The Problem: Cold, Flooded Rivers
- Cold Water
- Low Visibility
- Fast Current
- Sluggish Fish
We’ve all been there. Incessant spring rains transform your favorite river from paradise to purgatory. The water’s high, cold and so dirty you aren’t sure whether you should fish it or plow it.
What do you do now? Start by remembering this fact: current concentrates fish. The more current, the more tightly they group. Add dirty water from runoff to the mix, and the number of spots where walleyes await become fewer and farther between.
Search a good map and your memory for the sharpest current breaks you can find. Look for anything that diverts current almost completely: retaining walls, side channels and marinas. If the marina’s in a harbor off the river, all the better.
Check the down-current side of fallen trees and the root systems of trees standing on eroded shorelines. Try eddies below a dam — no current break is too small.
Case in point: The 1998 Masters Walleye Circuit season opener, held on the flood-swollen Illinois River, was won with big saugers caught from a small eddy created by a tiny cutbank of an island located in the shadows of the dam.
During another high-water tournament on the Illinois, competitors scored by tossing small jigs and minnows amidst cornstalks in flooded farm fields.
The second factor of concern is water clarity. Though you won’t find crystal-clear water in a flood, if you look you will find water that’s clear enough for fish to find a high-visibility bait.
Check the map again for feeder creeks, measuring their value by the type of land they drain. Early in the flood, the best are small ones that flow through gravel or clay before emptying into the river. Creeks filled with farm runoff are dirty soon after rains, but often clear before the main river. Storm and industrial discharges may clear early, too.
Now’s the time for high-vis baits, like a big jig dressed with white or gaudy colors such as yellow and orange. I once won the Professional Walleye Trail Championship by vertically jigging hot yellow-glow Fuzz-E-Grubs in a dirty creek off the Missouri River.
If the current slows, but the water stays murky, switch to a double-jig rig. Run a bright-colored, 1-ounce Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub on the bottom dropper and either a floating crankbait, live bait or plastic curlytail on the upper leader. Troll upstream at the speed of a slow walk.
As the water clears, but remains cold, consider faster presentations. Innovators like Dale Stroschein use monofilament and even lead-core to speed-troll hi-vis and / or rattling cranks up to 3 mph in water with temps below 50 degrees. Tip: A small split shot about 3 feet up the line will help keep your hooks clean.
Ted’s River Rig
When a flood-swollen river rages murky, Takasaki fishes bright-colored jigs in current breaks. As soon as the water starts to clear, he ties on a special three-way rig. A 1-ounce jig anchors a variety of options, including: a lip-hooked fathead or a leech hooked through the sucker (A & B) on a size 1 octopus hook. Other options include a piece of crawler and 3-inch curlytail grub on size 1 Aberdeen hook (C) or a shallow-running crankbait (D); For added color, he runs a red bead ahead of A, B and C.