Fishing Towards Winter On The River

By Ted Peck - November 1, 2010
Old Man River continues to show fishermen his complete repertoire of curves, fast balls and sliders in 2010 as we move through the 11th inning of a 12 inning game.

Lord only knows the changes we may see between now and Christmas in a year which started with less than stellar ice fishing into an early spring, gin clear June into a summer and fall which vacillated between flood stage and high dirty water with a few short chuckles of unbelievable action in between.

Coming into November there are only a couple more cards to play before Old Man Winter takes the mound and we enter the cold water period. The first one turned just before Halloween when he covered the 48 degree walleye "eat" button with another burst of high, dirty water.

Dirty water is never good for fishing. But fish usually acclimate in a couple days and settle into a catchable pattern. Fish don't leave the River when it's dirty, but they may change location and they certainly change behavior.

Water temperatures will tumble though the 40's early in the month. Walleye action should be somewhere between good and unbelievable until the week of Thanksgiving.

From this point forward Old Man Winter and Old Man River combine into one predictably cantankerous entity, generally howling and spitting out of the northwest. There will be times-for a day or two-when these spirits are plum tuckered out and need to nap.

When this happens you need to drop everything and head to the River. Water temperatures may only be in the upper 30's but walleyes, saugers and perch will be active at places where they will spend the rest of the winter.

The obvious location is within a mile of the lock-and-dam systems. But every River pool has wintering areas downstream, typically on an outside bend of the main River channel or back in running sloughs where the River used to run free before dams went in back in the 1930's.

The key to finding overwinter habitat in the backwaters is looking for places where the bottom drops away into 25 feet of water or more. Fish will be moving into these spots by month's end. They will remain here until mid-March or a hook finds them.

Baits like Northland's Buckaroo jig or jighead with a Slurpie or ringworm will work well until temperatures drop into the 30's. Experience teaches you'll catch more and bigger fish without tipping these baits with a minnow or chunk of crawler.

When water temperatures are above 40 degrees and I'm not working a river rig with a floating jig above a wingdam or similar structure minnows are of dubious value.

Sure, grandpa swore by them and they still catch fish. But plastics have come along to the point where they will outfish live bait.

One eyes and blade baits like the ol' Heddon Sonar are another weapon many anglers don't take the time to develop faith in. As waters cool below 40 degrees they will at least play even with plastics and hair, quite often outfishing either presentation on the autumn side of the cold water period.

Two major components of blade bait success are no-stretch line like FireLine and a sensitive rod with a fair amount of backbone like my 721 Loomis or one of those new Lightning Rod Shok units.

The final key to success is comfort. If you're out there fishing and shivering cuz a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do you will miss a lot of strikes under conditions where you may not get a lot of strikes.

Handwarmers, toe warmers, a back warmer-and a portable propane heater are all essential items between now and when the Ice Man cometh.

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.