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The Mighty Mississippi - The Jewel of the Midwest for
By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
year. Remember, fish scatter in high water to escape fast current.
Search backwaters and even the marina coves. The majority of fish caught
will be in the 2- to 5-pound range, but hold tight, there's an occasional
10-pounder mixed in. Jimmy Oberfoell can be reached at 319-552-1424. He
guarantees fish or you don't pay! That's how good the Ol' Mississippi
Here's great news for walleye anglers from St. Paul to St. Louis
- the Mississippi River is home to more walleyes and sauger now than ever.
``It's excellent, it's just flat excellent,'' said Dan Sallee, head of
the Mississippi River Project for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
``The river is looking darn good.'', Sallee's counterpart in Wisconsin,
Ron Benjamin agrees. ``The river has improved dramatically,'' he added.
Some of the credit must go to high-water years following the Great
Drought of the late 1980s. Walleye and sauger found suitable spawning areas
plus plenty of hiding places for young-of-the-year fish as the waters rose.
At the same time, some Northwoods walleye and sauger rode the crest far
southward where they are setting up permanent shop. ``There are huge numbers
of young walleye as far as St. Louis,'' Sallee said. Benjamin is
satisfied that more than enough walleyes and sauger remain in the upper
reaches of Ole Miss so the migrants will not be missed. ``Everybody is
a winner,'' Sallee said. The upswing may also be due, in part, to the fact
state conservation authorities are giving Mississsippi management greater
emphasis. For example, the Fish Illinois Initiative made the "Big Muddy"
the sole responsibility of Sallee, who previously oversaw the Missisippi
along with other river fisheries in the state. In addition, Wisconsin
established a 15-inch length limit on Mississippi walleyes in 1989 to stop
premature harvest. The result? Biologists from Minnesota to
Illinois predict 1997 will be a banner year for walleye, if Mother Nature
cooperates. Floods are always the unpredictable X factor.
More good news is that an ever-increasing percentage of the river's
perch population is comprised of the larger walleyes rather than smaller
sauger. This is due, primarily, to improving water clarity and aggressive
stocking programs like Commonwealth Edison's intense effort in pool 14.
The power company is adding 140,000 to 500,000 two-inch, marked walleye
fingerlings each year. Branded so they can be identified later, the stocked
fish are being found both upriver and down. Walleyes accounted for 15 percent
of the Mississippi River's perch in the Illinois section during the early
1980s. They now account for twice that. Reports of 10 pounders
have been frequent. Sallee's heard of fantastic winter catches in dam tailwaters,
where one angler reported boating a limit of 10 walleyes and sauger within
70 minutes. Tales of catches of 50 or more fish per day per angler were
often told. Sallee, himself, had no problem shocking 25 walleyes over 3
pounds to the surface, including three 9 pounders. This was for implanting
radios for a tracking study. One of the big ones was recaught on
hook and line within 10 days. It's reports like those which led In-Fisherman's
Professional Walleye Trail to choose Dubuque, Iowa, for the1997 Stren Pro-Am
season opener May 8-10, said PWT Executive Director Jim Kalkofen. Though
other events have been held on systems which featured rivers, Kalkofen
noted the Mississippi tournament was the first-ever PWT event to be held
on a ``river-only'' fishery. PWT contestants fished on the 56 miles
between the Iowa towns of Guttenberg and Bellevue, Iowa. ``According to
the biologists, the fishery is way up on the upside of the curve
right now. The year classes and sizes are good for both walleye and sauger,''
Kalkofen said. The Dubuque pool should see spawning take place in mid-April,
Sallee and Benjamin warn river walleyes are far from predictable. Timing
and spawning locations varies with conditions from year to year. As Benjamin
said; ``You can read all the books on walleyes you want to, but walleyes
don't read books.'' Walleye tend to wait until two factors
are right - high water and temperatures from 45 to 50 degrees. The
fish will often spawn on hard-bottom river bends in mid-pool regions, with
rock 10- to 12 inches in diameter mixed in. During floods, walleyes will
easily utilize flooded marshes such as the walleyes in the Lake Winnebago/Fox
River system in Wisconsin. Last year, radio tracking revealed that when
the water level remained down, the fish in the study finally moved
to spawning areas on April 22 after the temperature rose well above 50
degrees. Sallee said scientists were surprised to find them laying their
eggs in 20 feet of water on the border of the main channel on rock rubble
within a mile of the dam. That's far closer than previously thought. It's
unknown, however, if that's a normal location or the one picked during
an unusual year. Perhaps no one knows the Mississippi's quirks from season
to season like Jimmy Oberfoell of Jimmy O's Bait Shop in Dubuque, IA. He
has guided in that area for a quarter century. Walleyes and sauger
tend to mass at the base of the main lock and dams during the winter, where
anglers can take their share when the ramps are free of ice. Lower
stretches of river can also hold fish in the deeper holes at the same time.
The ice will break up in March, but water temperature can move up and down
for a time with the introduction of snowmelt runoff from upriver. Conditions
are usually right for spawning by April 15. Look to the downriver sections
of the major outside river bends, preferably with rocky, hard bottoms.
``But, I've seen them spawn on mud and even in flooded trees,'' Oberfoell
added. During the post-spawn conditions like the PWT pros will face in
May, Oberfoell expects that fish will be found resting in areas of slower
current, but near sources of easy meals. Pay close notice to mud flats
on the back side of wingdams and the downriver sections of inside bends.
Use a fast-tipped spinning rod, such as
Ti66SPMH or Ti62SPM, with 8-pound test
Magnathin. Watch your line carefully for light biters. Fish shallow
water and use the lightest jigs that the current will allow. The
best weight is the one that will let your jig float to the bottom, not
drop like concrete, for a more realistic look. "Do it the natural
way. You will catch more fish.'', Oberfoell comments. Jig sizes will
normally range from 1/16th-to 1/4 ounce. Toss your jig at the shoreline
and reel the bait back to the boat as you slowly slip past likely spots,
such as rocks breaking up the current. Anchor once fish are found
to give greater control to your jig and to avoid spooking fish. Another
tip, watch for birds on the shoreline. They will indicate the location
of bait fish and the walleyes will not be far away.When Oberfoell uses
live bait, he chooses river shiners, not the more-common fatheads in order
to match the primary river forage. He also has had good success with
Fuzz-E-Grub jigs. He'll often use scent when he fishes with curly
tails and will sometimes use just the curly tail body and live bait. Another
choice - cast #5 or #7 .
Water is stained, so color is usually unimportant at this time of
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