Mississippi Fall Run

By Judy Nugent - November 1, 2006
For serious sauger 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. When the news reports started to mention snow in parts of Canada and flurries in northern Minnesota, die-hards made their way to locks and dams for the annual ritual. And so far the run has lived up to its reputation.

The last week of October saw hot action with fishermen getting their limits of saugers just below the dams. The Alma Fishing Float was especially successful with fishermen also taking 15 inch walleye, northerns, and 2 -3 lb white bass. I caught up with fisherman Tim Shurson from Waukegan, Illinois. He comes up to the float twice a year to fish with his dad. Shurson said, "the fish were really streaking today. You'd catch 3, 4, and then 5 fish all at once. Then the action would turn off for half and hour. When the white bass came in you'd start to see the school surface." But what Shurson was really after was the saugers. "We started in the morning and had our limit by three o'clock. Now it's time to go into town for some pork rinds." Pork rinds aside, Shurson had a nice bag of clean sauger filets that were sure to make a fine dinner later and I was eager to catch my own.

To go after your own saugers, use a plain 5/8 or ¾ oz jigs. Color preferences are as diverse as the fishermen, but most are using natural colors. The water clarity can help you decide if you need the brighter colors such as chartreuse or pink. For walleye also try sonars, a blade bait, to get their attention. The pulsing action of the blade can help fish find the bait.

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 boat. 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 it. 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.

On a fall fishing trip you can expect to catch a variety of species such as smallmouths, walleye, saugers, white bass, northern, and channel cats. It seemed like all the fish are looking for another meal before the winter sets in and their metabolism slows. I'd suggest 10 lb line or heavier so you are prepared for whatever comes your way. While all of these fish will take the jig, white bass are best caught with a flathead on a river rig. Try a 2 oz sinker on a 30 inch snelled hook, size 6. White bass can be fun, but only after I've caught the saugers and walleye.

If you want to try the floats, they are open from mid-March through the end of October. The float in Alma offers primitive sleeping quarters and a warm meal known as "The Mess." This egg dish is made of eggs, hash browns, cheese, meat, onions, and peppers - and they top it with sauerkraut. If you think that sounds good now, try it at 2:30 am when you're catching saugers in a snow storm.

Now that it is November and the floats are closed, you'll have to fish from shore or use a boat. Fishing can be good right up until ice starts to form which means another two months of good fishing. I'm planning to sneak out the week of the deer season. Who wants to eat turkey when they can have saugers?

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.