Summer Wingdams On The Miss

By Ted Peck - August 1, 2008
There are no 'sure things' on the Mississippi River in August. But rocky fingers called "wingdams" which help maintain a nine-foot navigation channel are pretty close-provided you can "read" them, of course. Be forewarned that learning to "read" wingdams will mean multiple trips to the prop shop for repairs. You'll ding or break off skegs on the motor. Maybe lose a lower unit or two. Wingdam fishing is a blatant risk/reward scenario.

What reward could possibly be worth a $60 rebuild job on a propeller? How 'bout a 20-inch smallmouth or six nice walleyes in six casts or a bucket full of jumbo bluegills? Wingdams hold this potential, a chance to dance with double-digit pike, constant action on jumbo white bass and catfish-both flathead and channels. And more.

Kissing the rocks is a matter of when-not if. Still good to go? Then read on. Once you get a taste of whipping the wings there is no turning back. Most wingdams are clearly marked on good river charts. However, even the best charts don't show all the wingdams off of the main channel and similar rocky structures called "filter dams" or "closing dams".

The first wingdams were willow mats and stones, placed in the 1930's in an attempt to funnel water and maintain a deep channel for navigation. Modern wingdams are all large stones, specially selected to tear the daylights out of your prop and motor. Wingdams are often placed in series, with 3-6 of these rocky fingers jutting out from the shoreline. Some extend almost out to channel markers. Don't ever cut on the inside of a channel marker! Not even by a foot!

Over time wingdams may get silted in, especially on the end near shore. The siltation above wingdams creates feeding flats. But finding fish here is hit or miss. Better to concentrate on those rocks with at least eight feet of water a long cast upstream from the riffles which mark the dam.

Here's an important lesson in wingdam reading 101: The riffles you see are always downstream from the rocks. The flat, slick spot above the riffles is the prop-eating minefield. Position your boat to follow the eight foot contour above a wingdam and cast towards the slick spot above the riffles. If you stay at eight feet, you're probably fairly safe.

Now hear this! The guys that built these things are not rocket scientists. Wingdams are not placed by laser transit! Every wingdam is unique. Some have a little break in the rocks at a certain pool level. I call these "Tuesday" wingdams. It's like the crew got done Monday and the first load of rocks Tuesday left a little gap. Fish can lay in this funnel and provide action beyond belief. "Friday" wingdams are even better. The rocky finger is pretty much perpendicular to the main current and easy to "read" . But many times the TGIF mindset kicks in and a pile of rocks gets dumped at the end of the wing, just a little bit out of place. Fish magnet! Many wingdams butt up against the shoreline. Not all of them. Some stop about 20-40 feet from shore enabling cautious navigation, tight against the bank. Beat the daylights out of that inside edge with something fairly snagless like a spinnerbait!

The downstream, inside edge of a wingdam with a fair amount of current is usually a good place to probe for bass. The channel end 10 percent can hold walleyes all summer long. Find a "Tuesday" wingdam with a little gap between upstream and downstream and you can catch multi-species all day long. If you're working along the upstream edge of a wingdam and get snagged up, its a good thing. This means you're fishing where the fish are probably holding. Open the bail and let line free-spool for a minute. The current will free your snag about 75 percent of the time. About 15 percent of the time a fish is waiting to garwoofle your bait once it floats free.

There is no substitute for time on the water. When you're out there 5-6 days a week the more productive wingdams and where to put the boat to catch fish become almost second nature. Checking coordinates on a chart is the easiest way to find a wingdam. Second come "reading the water" third-and least desirable-is finding rocks with your prop.

One of my favorite wings on pool 9 is a closing dam which I've been fishing for years. So far in 2008 it has claimed a skeg and two dinged props. But my Lund has claimed over 100 legal walleyes and two 20 inch smallmouth here. And the best is yet to come.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.