Sunday, September 14, 2014

Exploring Pool 3 of the Mississippi River

I'm in the midst of recovering from a cold that forced me to skip out on a day and a half of work and perform at a subpar level all week. That said, I did a little flipping on Waconia today, listened to my Hokies lose badly and made it home before tiring myself out too much to watch the Sox play against a Kansas City team that appears to be headed to the playoffs.

Anyhow, somewhat recently I've spent a little time on Pool 3 of the Mississippi. It is a fascinating place that is a huge pain to fish out of a 20 foot boat with a broken jack plate. I've launched exclusively out of a small ramp in one of the bigger backwaters. While it has the advantage of being close to one of the premier largemouth spots in the pool, it is also a long and uncharted way from the main channel.

The first day I slipped the boat in was frighteningly windy. I idled out of the ramp and directly over to what looked like it could be a decent pocket off the main backwater. I quickly learned that because of the way the backwater lay out, assuming you can't get to stuff was a very safe assumption. I cut the Mercury off and jacked up my trolling motor and attempted to ease to the bank and some beautiful looking pads and wood that sat in about 2-inches of water. I quit pretty quickly and turned around to idle a little further and find some slightly deeper water.

Next stop was a sort of backwater-delta where an offshoot of the main river flowed in. Behind that was probably the biggest and deepest sub-backwater in the area. I eased in and started throwing a ChatterBait not far from where the water dropped off the hardpan of the delta and into the mud of the backwater. I quickly got a bite and then another. Neither hooked up and I swapped to a swimjig in hopes of getting something in the boat. And boom! The next one was in. I edged my way down the break, missed a few more and paused to rig up a light Texas rig. First up was a worm. A few misses later and I swapped to a craw and started putting them in the boat.

I ended up staying in basically one area all day and crushing them in the process. By the end of the day I'd zeroed in on a swimjig configuration that would put them in the boat and my thumb was sore and bloody. First I keyed on a log on the edge of the bank, then just the current, then a nearby patch of pads, then another. I was prepared for the presence of current to be important, but I was not at all prepared for the distinction between completely dead water and water that was stacked with fish. The adage about 90 percent of the fish being in 10 percent of the lake seems to be even truer in rivers.  

The next time I went involved the legendary Kyle Wood. We went back to the glory hole and pretty quickly found that it wasn't the same. We fished around a bit, chucked a variety of baits and left with some nice fish but nothing like I'd seen the first time. A later trip would prove somewhat conclusively that I had burned out a prime area. That said, I still suspect I would return there with a Senko and catch them again. Or perhaps even now, (a few weeks later), with a swimjig.

Anyhow, after giving my largemouth area a decent chance to produce we left it with a few fish biting and cautiously worked our way out to the primary inflow of the backwater. We sampled a few more unproductive or inaccessible areas on the way out and then settled down to fish a completely different kind of current.

We started fishing our way along an island that had current flowing past both sides and slipped into a gap in it and found the fish. The current was flowing off a shallow area with stumps and a particular section, that was perhaps the size of three bass boats, was loaded with smallmouth. We caught them on swimjigs and they absolutely smashed topwaters. The joy and excitement that a smallmouth repeatedly striking a walking bait stirs in me is one of the best pleasures in the world.

We left the area to explore more, not because it was entirely played out, and though we found other fish, we never found a spot with comparable numbers of fish. We did find a few areas that looked like they should have worked, but for whatever reason they didn't.

The third time out, (with Joe this time), I elaborated on the end of the second outing. After a few quick and fairly successful stops at some of my old favorites I again began picking apart some main-river areas and some of the deeper and swifter bits of water flowing into the backwater below the main inflow. I was never able to find the motherlode as I did in earlier trips, but I was able to catch some solid smallmouth and really get a feel for how tight and precise my presentation needed to be when the fish weren't actively chomping.

I'll definitely be back for more. When lightening strikes on the river it can be pretty dang fun. Plus, the river is just a cool place to be even when you aren't catching. The variety of boats going by, playing the current, the potential navigational difficulties and the sheer newness, (to me), of it all makes for a lovely time.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mille Lacs: July 13

Mille Lacs represented the second day of my Lindner-centric fishing expedition. It was a little disappointing, mostly because the story of the day wasn't a fish.

Nick and I never got things dialed in, we launched north of Indian Point (I believe that's what it is called anyhow) and ran to check the outside of an area I had fished with some success in the spring. We idled around the structure for a little while (excitedly punching in a waypoint on one sweet boulder and a few other interesting rough patches) before slowing down and rigging up at the key boulder. I lined up a drop-shot with a Strike King Swim N Shiner and flipped it up toward the boulder. I think my third flip produced a hefty smallmouth. Once the fish was landed, we swung back up and I was hooked up again in short order. We then wandered down the rest of the hump and searched unsuccessfully for more.

The next stop was a break closer to shore that produced a pike. We wandered across the hump/point accompanying the break and smacked another solid smallmouth. It was after this that the day took a turn for the worse.

We fired up the Lund again and ran out to a hump at the tip of the point. After a little idling (and a lot of wild pitching about in a now very rough Mille Lacs), we identified a small section that looked best – I idled up-wind a bit and cut the motor. As I dropped the trolling motor and picked up my rod I somehow heard Nick say “snake!” and was suddenly joined by my fishing companion on the front deck. Having a snake in the boat is Voldemort-in-real-life level scary. I mean, woah. Nick got it out, we got back on the spot, and I'm going to blame the snake on the fact that we didn't batch but two more smallish smallies the rest of the day.

If you didn't see the snake story on social media at the time, you can go dig it back up. Suffice to say, it was a garter snake (a VERY dangerous species) and it swam off into the middle of the lake at a high rate of speed.

The rest of the day we plumbed various bits of offshore structure (with a brief largemouth foray) with little success. Nick picked up one on something and I nabbed our fifth fish on a Duo Realis Spinbait 80, but the afternoon was mostly remarkable for the lack of fish. Word on the street is that all of Minnesota was a little off that weekend. Then again, someone is always on 'em, and I'd like it to have been us.