Predicting Summer Patterns On Ol Man River

By Ted Peck - July 1, 2009
One of the biggest mistakes in my college career was taking Greek Philosophy 481. This was an advanced course for philosophy students. Not a good choice for a journalism major who selected the class because the time fit his fishing plans. Besides a welcome "D" this class produced two epiphanies: philosophy students would rather talk about work than actually working-and a man can not step into the same river twice. I couldn't tell you the name of this old Greek, or the other Greek who opined you can't step into the same river once. A lifetime spent fishing the Mississippi reveals both of these ancient wise men were pretty much on target.Finding a consistently productive fishing pattern on The River is a study in changes-even during the summer months when river levels are generally stable.

Time of day can be critical this time of year. Not so much because of light penetration as activity levels of the forage base. Case in point is a big sand flat just off of the main channel behind a closing dam. The water here is only two feet deep, making a Baby One Minus or spinnerbait the lure of choice. Every predator from drum to bass to pike and walleye has breakfast here, with the main entrée a gazillion shad which are trying to take refuge on the sand flat.

When the sun crests bluffs on the Wisconsin side about 8 a.m. the bite ends abruptly because the shad go scurrying to better hiding places with the predators right behind them.

You might think that walleyes would cruise the deeper waters of the River this time of year. Not necessarily so. You may find hungry 'eyes relating to the ends of wingdams. But you'll likely find more back in the running sloughs, feasting on everything from insects to frogs.

Conventional wisdom says dragging a jig over 5 f.o.w. with the main outboard putting away isn't a good way to hook up with marble eyes. But if the bottom strata is a mussel bed which filters water, adds oxygen and attracts forage you can bet the walleyes won't be far away-or deterred by an Evinrude overhead.

A shad fly hatch can quickly put the ki-bosh on an active bite overnight. Fish gorge themselves on this readily available food and could care less about the $15 Lucky Craft you are trying to tempt them with-even though the bait might have been deadly on the morning bite for three days before. When an overnight insect hatch occurs, you'll almost always have better luck in the late afternoon.

The importance of the predator/prey relationship can't be overstressed. Gamefish are opportunists. Even if their bellies are full they will often eat if an easy meal comes by. This may seem a contradiction to the previous statement. Rest assured, it isn't.

Birds can be a valuable clue to predator activity. If gulls are sitting around, keep moving. But if they are hovering and dive-bombing the water, get over there pronto.

I keep a 1/8 oz. white RoadRunner jig with 3" white or clear fliptail rigged and ready to cash in on fish and birds busting bait near the surface.

Changes in river level will greatly impact fish behavior. On a rising river fish generally move toward shore or up into backwaters and running sloughs. On a stable or falling river you'll typically find a lot of bass and pike hanging near the channel edge.

Barge traffic can create or destroy a feeding window if you're targeting rocks-especially rocks on the leading edge of an island or along a closing dam. A passing towboat-especially one headed upstream-can briefly change water levels by a foot or more. This either displaces or moves baitfish into the rocks and can trigger a flurry of activity.

The downstream end of pools on the Mississippi typically have vast flats covered with weeds. Pay close attention to changes in weed species. The best weeds are those with at least four feet of water immediately adjacent to the weed edge.

Water temperatures are a full 10 degrees cooler under the weeds than you'll find in open water nearby.

Vast weed flats also influence water clarity. It isn't uncommon to find one foot visibility on the upstream edge of a weed patch and four times as much clarity downstream. This will also drive fish location and bait presentation.

Countless tributaries dump into the Mississippi on this grand river's endless journey through the heartland. A rain event far away from the River can drastically change water clarity below the confluence with the big River. This impacts both after a heavy rain which roils the water and during a dry spell when the tributary may dump water with both increased oxygen and greater clarity into the mix.

If the ancient Greeks were sport anglers they may have been able to impart some wisdom about ever-changing fishing patterns on the River. Starting your time on the water at the same place with the same tactics which were productive your last time out is a good strategy. But if these tactics don't produce quickly a saavy angler will change both presentation and location with an eye toward what fish populations are likely to do under a given set of circumstances. The biggest mistake you can make is the confident belief that you have the fish dialed in. Conversely, nothing is sweeter than stumbling into a pattern which the fish haven't even figured out yet.

It is impossible to fish the same River once. Untitled

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.