Rite of spring: River walleye fishing on the Mississippi and Rainy systems
Whether it be the Mighty Mississippi, the Rainy River, or another main river system most anglers have heard of the incredible walleye bite on rivers at this time of year. Yet many people hesitate to try this style of angling. Often we’re dealing with treacherous conditions with high, dirty water and debris floating down river. This year we’re encountering just the opposite. The water is low, clear, and contains very little debris.
I’m not saying that river fishing is for everyone – there are still some hazards out there – but if you always have considered trying this rite of spring, then this would be the year.
I was on Pool 4 of the Mississippi River above Lake Pepin on March 31, and the river was very manageable. The low flow made for simple launching of the boat. We started in some heavy fog, but once that burned off it was a very enjoyable day on the water. We only saw one tree and a few other small branches floating down river.
If you are fishing the river for your first time, talk with someone who has done it in the past to gain some basic knowledge of techniques and hazards. A GPS with a mapping feature is one of your most valuable tools on the river. It will not only help you find a fishing spot, but it will also help you avoid hazards such as wing dams and other shallow areas.
Expect other boats around you. Many local anglers wait for this time of year, so expect to have company when fishing the common areas. Your ability to control your boat will save you from dirty looks from neighboring anglers. Show up early and be prepared for a wait at the launch. This is one of the busiest times on these river systems as pre-spawn walleyes stack up below the dams.
One of the most used tactics for catching these fish is a simple jig and soft-plastic. Others tend to stick with the old faithful jig and minnow. You’ll want to be fishing near the bottom. Whether it’s casting the shorelines, or vertical jigging, keep your offering within a foot of the bottom because that is where these fish are hanging out now.
Make sure to know the limits and regulations before hitting the water and have fun!
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