The mighty Mississippi can often be an overlooked jackpot of multi-species opportunity here in the land of 10,000 lakes. One of my favorite destinations in the early spring and winter months lately has been the famed Pool 4 out of Everts Resort in Hagar City, Wisconsin just across the border from Red Wing, Minnesota. Here the river is open nearly year round and Everts Resort provides 3 boat launches, a highly stocked bait store, friendly staff and a nice little fish cleaning facility for when you’re done. As well, they have several cabins for your lodging needs if you would like to extend your stay. Those hearty enough to brave the elements can fish year round in open water. Being it is considered a Border Water, the game species season doesn’t close. GIANT Walleye and Sauger await the angler’s brave enough to weather the elements the transition months of March and April can have. Limits of “eaters” are pretty common as well.
If that isn’t enough to get you to hook your boat up yet, HUGE drag screaming Paddlefish, Flatheads, Sturgeon, and Carp are often caught by anglers down on Pool 4. As well, you have a shot at some dandy Pike, Bass, and an occasional slab Crappie. Quite simply, you just need to get down to Pool 4 and see it first hand!
While I myself only have a few trips to Pool 4 under my belt, it hasn’t taken me long to figure out its “fishy” spots and tactics. To be quite honest, I have been helped manly by two great anglers & guides whom I’m lucky enough to call friends. One is Captain River Dan of River Dan’s Guide Service, and the other is Doug Robinson. Both of these angler’s have a wealth of knowledge on Pool 4 and the St. Croix. The real key to getting on a good bite down in Pool 4 is presentation. Every day is different, and as an angler you just have to be versatile to figure out the puzzle.
Plastics are probably the #1 lure of choice down on Pool 4 day in, and day out. What can make a so-so day, into a FANTASTIC day of fishing is color! People who have fished down here understand this. While I don’t quite understand the Walleye’s or Sauger’s behavior towards specific colors, I know it is a key. Most avid anglers would assume the Mississippi is muddy to stained and that bright colors would work all the time. I’m here to tell you that isn’t true 100% of the time on Pool 4. During the early part of March when this fishing starts to take off for the hardcore angler’s I have seen water clarity around 4’ or so. Once some of the Inlet Rivers start to thaw, then the mighty Mississippi gets to a water color most would assume for a few days. Typically, the fishing will slow, but then the water settles and its Game On once again. Plastics like Northland Tackle‘s Impulse Minnows, paddletails, and ringworm’s are a good option to have in your tackle box. Same goes for BFishin’ Tackle moxi’s, ringworms, and paddletails. Other brands work too, and every river rat has their favorite. Most plastics from 3” to 5” will catch fish at one time or another. A few of my favorite colors are oyster shell, green pepper, honey, purple/chartreuse, and orange/chartreuse. One thing I have learned in my short time down on Pool 4, when the fish get keyed in on a certain color it can be lights out fishing. If your partner hooks up 2-3 fish in a short period of time, switch to the color they are using as quickly as you can. The other thing I have learned is that this color preference can change several times in a given day. You just have to listen to what the fish are trying to tell you.
Jigs, jigs, and more jigs. You can never have enough jigs when fishing a river system. From color combinations, bucktail jigs, jigs with spinners, weights, shapes, you just need to have a little bit of everything. In my jig box I have everything from 1/16oz to 3/4oz. However, day in and day out down on Pool 4 I pretty much have it down to 3 key sizes for my fishing needs. They are 1/8oz, 1/4oz, and 3/8oz. I use VMC, Northland Tackle, and BFishin’ Tackle’s Precision jigs for the most part.
At times, a jig/minnow combination is all you really need to catch fish on any body of water.
What I do like about using plastics is not having to dip your hand in a cold bucket of water to rebait after every single fish. Not to mention, I honestly think when you find the right color combination and size, plastics will out fish live bait during the cold water months, especially down on Pool 4.
Another popular lure at times is a blade. Blades can be cast or even jigged. They are a flat stamped lure, with a weighted front. They displace a tremendous amount of vibration that at times can trigger the Walleye’s into frenzy! I use 1/4oz in slack water, or when the fish are shallow at night. A 1/2oz is great for working a little faster, ripping it or swimming it back to the boat after a long cast. The 1/2oz is my preferred size for jigging too. Here I prefer bright colors. Orange, chartreuse, hot pink and something with glow work well. Various lure companies make blades, however the ones I prefer are made by BFishin’ Tackle or a Midwestern tackle designer by the name of Kevin Brantner (Brantner Jigs). What I LOVE about Kevin’s blades is that he will custom paint them for me in any color pattern I can dream up.
