Riege: Finding some early fall river fishing

Published 6:47 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2012

By Bob and Ginny Riege

Fishing any river in late summer is bound to put a bend in your pole. River fish seem to go on a feeding frenzy about this time of year that usually lasts well into the fall. River levels late summer become much more stable, sometimes even a little on the low side which make the fish that much more predictable on their location. Catching river fish at this time of the year isn’t the problem. The problem is deciding whether you want to catch a bunch of river fish, or are you after big river fish.

Live-bait or artificials are the two factors, which will most likely dictate the outcome of your catch.

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Live-bait presentations are fish catching machines. Tipping a jig with a minnow, leech, or crawler is like opening a candy jar in front of a dirty faced kid. Live bait rigs like Northland Rainbow Spinner crawler rig dressed with a plump crawler will trigger a fish strike even if the fish is full to the gills.

During the summer, live-bait rigs are one of my preferred methods of presentation. Sure, you can still take old marble eyes on jigs, and crankbaits will produce big results in some conditions, but much of the time, live-bait rigs will fool fish when nothing else will.

Live-bait rigs are effective for several reasons. One of those is that they allow an angler to present a bait to the walleyes in a very natural-like manner. The bare-bones rig is nothing more than a hook, snell, and sinker. In some circumstances a colored bead can be added like a Roach Rig, with an adjustable sinker, or a spinner, like the Northland spinners, or a float like a Gum Drop Floater makes the bait ride higher off the bottom. Simple yet effective.

Snell length is an important consideration when employing a live-bait rig. Sometimes the walleyes will be tight on the bottom; sometimes they’ll be up three or four feet. The snell should be long enough or short enough to get the bait up to the fish or directly above the fish. The secret to this type of presentation is knowing that the walleyes usually won’t move very far to take a bait, so we’ve got to keep it within their strike zone if we want to catch them.

To determine proper snell length, keep a close eye on your sonar unit. If the fish are detected three feet off the bottom, try a snell length of 4 1/2 or 5 feet. If the fish are detected just a foot or so up, drop down to an 18 or 20 inch snell. Some sonar units won’t separate these bottom hugging walleyes, but the Bottom Line unit that I use does as good a job as any at showing these low-riders.

Walleyes will change the level at which they’re running from day to day and even hour to hour. That’s why I use Roach Rigs almost exclusively for live-bait rigging. Snell length can be changed in a matter of seconds, whereas most rigs must be cut and re-tied to lengthen or shorten the snell.

I like to use nightcrawlers when the walleyes suspended off the bottom. Crawlers have more natural buoyancy than either minnows or leeches, and by injecting them with a shot of air, they have even more lift.

Floating jigs and attractors aren’t always for suspended fish. In dirty water, walleyes will most often be close to the bottom. At times, I’ll use an attractor or floater on a short snell in water where the walleye’s vision is limited due to watercolor. That added spot of color could be what it takes to get the fish’s attention and get it to bite.

Minnows will work in the summer on live-bait rigs, but I generally use either a leech or crawler. Remember, the population of baitfish is at a high in the summer due to all the fish that were spawned in the spring. It will be tough to get a walleye’s attention with a minnow when there are already millions of minnows swimming around down there. Therefore, the different bait that isn’t as abundant will be more attractive. Don’t get me wrong live-bait is the way to go if you want to catch a lot of fish in the river. If your fishing with kids, live-bait will insure that action is almost guaranteed, and this is a sure fired bet that your young fishing companion will come back for more. If I’m in the mood for chasing only big river fish, I’ll leave the live-bait in the cooler. Various crankbaits for different circumstances and species of fish will decorate the gunnel of my boat. Long stick-baits like a #11 floating Rapala or a jointed version will be used if I’m trolling for walleyes. Most compact crankbaits like a Rattlin’ Rapala will be used to pitch shoreline structure.

Fishing a crankbait for big fish correctly in the river is an art, which can be mastered with lots of time on the water. Aggressive fish will hit a crankbait, which is trolled upstream. Non-aggressive fish have a tendency to strike more often when you troll downstream with the current.

Casting a crankbait for big fish will be more affective when you cast and retrieve at a 45 degree upstream towards shore. This pattern seems to work best because it imitates most naturally the way a fish sees its food tumble downstream with the current. It also makes sense because fish tend to keep their noses pointed upstream against the current.

The reason artificials tend to be more productive for big fish is their overall size. Many smaller fish might chase the bait but won’t hookup because of the size of the bait.

Whatever your choice of presentation, live-bait or artificial, try to learn something new every time you hit the water. The more diverse your knowledge is, the more productive your outing will be. I’ll see you on the River!