Fishing During The Flush

By Ted Peck - March 1, 2013
Flooded cornfields usually don't top the list of productive locations for chasing walleyes. But when a river is running belly-full from runoff and rain this refuge from raging current can provide your best odds for hooking up.

Professional walleye angling legend Keith Kavajecz and I found fish holding in this bizarre location one spring about 20 years ago on the Illinois River. Keith was pre-fishing for an MWC event back in the days before the more prestigious Professional Walleye Trail came into being.

The River had swelled to beyond flood stage. We were dodging massive trees at unsafe speeds when underway looking for fish. Although saugers which we caught prefer several times the current velocity of their long, green kin-the walleye-environmental concerns caused these fish to kick back in the corn where we caught them 'swimming' 1/16 ounce jigs above the stalks.

These circumstances are extreme. But they are a good example of fish behavior when a spring river is flushing out the winter blues.

The bottom line is survival, with procreation a distant second in the piscatory hierarchy of needs in walleyes and northern pike right now.

Fish are cold blooded creatures. Expending more energy than they take in spells eventual doom. This is why you'll find both walleyes and pike in slack water when the river is high and roily.

In a perfectly harmonious ecosystem northern pike seek out flooded grasses when water temperatures warm to about 45 degrees. Several smaller males bump against a larger female, goading her to dump eggs which are fertilized and attach to the grasses.

This kind of habitat isn't hard to find in quiet waters off of a swollen river. The kicker is, if the river level recedes before the eggs can hatch pike fry production plummets.

Walleyes yield to the spawning urge when waters warm to about 48 degrees. For some strange reason the magic number is 45 degrees in the Wisconsin RiverÂ…but that's a whole 'nother story.

Walleyes prefer to spawn at night in relatively quiet water over a rocky-rubble bottom. Experience teaches these marble-eyed critters spawn at almost the same time in Rock River and the lower Wisconsin River.

With just a couple of exceptions over the past 25 years this magic date has been within 48 hours of April 1st on these waters.

Although we're a long way from the ocean moon phase also plays a role in local walleye spawning activity. This year the full moon falls on March 27.

The odds of you connecting with your personal best Rock River walleye are rapidly approachingÂ…especially if you're fishing above Lake Koshkonong when all factors come into a state of harmonic convergence.

River level may be the major donneker standing in the way of this achievement.

If the Rock is swollen as we 'march' towards April Fool's Day it may be difficult for walleyes to find that rocky-rubble habitat they so desire.

If there is one mantra to bear in mind when out on the river prospecting for walleyes it is 'fish the slack water near the fast water'.

Another consideration is water temperature. Water entering the main flow from smaller tributaries, field drain tubes and similar sources may be both warmer and have slack water habitat: a perfect place to find fish stacked and active.

Walleye anglers flock to tailwaters of the Indianford dam and similar habitat where the current is just boiling every spring. Some find success. Those who triumph consistently are working the slack water near the fast water.

Walleye location can be found in a micro-habitat. Several walleyes can stack up in slack water below a large rock, bridge piling or similar current break with the river raging all around them.

They might also be loafing in a flooded cornfield or a muddy-bottomed neck or habitat no self-respecting walleye would even consider visiting under normal river conditions.

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.