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"Where’d My Fish Go?!?"

 By Cade Laufenberg

  Your Guide to Largemouth Movements and Seasonal Transitions on The Mississippi River

 Have you ever done something so miraculous, only to try and top that feat the next day and fail miserably? If the answer is yes, you’re probably a bass fisherman. Day in and day out, we as bass fisherman work our tail’s off to find that next big stack of big bass, and it can be very rewarding when we run upon that group that will win you a tournament or spit out a new personal best, but we all know that some things are just too good to be true forever. The truth is, fish move. The best thing an angler can do to stay on top of his fish is to be able to predict where those fish are going to be. In this article, I will do my best to describe my techniques for finding fish after they have moved from an area where you were recently catching them.

   The first thing I take note of before hitting the water is the season. Did you know it’s Winter right now? I hope so, and yes that sounds ridiculous, but you always need to understand and be aware of the season before you can begin to interpret the habits of bass. That said, we know that bass spawn in the spring. In southwest Wisconsin, the spawn typically will run anywhere from the middle of April to the end of May. Knowing that fish are potentially spawning at the very moment I am on the water eliminates a lot of moving around and trying to locate fish. I can focus directly on those spawning fish and head to a likely spawning area right away and hopefully get on fish in short order. The catch is, eventually these fish will have completed their annual spawn, and you will no longer find them in the same areas anymore. The same thing applies to different times of the year, such as post spawn to summer, and summer to fall. Typically on the Mississippi River, the fish move from spawning areas to mud points and wood, as well as rock shorelines feeding up on crayfish before moving into thick grass in the summer time. It’s anyone’s guess when exactly the big move will be, but as an angler, being aware of a transition in the process will help you decide where to fish. As far as when these fish might move, well, that’s where the next step comes in.

   Paying very close attention to the weather, and this includes lunar tables and barometric pressure, will be the next most important thing in the location of your fish. A sudden cold snap could send spawning fish packing out to the first drop into deeper water. The severity of that snap will dictate how deep the fish go. A full moon with warm temps could also send the fish into a spawning fury in a hurry. The fish spawn best under a full moon, and it won’t take them long to drop eggs and head for deeper water. Again, applying to another seasonal scenario, when the fish make their move to grass flats and slop in mid June, it is my belief that weather and water temperature play the biggest roles in sending the first major wave of fish to the green. It seems that when the water starts to hover in the 73-75 degree range, fish start to leave the wood and hit the grass. Again awareness becomes the biggest factor in locating these fish.

   If you pull up on a productive mud/wood point and the fish have disappeared, try fishing the closest area with eel grass and current you can find, and chances are, you won’t be disappointed. The same applies the other way, if you start out fishing in the weeds and haven’t been catching fish, or only small fish, you’ll know that it’s time to pack up and head for wood cover armed with an arsenal of flipping jigs. Of course there are always other factors that will make other areas more productive than others, like water clarity, the way current hits it etc. but knowing a seasonal pattern is the first step in the right direction.


eel grass

 The next key to eliminating the “disappearance” of healthy bass is to develop a system of transition spots that hold all of the elements you need in that transition period. In the early spring prior to the spawn, I want to find a healthy bay with plenty of wood, green weeds, and clean water, and usually I like there to be a significant drop very close by this spawning area, and if you can find a ditch that cuts through this spawning area, even better. The fish typically will be positioned at the bottom of the drop in early spring, and as the water warms they will feed up the drop and eventually flood into their spawning area. When the spawn is through, you’ll find these fish on the move again, and there will still be fish to be caught on the drop after the spawn, especially when there is bait present. This is what I call a system, or a series of “spots” that are connected or very close by that have all of the elements for the transition. The ideal area will hold fish prior to the transition, during, and after the transition. Another example I will use, again is the late Spring to Summer transition. At this time of year, the overall best thing you can find is bait, and for me, it’s usually spawning bluegills.

However, again the biggest bass will locate themselves in areas where they never have to move far and still are able to feed up on spawning bluegills and other baitfish. A productive area for me at this time of year is a cut bank the ends in a shallow point with some eel grass on it. When the water is high, large fish are stacked up on the cut bank sitting on the drop into 10 feet of water. As spring progresses, the fish move onto the grassy point and start chasing bluegills around. This is when you can really make ‘em pay with a swimbait, swim jig, or a large topwater bait. For the most part, the fish in this spot will stick to that grassy point all summer long. That is something that is very valuable to have as an angler, and something that should be kept quiet for as long as possible. This area is along a well traveled slough, but it still holds the elements for producing fish. If you stumble upon an area like this in a quiet backwater, you may have just found your best producing area ever.

            Lastly, when it comes to crunch time on the water, and you are in a tournament with no fish to be found on your best spots, the last thing you should do is panic. I experienced a tournament this past summer where I almost did just that, after fishing an area that had been so productive for the past few weeks. I was pretty disappointed with no fish to show for my original efforts, but after analyzing the situation, realizing that the flow had decreased, water temperature had increased, and there was a recent mayfly hatch, I decided to make a cast to the “not so great” looking lily pads on the other side of the slough. Immediately I had a fish on and boated 4 nice fish within 10 minutes on the spot, and came back later and caught one over 3 lbs there. The kicker is, that spot ended up producing many fish over 3 lbs last summer. In fact, For a while I could catch a 3-1/2 lb fish almost every time I stopped there. This just goes to show that you may not have to try as hard as you think you do to relocate a group of fish. You just have to fish the moment and be conscious of your surroundings.

            I hope this article can be useful for you in your 2008 fishing season. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I have enjoyed producing it. These are just my opinions about river fishing transitional periods, and my developed theories which have tended to prove themselves in past experiences.


Cade Laufenberg