River Fishing By The Numbers

By Ted Peck - October 1, 2008
Ron Barefiled with a nice slab. October is a time of profound change in Midwestern rivers. On Mississippi River Pool 9 where I guide water temperatures were still hovering around 70 degrees at the end of September. A cold north wind blew that page off the calendar, causing water temperatures to tumble and fish to come alive.

Some folks call September "Slump-tember. There is so much food in the water for fish to eat action can be slow-even with water temperatures at nearly ideal levels for predator comfort. There is little incentive for a big ol' bass to garwoofle your $6 crankbait when merely opening his mouth amounts to a pass thru a long buffet line.

Anglers chasing smallmouth and largemouth bass on my neck of the river had two options for finding success: slow provocative baits like a Senko, or livebaiting with shad a predominant forage base on pool 9.

Cold nights and cool days the first couple days of October dropped ambient water temperatures into the 60's, beginning the countdown to winter. Fish know this is no time to call Jenny Craig. They're starting to chow down-Big Time! Spinnerbaits, in-line spinners, Rat-L-Traps and Bomber A cranks are all resulting in stretched strings on the Mississippi in a pattern which should continue until water temperatures drop below 55 degrees about Oct. 26. This is a ball-park date, gleaned from a fishing diary I've kept since 1976. Records kept over the past 30 years make it easier to predict trends and times in seasonal fish behavior.

For the past several years I've also charted a nasty phenomenon which is peculiar to the Miss: floating grass. This year it started becoming a problem on Sept. 22, a full week later than the past three years. Will the problem last four full weeks as it has in the past or will it go away earlier ? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, anglers have several options: use lures less prone to attracting weeds like a weedless jig, pegging a split shot 30 inches above the lure to intercept weeds before they reach the bait-or go fish somewhere that the weeds aren't experienced on every single stinkin' cast!

Walleyes-the most sought after gamefish in Wisconsin and a couple of other northern Midwest states-are also starting to feed a little more aggressively. Many anglers on the Mississippi try deep vertical jigging with hair jigs and blade baits, targeting fish over at least 10 feet of water.

Another popular tactic is pitching cranks on wingdams and closing dams. Frustrating during the weed-a-thon, but fishable with a split shot.

The real serious walleye bite gets going when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees. This usually occurs right around month's end. Fish get increasingly aggressive as water continues to cool.

Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 15 water temperatures should hover between 45 and 41 degrees, offering some of the fastest and easiest walleye action of the entire year. Unfortunately, this timeframe represents a dilemma, 'cause whitetail bucks are in peak rut acting almost as dumb as walleyes for a few special days. This is a study in mixed emotions-like watching your Mother-in-Law drive your new snowmobile into the side of a freight train.

Ron Barefiled with a nice slab.

Walleyes will continue to bite as waters drop from 40 degrees into the 30's. As long as the river remains open and you can put a hook in front of that stubby green nose, fish will eat. Of course, you'll need to slow the presentation down. Fish are cold-blooded creatures. They are more impressed with a 4-inch ringworm dragging along the bottom than your mastery of snap-jigging techniques. Blade baits provide a caveat to typical walleye behavior in cold water. A Sonar, Big Dude or similar blade ripped in front of Ol' Greenie's nose will often trigger a strike. A GLX G.Loomis rod and reel spooled with 10 lb. FireLine Crystal will be the last long rod to go in the box when its time to break out the short rods again. If life ever gets to the point where the thrumming of a blade bait stopped by a head-shaking pull doesn't bring a grin to my face, somebody please check a pulse.
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.