Try fishing Mississippi River in October

As most of my regular readers know, October is my birthday month and I try very hard to celebrate the entire month rather than one specific day! With the possible exception of April, October is the Creator's finest effort.

Everything that appeals strongly to my soul is at its best in October — maybe best of all is the superb fishing that has bounced back from the doldrums of summer to what just might be the best fishing season of all.

Overlooked or perhaps not given much consideration at this time is the fine fishing that can be had in the Mississippi River. Low stages of water all the way down to the Gulf create splendid fishing opportunities — in the main bed of the river itself in some instances.

Around old willow dikes and newer water-controlling structures all along the river, clear water creates a fine spot for bass, crappie, a few sauger and, nowadays, striped bass. I have never gotten the fever for striped bass although it is a very nice fish and a fine fighter.

I have, however, caught a great many black bass around pilings out in the river itself. I recall one year when the water was very low and clear, fishermen around Helena, Ark., caught boatloads of bass while fishing the structures around the Helena harbor. Right now the gauge reads about 5 or 6 feet. At this reading, the water is almost as clear as any of our lakes and is very productive.

This is also a fine time for jug fishing, floating baited lines down the main channel and across sandbars using a variety of floats all the way from gallon plastic jugs to finely manufactured floats that show real ingenuity.

Up the river around East Prairie, Mo., my friends Sam and Jackie Barker became hooked on jug fishing a few years ago. Sam came up with a very neat rig made from two beer cans soldered together with a small eyelet in the center for tying on the line. The line with sinker and hook can be rolled up right to the cans themselves and a rubber band fastened around the cans to hold the line and hook flush against the can. After baiting, you simply throw the whole thing overboard and it unrolls automatically. These colorful cans are easy to see and when you pick them up they are no trouble at all to store away

I fished with them this way a few times where we started our float at the point where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi. At that time the favored bait was shad and a small slim bait fish (whose proper name I never knew) caught near dikes. This bait fish was very good and stayed alive well (something shad don't do, as all fishermen know). We also used deer meat dyed red with food coloring, which worked well though not as good as bait fish.

Just recently Jackie told me something on river fishing for catfish worth passing along. It seems that a friend of his has fished the river regularly with casting rod and cut shad for bait, anchoring and fishing the bottom near eddies and deep pools. Recently he became bored and picked up anchor and began drifting down the channel, bumping his shad-baited hook on the bottom. His catches became almost unbelievable. According to Jackie, he came by his place one day with two blue cat that weighed right at 30 pounds each and a channel cat that weighed 17.

Jackie now recommends that jug fishermen or still fishing fans of the river give this method a try. I have passed this on to my longtime friend Newt McWilliams, one of the rivers most dedicated fishermen and I am waiting to hear how it works out for him. Frankly, I see no reason to think that this would not be a very fine idea because it combines the best features of jugging and still fishing with bait casting tackle.

One thing is certain — a 30-pound cat on a regular bass rod and reel will give you all of the action you are looking for. Back when I was regularly fishing the river with Newt, we would occasionally catch a 30-pounder and, even on a trot line or throw line, you have all that you can handle when trying to get him in the boat.

This Outdoor Observations column is a reprint from the Oct. 10, 1997, issue of Delta Farm Press.

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