Spring Secrets of a River Rat


Spring secrets from “The Last Cast”

After a long winter, I really look forward to the ice going out on our Midwestern rivers. To me, this is like the dawn of a new day. Being a “River Rat”, I can hardly wait until I can once again get the boat in the open water and start fishing for the many species that will be waiting. In the spring, it’s a pretty good bet that some open water is available. Here on my home river, the Mississippi, the tailwater areas below the dams will be open and many more spots will be ice-free downriver, also. As the spring rolls in and the ice melts out, here’s some spring secrets to put more fish on the line.

With more open water, it’s once again time to start exploring those waypoints that I have stored in my GPS. Over many seasons, I have made it a point to store these areas. I have them listed in my fishing log by seasons. By doing this, I can go back to spots that have produced well, time after time. By further listing the spots by seasons, it’s easy to locate good areas as the year progresses.

Fishing near the high water mark

In searching out early spring locations, I look for a few things. One of the first is just how high is the river running due to melt off and how fast the current is running. It’s common in the spring, when melt-off from up north makes its way south, to create high water conditions. Over the years, I have found that, when this happens, many anglers shy away from fishing rivers until they settle down to more normal water levels. Even with the possible high waters of spring, you can still get out and catch fish. The key here is location. Let me explain.

With fast current and higher water conditions running in the main portions of rivers in the spring, the fish, regardless of the species, seek out areas that have less current where they do not have to expend a lot of energy. Now I said less current, not necessarily no current at all. This is where the location part comes into play.

Targeting multispecies hangouts

Areas off the main river channel are where you find many species of fish coexisting in the same vicinity. It’s not uncommon to find bass, bluegills and crappies mixed in with walleyes and saugers in these areas just off the main river. Fish like northern pike and catfish are also there. Side cuts that go back off the main river and have some type of structure, like deadfalls and other objects in the water that provide hiding places for fish, are ideal.

Also, in the high water of spring, these areas flood. This gives the fish even more area to roam. More flooded area also means more food for the fish in the form of things like nightcrawlers, grubs and other land-based food. Add some small baitfish to the mix, and it becomes a perfect spot for the gamefish to live until the river gets back to a more normal stage, causing the fish to return to the main river areas. From small to large, don’t overlook these backwater sloughs. True spring secrets. Get way back into these types of areas and you may just find the honey hole of a lifetime.

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Spring secrets: keep it slow

As far as presentation, slow is the way to go. Keep in mind that the water is still quite cold. The cold-blooded fish won’t chase a bait far, like they will later in the season when the waters warm. With that in mind, you want to use more of a patient presentation.

I like to use live minnows under floats almost exclusively in the early spring. The action of the swimming minnow has proven over the years to be more than adequate. It’s natural in its actions and the best part is that it works. If you’re fishing and there is a slight chop on the water, you can also tie a small hair or marabou jig onto an ultra-light setup, tip it with something like a juicy wax worm and suspend it under a small slip float, the same way you would the minnow. The action of the chop on the water is all the motion you need.

Get out and fish!

I’ll tell you, my friends, as the rivers here in the Midwest shed their coat of ice and more and more open water appears each day, it’s that time of the year to get the boat ready, head out and enjoy some truly great early season fishing. While many anglers are still sitting at home wishing, you’ll be on the water fishing.

One thing for sure, I have the old Alumacraft ready to go for another great season here on the Mississippi River and the other Midwest rivers I frequent.

Author notes

Email your outdoor questions to Mike Cyze at: lastcast13@yahoo.com. You can also listen to Mike nationally on ESPN Radio.

Looking for something golden to add to the livewell this spring? Check out our tips on catching spring walleyes!