No cowboy can ride herd on the Immortal River

This sturgeon, caught by Sheldon Menninger, was 58x21” girth and weighed about 105 lbs. It took him one hour and nine minutes to land and was likely 100+ years old. Released, of course. (submitted photos)

By Capn. Ted Peck

This sturgeon, caught by Sheldon Menninger, was 58x21” girth and weighed about 105 lbs. It took him one hour and nine minutes to land and was likely 100+ years old. Released, of course. (submitted photos)

Even an instant iPhone photo post with a fat fish flopping in a landing net can’t predict walleye behavior an hour later on the enigmatic and immortal Mississippi River.

In the year or so I’ve been penning a monthly column in the Driftless Journal, fishing predictions and speculation have been geared toward probability of hunches based on more than 50 years of serious study of fish behavior under seasonal and overall river stage conditions.

The February column predicting winter weather by mid-March was eerily spot on. Last week’s column on an imminent walleye spawn over a 72 hour period should have referenced the previous observation.

Fishing rivers is far more challenging than realizing consistent success on virtually any lake. This observation is true—in spades—on the Father of Waters; the mighty Mississippi.

These words are being penned with walleye eggs on my face failing to hide a sheepish grin that the Big River euchred me once again. Climate change is constant. Always has been. Always will be. Seasonal patterns of fish behavior over decades is almost as reliable, given the outlier of El Niño.

Over the past five years walleyes on Pool 9 experienced peak spawn within 72 hours of April 12 four of those years. The exception was 2019—the year of perpetual flood. This five year trend has been about a week earlier than the 25 year trend of walleyes dumping their eggs April 15-20.

If you still have my January column lining the bottom of a bird cage, dig it out and read about muskrat predictions. Take note of Arla Wagner’s prediction about moon phase and the first trackable snow. This prediction, based on Native American lore, has been spot on for almost 50 years.

We only need 26 more snows for Wagner’s prediction to hit the bullseye in 2024. Regardless, her prognostication has far greater accuracy than any poll on the outcome of this November’s presidential election.

Many perch on the upper Mississippi spawned by early March. Walleyes were getting ready to go by last week, as predicted. Some fish spawned. Others feeling “10 months pregnant” are dropping their eggs now, even though water temps are 10 degrees below the optimum.

As of this minute it looks like the next few days will offer productive fishing results, with the soft parade winding down April 12-15.

The biggest factor in finding consistent success in sport fishing is time on the water. Even being out there at least four days a week during the open water period it takes me at least an hour to figure out a productive pattern—every single day.

Weekly newspapers have never been a guide for taking immediate action. The tactile nature of this media lends itself to introspection and casual interpretation. 

Take time to savor every word in the Driftless Journal. Your brain deserves a break from this crazy full-tilt bozo world.

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