River Walleye Bonanza By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson 

The mighty Mississippi River stretches from Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the upper portions of the river, it is truly an astounding walleye fishery. Although, this river provides angling enjoyment for multiple species, it is one of the best walleye rivers in the nation. 

It often takes over a six-pound average to win many of the walleye tournaments held on the Mississippi and anglers have certainly tapped into this mother lode. Five-pound saugers are possible and big walleye of 10 pounds don’t raise many eyebrows. 

Here’s the best part: there are many techniques that you can employ throughout the year. 

Success starts with understanding how fish survive in current. A fish that eats all the time would still starve to death if it didn’t have a way to conserve energy. Over time, river fish have adapted to find current breaks—places where they can escape moving water and wait for bait fish to swim by.

It doesn’t take much to create a current break and concentrate fish. A smooth shoreline holds little fish while a shoreline with small, rocky outcroppings can hold several fish swimming within the eddies, which are formed on the upstream and downstream sides of the rocks. 

Other current breaks include downed trees and anything else that extends into the water to slow current. Wing dams come more into play as the summer progresses. Breaks on river bends, where current slows naturally on the inside turns in high water, produce more consistently than long, straight sections of the river. Try the outside bends when water is low. 

Here are three tactics that work best for any river fishing. 

Arm yourself with spinning gear for the first. Try spooling your reel with eight-pound braided TUF Line, which has a two-pound mono equivalent diameter to reduce water resistance. Your jig selection should be heavy enough to maintain contact with the bottom. A 1/4-ounce Lindy jig head or Fuzz-E Grub is a good place to start. Go up to 3/8 or 1/2 in heavier current. 

A weedless jig allows you to swim the bait through wood without hanging up much, and the braided line should let you pull free when you do. Dress your jig with a YUM Muy Grub body or Ring Worm or live bait. Experiment with colors. Preferences will change as water clarity changes from day to day. Position the boat so you can cast to the current breaks formed by riprap or rocky or sandy points or flooded timber. 

Covering water to find fish is critical in the area of the river called Lake Pepin, or on longer stretches of river. A favorite method is to use a three-way rig. Tie on a sinker to the dropper, which is heavy enough to stay on bottom as you move at the speed of a slow walk upstream along bends in the river channel. For the trailer leader, use a short three-foot chunk of Silver Thread fluorocarbon in snaggy areas. Stretch out five to six feet on cleaner, sand flats. The hook end should be a floating jig head, or plain hook, or an Aberdeen hook dressed with a Fuzz-E Grub body. Tip the hook with a minnow, leech or nightcrawler. You can substitute a willow cat, but watch out for the stingers in the fins. Use the trolling motor to slide forward and side-to-side to cover different depths along the break. Make sure to note the depth when you get a strike. 

Three-ways also work best when fish stage on wing dams. Either anchor or use the trolling motor to hold in front of the dam as you let out enough line to reach the eddy at the base of the dam face. Try fishing nearer to shore in high water and closer to the main channel when the water is low. Look for places where a rock pile or a hole may have formed a significant eddy that is different from the rest of the wing dam. 

The third method to try, which is extremely effective, is to troll crankbaits using leadcore line. Put on 18-pound test leadcore for your main line to a barrel swivel and then add a five- to ten-foot TUF Line braided leader. This super braided leader, which has no stretch, will telegraph the action of the lure to your rod tip. If the rod tip stops vibrating, reel in and remove the debris. A new leadcore line has recently been introduced, call MicroLead, which is made up of super strong Spectra fibers. It is 30% thinner and twice as strong as standard leadcore. 

Try trolling different, deep-diving, shad-styled baits, such as the Lindy Shadling or Wally Diver. Speed is critical with leadcore and a GPS will help control your speed. Start trolling upstream 2.0 to 2.5 mph and note the depth and speed of strikes. Slow down to 1.5 to 2.0 mph in faster current or outside bends of the river. Again, be sure to slide up and down the breaks to test different depths and keep your crankbaits close to the bottom. 

Within Lake Pepin, try trolling leadcore on the flats just outside of the Rush River, Deer Island, Point No Point, the Willows opposite of Camp Lacupolis, Ehlers flats north of Lake City, and the stretch of shoreline just south of the Government Pier below Lake City. Don’t miss the Mississippi for great walleye action!