Fall Fishing On The Mississippi

By Ted Peck - October 1, 2010
The Mississippi River will change a hundred times-at least one hundred times-between the first of October and the end of the month.

It's easy to write these words as the time has come to tear September off the calendar. The River has been running belly full, brown and angry for a solid week with more weeds coming down than I have ever seen in almost six decades on this water.

That's okay. When its time to throw October in the trash can walleyes will be going absolutely bananas on the wingdams, closing dams and other rocks-and a bunch of other special little places where I like to sneak in with the Lund when all the conditions are just right.

This has been the most challenging year I can ever remember on Old Man River. Back in the 60's I just went fishin' without thinkin' about things like forage base, water temperature and other habitat parameters or tiny details in lure selection and presentation.

I didn't keep a fishing diary back then. We had a big flood in '65. They let us out of school to fill sandbags. You can only work a River kid so long before he figures out a way to sneak off and fish. I can remember beating the daylights out of the crappies and being dog tired. We had another rough flood in '93. 2008 was a challenging year. But I never have seen a year like 2010. And it ain't over yet.

Pool 9 was so clear early in the summer that local media used it as a lead story. Dave Carlson came down and we did a Northland Adventures segment, sight fishing smallmouth on the Mississippi River!

July 6 the skies opened up, swelling the Old Man all summer long. He never lost the weight. We just learned to fish around him.

Fall flooding is unusual on the Mississippi. We haven't seen a good one in autumn since 1985. The annual grass parade wasn't as bad back then as it is now. Easing into October the River is brown, green and forever wide. If you're reading this article early in the month, read it again on Oct. 20.

Bass are going to go on an unprecedented rip from about the 7th until mid-month. They know the feeding window is closing fast. Fish Rat-L-Traps, swim jigs and spinnerbaits with thumpin #7 blades in the wood and shoreline of running sloughs for largemouth if the weather is stable.

If a cold front passes, slow it down and throw small plasticsÂ…or big, fat, short profiles like a jig-n-pig.

Crappies were already beginning their annual migration to deep wood before the flood hit. On the Upper Mississippi you will find them holding four feet down over brush located in at least 10 feet of water until November. Run and gun until you figure it out. Try little tube jigs, feathers and hair instead of minnows. River crappies can steal minnows better than saugers. Bare hooks don't catch many fish.

Walleyes were just starting to go on the rocks of closing dams and wingdams before the flood hit. They will be on a Bomber A crankbait pattern until water temperatures drop into the upper 40's about Oct. 20. Then its time to throw hair jigs.

How do you defeat the weeds? I take the front hook off of a crankbait and put a barrel swivel 20 inches up the line when pitching jigs if weeds are an issue.

When walleyes start hanging on the wingdams after flooding, they start congregating on the shore end, working out into the trough in front of the wingdam and eventually sliding off the channel end-moving up to feed when they feel like it.

Every wingdam has a sweet spot. Some have two or three. Fish location is driven primarily by forage base, which is driven by current flow. The English language does not have enough words to explain the conditions which put walleyes where they swim under certain conditions. But those four words "time on the water" are a great place to start.

Some folks ask if they can bring a GPS when they jump in my Lund. Of course they can. I don't know why you need one in a body of water which is less than two miles across and runs essentially north to south. A GPS will tell you what is there today-not tomorrow or even this afternoon.

Electronics in general are superfluous when it comes to catching fish. In spring and fall a surface temp gauge is nice. Knowing trolling speed is nice too. But I tend to look at 'catching fish' or 'not catching fish' and adjust trolling speed accordingly.

Electronics are just one more thing you don't really need to worry about when fishing the River. Back in the 60's I didn't have electronics and fishing was pretty good.

My MinnKota is one appreciated consolation to technology. Since the 60's my brain has absorbed a mind-boggling amount of data about fish and fishing. Motors are better. Rods are better. Other gear is better. But the fish haven't changed.

I am a River Rat. River Rats just go fishin'. My line has been in the water 150-200 days a year for 50 years from coast to coast and border to border-and beyond. I have finally realized the more you fish, the less you know-especially on the River. Just leave your demons at the dock and go fishin'. This is the formula for a successful day on the River!

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.