Lessons From The River

Lessons From The River

From where I sit in my office this morning a portion of the upper Mississippi River is about 50 yards away. That's right. Right out back of our In-Fisherman office is a direct link to Venice, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. The occasional bull shark is reported to have made it up river as far north as Illinois. I keep hoping to hook up, but not so far.

I did catch one of the biggest muskies of my life right out our back door. There also are channel cats and walleyes, but smallmouths are my primary target most of the time. "Sunday Morning Smallmouth Coming Down." I wrote that In-Fisherman article many years ago based on fishing right out back. Many fishing lessons learned.

This is the first year in many that the Mississippi has been running high the entire year. It looks terribly dirty, but it's not so bad once you get on it and start fishing, which is what I did last week, shooting a little footage for TV.

On any river running high and a bit dirty once summer sets in you want to go big and bold. You can always catch river smallmouths on jigs, but it just isn't high percentage in high water. Too small. Show the fish something more distinctive. Make it easy for them to find it and bite it.


Big crankbaits can be good, but one of the best options is a spinnerbait like a 1/2-ounce Terminator T-1. Ya mon, titanium. I usually begin with gold blades in stained water—and I like a bit of chartreuse in the skirt. Then I notice that I've forgotten to put the spinnerbait box in the boat. From a previous trip for Nebraska walleyes holding in flooded trees, I have on a spinnerbait with silver blades and a white skirt. One spinnerbait in the boat. Let's see what happens.


The next step is to step this package up yet another notch. Berkley recently introduced a lineup of Havoc softbaits. One of my favorites is the Grass Pig, which was designed for fishing in heavy grass cover.


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I use it in other situations. I consider the Pig a hybrid swimbait. It has a thumper tail at the end of a 5-inch tubular body. Run a Pig on a rubberlegged jig with a cone head and it gives the package a swimming motion on a straight retrieve or as it dives to the bottom after you kill the retrieve. Dynomite! That's also my objective in this situation—bulk up the body of the spinnerbait and add even more vibration. Big and bold.

Then it's just chunk and wind and grind. Country singer Jerry Reed loved to fish a spinnerbait. Smoky and the Bandit was a decent movie. "West bound and down, 18 wheels a rollin'." Or was it East bound? Pretty good song, too. The first cast is for Jerry.

I spend most weekends in the office writing and planning. Often I take a break and walk out back and sit on the picnic table by the river. Over the years dozens and dozens of anglers have drifted by. Most are doing it wrong, casting to cover elements just down river of their position and bringing the lure back up river.


Lures need to be moving with the current to get consistent action. Drift past cover elements and cast back upriver to them. Run the spinnerbait along the back edge of timber cover. Run it down the current seem created by something sticking out from the shoreline. Just slow roll it so the blades turn. I position with a trolling motor while working from the bow.

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In high water most of the fish get pushed to the bank, but at times even a one foot drop in water level moves fish to rocky breaks farther out in the river. Try both options and it won't take long to learn where the fish are. Everything begins to change as the water continues to drop. At the opposite end of the spectrum in low, clear water it's easy for the fish see what's happening above them. Time to get precise with topwaters—another story.

There are other tricks to this trade, but this might get you going. And get going you should. That day on the river we saw one other boat. Peaceful—almost no fishing pressure, a result I suppose of the river looking dirty and running high. But the fish have to eat. And they're crazy wild once you connect with them.


One silver spinnerbait, a few hours of bliss, and a bunch of feisty river bass, the biggest about 4 pounds.

Righteous stuff, man.

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