The third stop of the National Walleye Tour took me (Randy Hummel) and my travel partner Brian Bashore to the Mighty Mississippi River. A place we have found much success in the past. We spent a majority of our time focusing on pool 9 since we had confidence there from the 2017 National Walleye Tour tournament. My anticipated go-to technique was throwing willow cats on suspected big fish spots and searching areas using 3-way rigs with small bladed spinner rigs with Randy's Rigs hooks that I have had a lot of success with on the Mississippi River.
When we first got on the river the water levels were high with a swift-moving current, so a lot of the main river channels were nearly impossible to fish, nor did the fish seem to be there. So, we focused on backwater areas and secondary channels. The willow cat bite seemed to not be as hot as in the past with a lot of spots producing absolutely nothing even when marking fish there. The 3-way rigs produced some fish, but it seemed the places to run a 3-way rig the fish were there but not very active. I mentioned I like to use small size 0 blade spinner rigs with Randy's Rigs hooks. The advantage of the special hook was for some reason Mississippi river walleye like short crawlers, so you have the option to run one hook, with the loop on the hook acting as a bait keeper, slipping a short piece of crawler over the loop. Another thing that helped was going with the current we were getting a lot of short strikes so I would put the trailer hook back on going with the current.
The area we found the fish that were tournament-caliber fish, for the tournament was a secondary channel that was 12 to 18 feet deep and would come up to a large shallow flat on the sides. We could see the fish down in the channel using side imaging. We started fishing them using the 3-way rigs but it wasn't producing compared tot as how many fish we were marking. I then put on some shallow running crankbaits and fished the edge of the channel where the flats started. It was a pain to fish since there were a lot of floating weeds and weeds on the bottom, but the weeds were just right that I could, (with a stiff rod and braided line), rip the rod hard and clear it of weeds. I also put a small split shot 2 feet in front of the lure to stop weeds from traveling down the line. We quickly started catching fish and nice fish on top of it. We were catching a good amount of 18" to 19" Inch fish, which is perfect for the 20-to-27-inch slot limit. After Catching fat 19 inchers that were pushing 3 pounds, I decided I didn't need to chase after over 27-inch fish and focus on these fish for the rest of the pre-fish. The water level was coming down every day so I would go back to this area every day to check where the fish wanted to be with the lowering water levels and sort through crankbaits as the fish were surprisingly picky. Our best lures ended up being #7 shallow running shad raps colors hot steal and purpledescent and better yet were #7 Salmo executors which are hard to find right now.
On the last day of pre-fish, I had major motor issues and was not going to have it fixed before the tournament. Luckily my day 1 co-angler brought his boat and was willing to let me use it. Thank you Dave Nichols for letting me borrow your boat!
I went right back to the area we pre-fished and pulled crankbaits. The first day we threw back a bunch of 15" and 16" inchers and ended up keeping some okay fish which were not the size I was catching in pre-fish but still good enough to be sitting in 12th place after day 1. On the second day, we did the same thing the bite was not as fast but kept some okay fish and good enough for a 10th place finish. I never caught the fat 19" inchers I caught every day of pre-fish. On the first day of pre-fishing, I was catching fish in 7.5 feet of water and by the last day of the tournament, I was catching in 5.5' to 6' feet of water. The water level lowered by 2 feet.
Mississippi river fishing tips
Search for fish using side imaging when you find them look for the nearest feeding area such as a current seam, shallow area, or some sort of structure.
The fish will sit in holes inactive and move up to feeding areas when they are ready. Use a 3-way rig to fish and search the area
Experiment with crawler size most of the time shorten the crawler
For some reason, it seems that Mississippi river walleye can shy away from a longer crawler.
Use small bladed spinner rigs. For some reason, they can shy away from larger spinner blades
Use Randy's rig hooks on spinner rigs to change from a 1 to 2 hook harness quickly.
My set ups for Willow cats
Used just a leader 18" to 2' of the line and hook attached using a swivel with a sliding weight in front of the swivel
Cast and let sit or drag around slowly
Attach a small bladed spinner rig with Randy's rig hook to a three-way swivel and then a short line to a weight (also known as the dropper) on the bottom of the 3-way and use about a 3-inch piece of crawler.
A 45" spinner rig with a 6" dropper and 3-ounce weight was the best for us but always experiment with leader length, dropper length, and weight size.
1 hook harness against the current and 2 hook harness with current
Shallow running crankbait 80 to 120 feet back with 10 lb. braided line going 2.5 mph into current and 3.5 mph with the current and a small split shot 2 feet up from the lure was the ticket and the split shot will by your lure a bit cleaner giving you more time with your bait running properly.
River fishing is alway's full of challenges and the Mighty Mississippi River is one that keeps you making adjustments, especially when the water levels are changing. Never be afraid to try something different and don't be afraid to keep it simple with a sinker and a