Thursday morning, Griz and I were on the Mississippi, looking for walleyes but talking water moccasins. We found plenty of the former but none of the latter, though Ol’ Griz knows they’re there, the snakes, hitchhikers, he says, on barges coming upriver from New Orleans.
“I’ve seen ’em,’’ he said. “On hot days, they coil onto logs and sun themselves. People don’t believe me. But I’ll bring one to the dock sometime.’’
As Griz spoke, he impaled a fathead minnow onto an orange jig. The minnow could have been dead or alive. “It doesn’t matter,’’ he said. Nor does jig color, not much.
“What matters is how you present it,’’ he said.
This was about an hour into our trip and already we had caught and released a dozen good walleyes, a couple pushing 5 pounds. Also we couldn’t keep sheepshead off our lines and had picked up a sauger and a sunnie. This was beneath an unsettled gray sky patched with blue that hinted of the warming afternoon to come.
As a fishery, you can’t beat the Mississippi as it flows through the Twin Cities and into Pool 2, between the Ford Dam and Hastings, where Griz and I fished.
The wonder on Thursday, in fact, was that everyone in the metro wasn’t on this stretch of water, pretty as it is, and fruitful. In the far distance, the St. Paul skyline towered, while nearer to us, wilderness gathered on each riverbank, all of it well suited for viewing, and fishing, in a john boat like Griz’s, rigged with a tiller outboard, the entire rig painted camouflage.
A St. Paul-based guide for decades now, Griz — Dick Grzywinski — loves fishing. Hunting, too, except his shoulders’ rotator cuffs are giving him fits these days. So it’s harder and harder for him to shoulder a gun.
“Makes it hard to sleep at night, too,’’ he said. “I keep turning and turning like I’m on a rotisserie.’’
It’s possible that fishing along this piece of the Mississippi might be better than fishing in any Minnesota lake. Or maybe not. But certainly it’s in the top five state destinations for walleyes. Big ones — up to 14 pounds — are here, also small ones. These are pretty fish, also, their sides hued dark green and gold, their flanks bulging and tails thick.
But there are tricks to river fishing.
First is to know where wing dams are; underwater rock levees that project from shore like fingers. Their intent in part is to reduce siltation of channels that barges and tugs need to push upriver and down.
But a wing dam’s unintended consequence can be to shear off the lower unit of an angler’s outboard.
As Griz says, “On a river, just because there’s water, doesn’t mean you can run a boat there.’’
Yet wing dams aren’t all bad. Fish like to hang around them, and dropping a jig alongside one, sometimes in water just a few feet deep, can produce walleyes, saugers, smallmouth bass or any of the weirder finned species: common carp, flathead cats, channel cats, gar and so forth.
“I’ll slide the boat into those logs,’’ Griz said. “Drop your jig alongside the submerged one. The other day, we picked up some good walleyes here.’’
Boat control is critical in fishing, and Griz managed his from the stern with one hand on an electric trolling motor.
Little by little, he maneuvered his john boat into a mess of long-dead tree trunks and limbs forced downriver by spring floods.
Now the castoff timber appeared like sodden strands of spaghetti tossed helter-skelter against the Mississippi’s eastern shore.
As Griz positioned the boat, I dropped my jig and minnow to the bottom in perhaps 18 inches of water.
“River fish love structure like this,’’ Griz said. “You might find a good smallmouth here, too.’’
Not far from where we fished, Griz once bet me he could catch a walleye weighing 8 pounds or more in less than an hour. He did it in 23 minutes and the weight was almost 9 pounds.
So I figured yes, all right, maybe a smallie will be here.
Which is when my rod doubled over as a slab-size smallmouth bass took my jig and ran with it.
We would catch other fish in the half-day we spent on the water Thursday, including more walleyes, some medium-sized, some big.
But already in three hours we were at 30-plus in the boat, a lot of action in a short time.
“A good morning,’’ Griz said.
And it was.
Coming Sunday: Fly fishing for smallmouth bass from a drift boat on the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.
Editor’s note: Fishing guide Dick Grzywinski can be reached at 651-771-6231.