The Mississippi Is A Good January Destination

By Ted Peck - January 1, 2011
The concept of finding a hot bite in early January is an oxymoron which only a moron could believe is possible.

'Hot' is a relative term when the topic is activity levels in cold blooded creatures. Now is the time when a day on the ice usually starts out with slow fishing then slacks right off from there.

Fish in 33 degree water don't need to feed often or eat very much. They can sometimes be goaded into striking, but the strike window is relatively small. In 70 degree water an aggressive fish may streak five feet to smack a bait. In near-freezing water the same fish may move mere inches then merely gernip your offering with the lightning reflexes of a gutter wino.

Conversely, those who can't resist the compulsion to sit astride a five-gallon bucket in minus 10 degree windchill will travel much farther to get their string stretched in the dead of winter than they will in June. Remember green grass? The grass is green south of Memphis all winter long.

We choose to live in the cool, blue north where driving several hours in each direction seems like a reasonable day trip. Given generally lethargic fish activity and precursors to cabin fever amongst anglers here the Mississippi River is a viable target.

A few days ago the phone rang before 6 a.m. I am aware of this time frame because my wife felt compelled to repeat this revelation with increasing decibel levels at least a half dozen times. Contrary to her contention that the caller was one of my "rude little friends" the voice on the other end was a desperate stranger willing to travel any distance to hear fins slapping on the ice. Bob said he lived down in Illinois around LaSalle-Peru, a good five hour drive from where I spend a lot of time working as a guide in Vernon County. Plans for the year's final bowhunt were put on hold. I agreed to guide him on an abbreviated trip.

The fish were on a rip in Lawrence Lake on the west side of the River north of Brownsville, Mn. Crappies, bluegills, perch and bass were practically jumping through holes in the ice.When Bob showed up with two other guys at noon they put a half dozen panfish on the ice in 15 minutes.

This is a lot faster than the action typically comes on the Mississippi in January. But if you aren't afraid to frog around to different spots where you see vehicles parked along the road and walk a few minutes toward a horde of parkas hunkered with backs to the wind you can usually catch enough fish for a meal.

Unlike lakes which offer perhaps 20 minutes of fish activity at dawn and again at dusk this time of year, action on the Mississippi can come at any time of day, often with several flurries of activity for those spending at least four hours on a bucket.

These little opportunities when you forget about being cold for a few minutes seldom come at first or last light, making a daytrip to this destination even more promising.

Further, most of the water holding active fish is shallow-less than five feet. This means folks who haven't coughed up $500 for electronics can be players with just an auger and a $20 jig stick.

The fish may not be active on Lawrence Lake as you read these words. But they may be going up on Lake Onalaska, on Bear Claw or Indian slough, DeSoto Bay or another river pool south west of the little hamlet of FarNuf.

Reputable bait shops along the River will usually provide accurate fishing reports.

The website is another good source of information for waters all around the Midwest.

Winter is a fact of life. You may have the option and financial resources to run from it. The only other alternatives are hunkering down and waiting for a month with five letters or less or zipping up the coveralls and becoming a player in the natural world.

Few things taste better than fresh perch through the ice.

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.