tip the jig with live bait. At times leeches, worms, and minnow yield more fish, but be sure to bring a lot of bait. Between the current and the snags, you can go through a dozen leeches in ten minutes if you aren't careful. A select group of Minnesota fishermen also use a bait fish called Willow Cats. They lip hook these fish with a bare hook or a Little Joe spinner. Shurson says, "walleyes eat these Cats like they are candy." While that sounds inviting, Willow Cats aren't legal everywhere so read your regulations before baiting up.

Where - fish movement
The walleyes move into different areas during the course of a day. The float gives you access to the shore where it is as shallow as 1 ft. all the way to the deep channel at 18ft. At dawn and dusk the walleyes move into the 6-7 ft area. During the day they move into the 14-18 ft. areas. Depending on the current, they can also be in the shallow eddys or back current.

The float offers exceptional fishing because the walleyes are moving upstream to spawn in the tributaries and backwaters. While they can get through the dam especially during the high water of the spring melt, the dam often slows them up. Depending on conditions the walleyes can really stack up right next to the float. "The dam acts as a big aerator bringing more oxygen into the water and attracting bait fish." Perfect conditions for walleye.

License
What fishing license you need depends on where you go, so it is best to call ahead. Bag limits are generally 6 walleye or sauger a day. The walleye need to be 15 inches or longer, but the sauger can be any size. Another rule you need to know is that only 2 rods are allowed per person when fishing at Alma. This is different from the three rod rule of Wisconsin.

Accomodations bait, food, lodging
So what do you need to bring? The answer: as much or as little as you would like. It cost only $14 to take the shuttle and you can fish from 6 am to 6 pm. If you would like to stay overnight to take advantage of night fishing, the float offers lodging for 8 people but you need to make a reservation. The cost is $30 a person and it allows you to fish from 3pm to 9am.

The float has live bait for sale, basic tackle, and a cafe serving burgers, fries, and a full breakfast menu. You can also bring your own food or a cooler of beer.

Says Lodemier, "this is a great place to come for the fishing and for the conviencince. If you don't want the hassle of a banging around a boat, you can come out here. We have a very relaxed atmosphere, you can get up and walk around, or come in to get a bite to eat."

If you go to Alma, the boys recommend trying a breakfast concoction known as "The Mess." This dish is made of eggs, hash browns, cheese, meat, onions, and peppers - and if you want, they top it with sauerkraut. If you think that sounds good now, try it at 2:30am when you're catching trophy walleyes in a snow storm. For more information visit (WEB PAGE)

We pick you up on the Wisconsin side of the river, just below the Lock, in a 20 passenger enclosed Coat Guard inspected vessel. Once we cross the river to the Minnesota side, you have your choice of fishing locations on eight floating piers, one of our fishing guides is on hand to assist you. There are chairs, benches, and shelters for your convenience. We charge $14 for adults and for kids under 12 we charge only $5, kids under 5 are free! We have seven day passes available and yearly passes as well. Each one offers lots of savings.

Author Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent has been writing for several years. Her work can be found in Wisconsin Outdoor News, Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, Wisconsin Sportsman, Midwest Outdoors, Fly Fisherman Magazine and Snowshoe Magazine among others. She is also on the TV show OUTDOOR WISCONSIN. Judy has experience in radio with the show Great American Outdoor Trails where she does a weekly segment called Women on the Trail.