Prime, unfished bass water: the Mississippi River in central Minnesota
On a beautiful summer day of fishing a well known body of water in the middle of a city, my kids and I saw only one other fishing boat, and we caught a ton of fish. There weren’t any personal watercraft or speedboats either.
How is this possible?
Actually, it’s a common occurrence when fishing a river in Minnesota. That day we were on the Mississippi River smack dab in the middle of St. Cloud. There were a ton of kids and moms at the park where we launched our boat, but once we were on the river, we hardly saw a soul.
The only people we saw were folks walking along a river path on their lunch break and some construction workers near the city auditorium who provided some helpful fishing advice from their scaffolding.
“I’ve seen lots of smallmouth right around the bridge and alongside our scaffolding,” one told us. Within a few minutes, and a few well-placed casts into those areas, my kids and I were battling some hefty smallmouth bass.
On the day we caught a dozen bronzebacks, half a dozen hefty rock bass, a pike, had a muskie follow, and my daughter tied into some river monster that we lost near the boat but never saw. When you are fishing on the river, you never know what you might catch. That’s one of the great joys of river fishing.
The question remains, why so few anglers out there? There were plenty of fish in many different locations. The wind was blowing around 25 miles an hour that day, more than most people are comfortable with on the average lake. The temperature was in the mid-80s and it was a weekend. Logically speaking the place should have been packed.
We saw only one other boat the entire time, and they weren’t fishing. My guess is that people either just don’t know about the fishing opportunities the river offers or it intimidates them.
While living almost my entire life within a mile of the Mississippi or Minnesota rivers I never seriously fished from a boat on the river until I was in my late 20s. My first two river fishing trips occurred with well seasoned fishing guides who helped me figure out the idiosyncrasies of river fishing.
Like anything, experience is the best teacher. Here are a few quick tips I can offer for anglers looking to take their first river fishing trip.
1. Start with a “slower” stretch of river before you battle current and rocks. A river is always moving, but there are always places where the river widens and doesn’t move so much. Check in with a local baitshop before venturing out for the latest river conditions.
2. The easiest place to catch fish are around river structures like bridges and along the river bank. Overhanging and partially submerged trees, along with holes in the river bank are the best places to locate fish. There are fish all over the river you can locate as you improve.
3. Study a map of the area you hope to fish and watch for dams, rapids, wingdams, shallow rock areas and other obstructions. Be aware of your proximity to these places, which can cause problems, and hold lots of fish. The Minnesota DNR website has very detailed maps of the Mississippi River.
4. Find two nearby boat accesses you can start and end your trip from so you don’t have to navigate back upstream. Get a friend to help you launch the boat, then pick you up later on at the end point. A distance of five to 10 miles is a good starter distance and will provide a few hours of fishing.
5. Always wear a lifejacket and give your boat a thorough safety check. Those are always things anglers should do, but it’s especially important on a river that acts like a conveyor belt that never stops. If something unexpected occurs you need to be prepared.