Peck: Finding fish in high water difficult, but not impossible
Special to The Gazette
The summer of 2014 will be a benchmark for years to come, surpassing both 1993 and 1965 for prolonged high water. This spells tough angling for river fishers, whose only consolation is knowledge that fish don’t leave the river when it floods.
Not that they wouldn’t like to. Swimming against the current expends energy. Energy requires food. Prey species must fight the current, too. Predators follow prey. Prey has moved to protected areas away from current.
When rivers fill to the point of overflowing established banks, the places where fish can hide increase exponentially. The Rock River has been running belly full all summer long. The Wisconsin River has, too.
The Mississippi River hasn’t been below the “action” stage since April, hovering between minor and moderate flood stage since our annual day of reckoning with the IRS. This means fish are always on the move, trying to find a place with easy prey where they don’t have to fight the current.
Flooded timber is the obvious place to start looking for fish. A tree is a natural barrier from current, providing both refuge and food. All alpha predators with fishin’ poles have to do is figure out how to snatch dinner from the gnarly tangle where fish reside.
Some kind of weedless jig tipped with a half-crawler or leech is the best weapon for wrestling fish in the jungle.
My favorite timber tool is Northland Tackle’s “weed weasel” jig. A V-shaped plastic piece in front of the hook does a pretty good job of avoiding bark and finding fish lips under high water conditions.
If you’re fishing where the fish are living, getting hung up is inevitable. You’ll spend some time tying on new jigs. But this task is certainly a better alternative to whining at the boat ramp that the fishing is tough.
A major key in hooking more fish than wood is going with the lightest jig weight that can be effectively fished between the branches. A 1/8-ounce jig is a good place to start. Sometimes a 1/16-ounce jighead is more productive.
Color can be almost as important as weedlessness, weight and bait profile. Firetiger, chartreuse, parrot and orange hues will all work. The best option in deeply stained water is usually orange.
Superbraid line such as Berkley FireLine is an essential part of the presentation. Superbraid is both stronger and transmits sensation better than other fishing lines.
A good rod is the keystone to the entire operation when trying to snake a few fish out of the timber. A 6½-foot spinning rod with a sturdy butt and fast tip is the optimum choice.
You won’t find GLoomis GLX or St. Croix Avid rods in the bargain barrel at the local sport shop. Some anglers can’t justify spending $300 for a fishing rod. My biggest fear is my wife selling my rods for what I told her I paid for them when the great rainmaker calls me home.
For the foreseeable future, the best place to find river fish is back in the trees. The only other major hurdle is finding those few trees the fish find attractive in the flooded forest of a swollen river.
Ted Peck is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.