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Trip south more about fishing than catching

I just returned from fishing open water and a trip south enough to float my boat. I ended my trip Monday fishing Mississippi River Pool 4 at Red Wing.

I am fortunate to be able to call a couple of the best river fishermen from that area my friends. I was able to share time in my boat with retired guide, Captain Greg Vandemark, and still active guide Captain Randy Stevens. Randy operates “Randy’s River Rat Guide Service” (phone: 651-764-0002). These are a couple of the most accomplished river anglers as well as great guides and highly successful tournament anglers, but more importantly, great guys to share a boat with.

The bite by pool 4 standards was slow, but we were able to tighten some lines. The quality of the fishing trip was in the fellowship in the boat. We launched at Everts Resort just a few miles below the lock and dam. Everts maintains their boat landing all winter long, and has a great bait shop with everything you need for fishing the river, including fishing tips.

Pools 3, 4, and 5 of the Mississippi River are great walleye and sauger fisheries. With what looks like what is going to be a short window of opportunity this year at Rainy River, you may want to consider heading south if you are getting the early open water itch to fish.

Last weekend Randy estimated about 200 boats on the river both Saturday and Sunday with 150 of them launching from Everts. I think many anglers are ready to be done with the ice season, are getting the cabin fever, and are needing to get out and experience open water again. For the next month it may be busy on the weekends, and if considering a trip, you may want to go during the mid-week. I would guess we had about 20-25 other boats sharing the river with us on Monday, and we had plenty of room and spots to ourselves.

If you have never fished pool 4 I would suggest you contact “Randy’s River Rat Guide Service” and arrange a guide trip to familiarize yourself with what can be a tricky and dangerous river. You will also learn where to go and how to fish the river for walleyes and saugers. Then, getting your own boat on the water will be a more safe and successful venture.

I started my south trip to open water heading to the Illinois River at Peru and Spring Valley. This was my fourth trip to the Illinois River, with the last trip being seven years ago.

There are two extremely nice launch sites available. One is at Staved Rock Park, close to the lock and dam, and the other is Bartos landing in Spring Valley. Both sites have quality bait shops near the landings.

This is an industrial river and the barge traffic was active. One major difference in the fishery since the last time I was there is the invasion of Asian carp to the system (more on that next week). This fishery is known as the “Sauger Capitol”. You don’t catch many walleyes in this fishery even though they are present, but it is mainly a sauger bite, with saugers 14”-18” common and 20”-22” saugers possible.

It is about 12 hours from here to Spring Valley, Ill. The pre-trip forecast look like temperatures in the low 40’s and overnight lows in the low 20’s. A visit with the motel confirmed they had no snow on the ground. Forecasts are just that — forecasts. The only thing in the 40’s was the wind. Fishing temperatures were in the 20’s and low 30’s and the wind blew 25-35 with gusts to 40.

The bite was as cold as the temperatures and the water temps ranged from 36-39 degrees. I was also there to see the third or fourth snowfall of the season. These conditions are unusual for this time of year on this body of water, and in previous trips, we were greeted with warm weather and a welcoming sauger bite. These kinds of things happen sometimes when you travel to fish. Sometimes it is a case of: “you should have been here yesterday”, and sometimes you hit it right, and the bite is so good you thought it was yesterday!

For this trip, the “fishing” was better than the “catching”. I still had a great time and it good to get the boat on the water. One thing for sure, if you don’t go and try, you never stand a chance. It is difficult to catch fish from the couch.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)