River inlets offer several different feeding and staging opportunities for the walleye angler. Typically, where a feeder river enters the main river you will have several key elements to focus on. There is often a deeper hole where fish will stage pre-spawn and feed on what the current is bringing down. Think of an inlet like a river buffet so to speak. Bends or turns in these rivers will also be deeper and provide a current break which fish often use.
Current seams and drop off’s are my go-to area’s to fish. Usually fish located here are going to eat because that’s why they are there in the first place. The drop off can be as subtle as 1ft-2ft in some cases. You’re just looking for a little slack water in the main current. Once you have spent some time down on Pool 4, or any river system for that matter they are quite easy to spot.
A wing dam is a man made structure of rocks that provides a current break downstream. These are often just inches under the water in spots. I concentrate on the deeper water around the wing dam for active walleye’s. Remember, rocks retain heat. Weather it be a wing dam, or a rocky shoreline, a rocky area can have a little warmer water concentrating a few more fish at times.
Dam’s are a roadblock for the fish and typically will concentrate a lot of fish in a given area. There is a lot of structure around a dam. You will have rocks, gravel, current, eddies, wood, and drop off’s. What the fish want to relate to changes as the water temperature nears the magic spawning number. I prefer to fish transition areas and current seams. Most of the fishing I do near the dam is between 18ft to 35ft of water. There is a deep scour hole that concentrates sauger in large numbers; however I really don’t like to fish it because often the fish will expand their air bladder when you pull them up. Boat control is extremely key when fishing up by the dam. Make sure your trolling motors batteries are fully charged, because working in steady current all day will drain them. Not to mention, at times there gets to be a lot of boat traffic in this area, and you need to be on your game with your boat control skills.
Jigging is a technique that sounds like its name. When jigging, I try to use a jig weight that keeps my line as close to vertical as possible. Often down on Pool 4 this is around 3/8oz. There are a few keys to this technique in my opinion. More often, instead of snapping my rod tip up a foot or so as I would when doing this on most inland lakes. I find myself just going to bottom, and holding the jig just inches off the bottom and giving it short hops, with long pauses can work best. Jigging is also a technique where I like to use braded fishing line. Personally, I prefer #6 PowerPro for its abrasion resistance and strength. Just remember, when using any braided line to keep your drag loose. There is very little, to no stretch with a good braid.
Pitching is a technique used mostly at night or during low light periods. It involves typically casting plastics with a 1/8oz jig head towards shore and working back slowly to the boat. Typically the fish position themselves near the first break to deeper water and will often hit as your jig slides down the ledge. Here I cast out, and let my jig fall all the way to the bottom on a slack line. Once it’s on the bottom, I will slowly hop and drag the jig along until I can establish were the fish are relating. Often times, a small area can hold a number of fish.
Dragging is a technique where you cast your jig/plastic combo behind the boat a ways and ‘drag’ it along the bottom, or just off as you work current seams or drop offs. Here your jigs weight is critical. You want to be on or near the bottom at all times. Boat speed plays a key part as well. From experience .5 to .8mph is a good starting point. Obviously this changes weather you’re going down current vs. up current, and how fast the water is flowing.
Casting is a technique reserved for using blades. I like to work my blades back to the boat with a sweeping motion, or a quick snap-free fall pause. This change in motion is what triggers the strike. If you’re ever lucky enough to get on a good blade bite, you will love it. They absolutely CRUSH it.
I like 7’ to 8’ medium light to medium rods with IM8 graphite. I use a lot of Gander Mountain Guide Series rods, and they work well here in these applications. I use two main spinning reels—either Pfluger or Okumia. Both have excellent drags, are fairly light, and cast extremely well. I spool reels with either #6 PowerPro or #8 Sufix or Trilene mono.
A good headlight is a must have for night fishing. In fact, I usually carry a couple incase the batteries go dead in one. A spot light for your boat is a good item to have as well when night fishing.
A quality minnow bucket that is insulated and has an aerator to keep your minnows lively.
Your favorite plastics in various colors, styles, and sizes. Same goes for jig heads. If I had to key in on a few weights it would be 1/8oz, 1/4oz, and 3/8oz.
A solid life jacket! I use and prefer the Onix brand. I fish with it on almost all the time. They are so light weight and free moving. You never know what the river is going to send your way. Submerged logs, deadheads, and ice chunks floating downstream are common.
A good quality locator with a map chip will also keep you safely away from wing dams. I run the Lowrance HD8 in my Lund and absolutely love it.
Finally, a good quality net!
See ya on the water!
Northland Tackle (Pro-Staff)