When I was nine years old my grandfather had a cabin on Big Winnie on the south side of Winnie dam down the Tamarack Lodge road. In the spring I would stay there and ride my bike down to the dam. From there, I would walk down the bank, past most of the people, and fish the mighty Mississippi from its banks.
I would just cast a plain hook with a minnow and bell sinker upstream and let it drift down with the current. When it was right out in front of me, I would reel it slowly back in. If I felt slightest resistance, I would set the hook. Those were the first walleyes I ever caught on my own.
Believe it or not, even in these days of high tech fishing and big boats and motors, you can still repeat the same process at the Winnie dam or just about any of the other dams or rivers in this area. When I was a kid, most of my success was due to just being lucky enough to pick the right spot to fish. Today, with more knowledge available, it’s a lot easier to choose the right spots to fish, either from shore or a boat.
One key is to look for water being released at the base of the dam. When this happens, baitfish, along with walleyes, get flushed out. These dislocated fish usually stay close to the spillway and bunch up. The more water released, the better the fishing activity. With increased current, the fish may strike more aggressively because they have less time to consider a meal before it’s swept away. If a number of fish are feeding in a small pool, competitive instinct can make them even more aggressive.
The first place to try is the head of the pool at the base of the dam. Work any eddies, paying special attention to the current edges. Debris, bubbles, or foam floating on the surface can identify these. Work your bait right through the current and pay close attention when it enters the slack water that abuts the current line. Walleyes like to hold in this relatively calm water, where the current acts like a conveyor belt bringing them their dinner.
Also, don’t overlook any logs or large rocks in fairly swift water. These create pockets of calm water, which hold walleyes because they give fish a great vantage point for ambushing more active prey.
The standard presentations for me today are a jig and minnow or a twister tail, and crank baits, but a plain hook with a minnow will still do a great job for you. The trick is getting the bait to the fish. If the current is right, you can also use a bobber to float a minnow. Set the hook at any resistance, because there are times when a fish will mouth the bait, then drop it. Point the rod tip at the bobber during the retrieve to increase sensitivity.
If a steady swimming retrieve does not work, try hopping the jig along the bottom. Or cast it and let it sink to the bottom, swim it fairly fast for several feet, slow it down, then speed it up and so forth. To help prevent snags, because, as we all know, a river has more than its share, pinch a small split shot 12 to 18 inches above the jig. When you feel this split shot ticking a rock or log, lift the rod tip and speed up the retrieve for several feet until the jig passes up and over the snag.
While increased current flow usually boosts fish activity, too much of a good thing can be bad. In fact, the fishing can get very slow when the water gets too stirred up.
However, you can still catch some fish with a slightly different approach. Tie on a Northland whistler jig for some flash and noise from the spinning blade and add a minnow or some Berkley Gulp power baits to leave a scent trail. “Hop and stop” is a good motto for stirred up muddy water. Use a slow retrieve and let the bait sit on the bottom for fairly long periods between hops.
If you are looking for great early spring fishing without the problem of oading and unloading a boat, or you want the freedom of moving around, or you don’t want the hassle of a high tech locator, GPS, and lake chip map, go below a dam and fish for walleyes and pike. When done right, the action can heat up even the coldest early spring day.
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2019 Fishing RegulationsMN DNR Fishing Regulation Handbook for 2019
Charlie Worrath talks early season walleye for the television program Jason Mitchell Outdoors on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. (watch the video)
Jason Boser appearing on an episode for the television program Jason Mitchell Outdoors on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. (watch the video)
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