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Mississippi River Smallmouth

September 1, 2013

I’d been anxiously awaiting my smallmouth bass fishing expedition to the Mississippi River, however I thought it proper to work out the kinks by hitting Bush Lake on Wednesday, August 28, 2013.  Instead of working out the kinks I worked out my not catching much of anything.  All I had to show for my shoreline wading efforts was a four-inch largemouth that nipped at my buzzbait before getting yanked out of the water on its way over my head and landing in the water behind me.  The water was like glass, the heat, even at 6:30 a.m., was oppressive.  I thought about continuing to flail away but called it quits after about an hour, as nothing was moving.  Taking an optimistic view, I looked at it like athlete preparing for a gold medal event, I didn’t want to be at my best the day or game before, I want all the stars to align the day of the big event and so I was ready for Ol’ Man River.

While not as remote as my adventure last year to the Big Fork River, the Mississippi River north of the Twin Cities has quite the reputation as a smallmouth bass haven, so I was eager to give it a shot.  Searching the internet I stumbled across CW Outfitting, a Clearwater, MN based outfitter that rents kayaks/canoes and arranges float trips on the Mississippi. One look at the Heritage Redfish Fishing Kayaks used for their 13-mile fishing trip from St. Cloud to Clearwater and I was ready to go.  The weather, as previously noted in prior posts, has been hot. I know this can really turn on the top-water bite for river smallmouth but you never really know until you are one the water, so I packed up my one and only Heddon Tiny Torpedo, a Rapala skitterpop, some crayfish patterned crankbaits and plastics and hit the road seven a.m. on Friday, August 30.  Another hot day was in store but a slight northwest wind was in the forecast (better than a headwind when kayaking – makes the paddling a lot less strenuous), as were some early morning clouds – all in all I couldn’t have asked for a better day. On the drive up, I  listened to an in-studio radio interview of The Suburbs on The Current and heard some of their new songs. It was great to hear new material from a legendary Minnesota band.

Launching from St. Cloud a little after 9 a.m. I found the Heritage Redfish Fishing Kayak stable and well equipped.  The rod holders, pulley anchor system, adjustable foot rests, and adjustable seating made for a comfortable ride down the river.  My goal was to paddle for a mile or two right away so as not to run out of time and have to paddle for hours on end just to meet the outfitter like I did on the Big Fork.  I passed up a lot of good fishing structure in the mile or two below St. Cloud, although I did sneak in one cast, promptly losing my jig and crayfish plastic to a rock snag.  Not a good sign but it forced me to keep paddling.  Consulting the map that I had been provided by CW Outfitting I soon reached my goal of paddling two river miles and started fishing.  Two of the biggest challenges for me when river fishing are: kayak control, and the current.  I just haven’t spent a lot of time river fishing, so I can get a bit frustrated/intimidated by the challenges of boat positioning and then trying to figure out how and where to present my lures.  Fortunately, I found a little island that provided some slack water downstream and I nestled my kayak up in the calm waters.  I made a few casts with my Tiny Torpedo and then switched to a crayfish patterned Strike King swimming jig that I had tipped with a crayfish like piece of plastic.  Hopping it along the current seam resulted in the first smallie of the day.

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Unable to manage any more fish from this area I moved downstream and noticed that I spooked something in the shallows.  Casting my Tiny Torpedo along the bank it wasn’t long before I nailed another fish.

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Not a giant but the first fish in what happened to be my most productive pattern of the day: a Tiny Torpedo worked out from the bank or rocks.  This resulted in four additional fish and countless strikes that I missed.

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With better boat control I may have caught more but then again thirteen miles is a lot of water to cover so you have to keep moving.  The kayak was equipped with a rod holder that I used to troll a crayfish patterned crankbait.  This resulted in a couple of main channel smallies that really jolted the rod – good thing for the rod holder.

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You’ll notice from the above picture that this fish was previously caught and released.  These fish receive a fair amount of pressure so there are special regulations on this stretch of the Mississippi that require all fish between 12 and 20″ inches be immediately released.

I did manage to catch three small northern pike, one of which is pictured below.  Interestingly, I hooked a smaller northern (about 3″) way up shallow and as I reeled it back to the kayak I was like wow, this thing is really swimming fast and had to crank to keep the slack out of my line.  This is where things got interesting because I was like – check out that smallmouth, the thing is huge – where did my pike go?  The smallmouth attacked it – that is where it went.  Just as quickly though it spit it out right next to the kayak and I released the pike, unharmed.  The same thing happened when I was reeling in the third pike, about 12″.  It too was being chased by a smallmouth. Crazy.  I may need to find some small pike patterned crankbaits.

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This trip was a lot of fun.  It was a bummer that I missed so many fish because they were good size and put up a great fight.  There is nothing like watching these smallies cartwheel out of the water like a bucking bronco as they try to toss the hooks.  What fun!

Next up:  The Cannon River

– Hats

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