Dennis Anderson: Like spring, Mississippi River rush arrives early

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

ON THE MISS­ISSIPPI RIVER — For Huck Finn and his pal Jim, this river meant freedom in the memorable novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." But in time, as they drifted downstream, the towns and people who inhabited the Mississippi's banks closed in on the unlikely pair as they wandered toward an uncertain fate.Dennis Anderson

I was thinking about this the other day while on Ol' Miss south of Red Wing. My pal Griz — Dick Grzywinski of St. Paul — was at the tiller of his john boat and a strong wind was blowing combers upstream. Running counter to the river's current, the foamy wave-tops seemed intent on reversing the Mississippi's course.

Griz and I couldn't remember being on the river this early in spring, fishing for walleyes and saugers. Usually in the third week of March these fish are still staging in Lake Pepin in preparation for their spring run upstream to the Red Wing dam.

But this past winter in many ways wasn't a winter at all. And spring, defined generally in Minnesota as a weather period not as bad as winter, arrived early. So along with hundreds of other anglers, we strung spinning rods with monofilament and motored onto the Mississippi and toward an uncertain fate of our own.

"These fish are constantly moving in spring," Griz said. "So you if you find them in one place one day, they might be there the next day. Or they might be as far upstream as the dam."

A river fishing guide, Griz like others in his trade was grounded last spring by Gov. Tim Walz, who decreed that these professionals were unessential to Minnesota life. Flapdoodle is what Huck Finn called this particular kind of tomfoolery, and he wasn't far off.


But now a year had passed, Griz was vaccined up and ready to hit the water. The problem was the wind, which gusted to 35 miles per hour. The launch site we chose, on the Minnesota side of the river on the southern outskirts of Red Wing, would be a 15- or 20-minute boat ride to the head of Lake Pepin, where a vast angling flotilla gathered most days last week, seeking walleyes and sauger.

"They're getting fish down there, but let's try upriver instead," Griz said, "and see if we can find a spot out of the wind."

A popular walleye and sauger outfit among many early spring river anglers is the Dubuque Rig, which generally is trolled upstream. Employing a three-way swivel whose eyelets are attached to, 1. an angler's line; 2. a heavy (half-ounce or more) jig; and 3. a trailing smaller jig dressed with a soft plastic bait, a Dubuque Rig catches fish if trolled slowly enough (usually less than 1 mph) and especially if presented with a series of lifts and drops of the angler's rod.

But it's not the only way to catch early-season walleyes and saugers on the Mississippi.


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