By Joe Bucher
My recent move to the western side of Wisconsin has taken me away from decades of familiarity with natural lakes and a muskie focus to a whole new world of Mississippi River backwaters and big largemouth bass.
I am now right next door to the Mighty Mississippi near pools four, five, and six, and that vast complex system of current, wing dams, islands, sloughs, and canals. And, while the Mississippi offers excellent fishing for a wide range of species, including panfish, catfish, walleyes, pike drum, and more, it is no doubt a tremendous largemouth bass fishery, as well.
I began my fishing career as a bass angler, so this shift in location and species wasn’t as foreign to me as some might think. I actually cut my teeth, so to speak, on largemouth bass before stepping into the muskie world. Quite honestly, this boyhood background in bass fishing served me well on my shift to muskies since the tactics tend to have some similarities and crossovers. In fact, I would argue it gave me an advantage since I was open to a wider range of lures and techniques.
However, nearly all my boyhood bassin’ was on natural lakes, although one could argue that quite a few of our inland lakes I fished are flowages – dammed up river systems. Little did I realize going into my new quest to tackle the Mississippi River I would tap into all those experiences on small flowages. I have done quite a bit of winter bass fishing over the years on large reservoirs that have an abundance of feeder creeks and small and large river systems.
One of the first things I discovered when I launched for the first time on the Mississippi River is the vastness of its backwaters. Unlike most of the other rivers I had fished in the Badger State, most notably the Wisconsin River, Chippewa River, and Eagle River, which function as a single river with distinct banks, few bays and backwater sloughs, and a simple downstream flow, the “mighty one” is just the opposite. The Mississippi has a ton of sloughs and numerous islands.
It also contains dozens of wing dams. These man-made underwater barriers that protrude only partially across the river slow water flow along banks while creating a faster moving center channel. They also create a myriad of current breaks that attract potential game fish. All these features make for a far more complex system to decipher as a fisherman. Yet, they also create fantastic diversity of habitat. Once I got over the initial shock of its vastness and complexity, one thing became very obvious, especially once I looked at these waters from an overhead perspective. I have to treat this water like the flowages I grew up fishing. This was especially true as it pertained to bass and panfish.
With this game plan in mind, I simplified my approach by focusing on vegetation with baitfish and some depth or current nearby. This was a winning formula. I then took on small sections, such as a single slough, on each outing, picking them apart one at a time. I fished a lot of water with no results, but some winners emerged rather quickly.
Duplicating success on multiple spots was the next goal, and before long, I had a solid milk run of good spots that consistently produced. Quite honestly, it’s a rare day now when the rod isn’t bent with plenty of bass action.
I rate those three pools of the river among some of the very best largemouth bass waters in the state. Maybe THE best. Smallmouth bass populations are good here, too. No doubt this part of the river has the habitat, big numbers of catchable bass in shallow water and some dandy top-end fish to boot. My best advice to any Mississippi River bound bass angler? Treat it like a flowage, and you’re sure to score well.