Ice fishing has always been something I look forward to every winter but it’s always sad for many serious anglers putting the boat away for the year. Ice fishing has always been something I have done but I often find myself missing the feeling of setting the hook on a 7’ rod, so I am always looking for ways to do so. A few years back, I started learning about a world-class walleye fishery known as the Mississippi River. I had grown up with many of my friends’ dads talking about how awesome it was, and I started to do some more research into all aspects of the Mississippi River system.
Networking on social media has helped me in many ways. I have been fortunate enough to meet some extremely knowledgeable people who have taught me many of the things that have extended my knowledge for this river system. I started fishing the river about 5 years ago religiously and really trying to learn the ins and outs of this magnificent body of water. Many evenings in March were spent on the river with buddies, getting skunked but slowly but surely figuring things out little by little. Through the network I have developed, I started to try new tactics and it definitely started to pay off. Finding the areas that Walleyes were hanging around in was extremely new to me (keep in mind, I only have walleye fished on lakes, not rivers). Areas where the river would bend and leave deposited sand flats, on either the inside or outside of it seemed to be the hot spot and still stands true to this day. After many, many hours of putting in the effort to find these gravel lizards, it’s nice to know that these same areas hold fish year after year. More often than not, there are eddys and current seams that the walleyes will use as a current break and move along with them as those eddy’s and current seams move along the sand flats. Often times, these sand flats can get quite shallow, so pitching jigs and plastics and long lining jigs far away from the boat can lead to success. I always keep in mind when fishing shallow water, that fish can see and hear the boat and are aware of your presence. Presenting your bait as far away from the boat as possible has been something I have always kept in the back of my mind. As far as bait choice, well I have learned a few rules of that. Rattle baits, and blade baits have their time and place, which is high water and fast current. The subtle action of a jig and plastic often times doesn’t grab the attention of those feeding walleyes. Jig and a plastic has always been my go-to confidence bait for those Mississippi River pigs for a couple reasons. I recently started to experiment with large stick baits, long lining them or rigging them on a Killzone 3-way rig and having great success. Basically, I just started to really try to visualize how that large bait was presented in the water and wondered why it was so much more effective over a jig and plastic. I came to the conclusion that these two baits were being presented in the same spot in the water column, I was simply just getting bit more on the crankbait because of its wobbling action, triggering those fish the eat. I have always used heavier jigs, so I decided to experiment with a lighter jig and using a plastic that promotes a large kicking action to see if the lighter jig head would give the overall bait more action and what I found was exactly what I thought, a subtle yet erratic action just enough to trigger a bite.
With the mild winter we have had, I have been fortunate to get out on the river earlier than I have ever been. I have been seeing some really big fish being caught from some of the guys that I had met through the years. Recently, I hopped in with one of them to join in on the fun. This was a rather different experience that what I was used to on the river. I normally am out there while fish are in the pre and post-spawn periods and this was a situation where these fish were wintering. I was finding fish in very similar areas, just further down river. Eventually, those fish will make their way up river to spawn but we anticipated they would be further down river, considering the time of year (mid Jan.). The experience we had was absolutely magical with over 50 fish being landed in a day, with a third of those fish being over 25”, a day I will never forget. I broke my personal best in the first hour of fishing which was 28.5” long and 10.57 lbs. Minimal fishing pressure and consistent weather patterns were the main the factors of our great success. Perfecting the light jig and plastic technique paid off and really showed during this trip. To say it was a nice break from all the ice fishing madness would be an understatement, any chance I get, it is always refreshing to bend the big sticks. With ice still on the lakes, I cannot quite forget about ice fishing, but with things the way they are, it sure is going to be tough to balance the two!
Ole Miss, I will be back very soon.