ON THE ST. CROIX RIVER – In a move that has little precedent, Minnesota and Wisconsin fisheries managers announced recently that angling regulations on the Mississippi River between Hastings and the Iowa border will be reviewed jointly by the states’ respective departments of natural resources.
The idea, the officials said, is to decide whether gamefish regulations on the river should be updated and — this would be a shocker — made uniform between the two states.
Anglers who fish the Mississippi regularly will pay special attention to any changes made to protocols governing walleyes, which attract most anglers to the river. This is especially true in early spring, when pre-spawn walleyes collect in waters below the Red Wing dam, attracting an armada of anglers not only from Minnesota and Wisconsin but also from Iowa (especially) and Illinois.
“We don’t have any specific proposals for changes to bag limits or size restrictions,” said Kevin Stauffer, Lake City area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota DNR. “But many of these regulations have been in place for 50 years, and we’d like to hear what people who fish the river have to say about them, and whether they think any changes are in order.”
In addition to walleyes, rules governing angling for sunfish, crappies, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, white bass, saugers, catfish and yellow perch will be discussed.
What’s not on the table, apparently, for examination are angling regulations on the St. Croix River, which also forms a long boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Which is odd, because at least some fish that spend portions of the year in the Mississippi also pass long periods in the St. Croix, swimming upstream and down by season.
On Thursday, Dick “Griz’’ Grzywinski and I, along with my son Cole, sat atop waters that form the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, targeting some of these transient fish.
At times, the three of us were on the Mississippi, dangling half-ounce jigs in about 34 feet of water, while, moments before or after, we were on the St. Croix, angling similarly. Near us, a dozen or so other boats also bobbed between the two rivers, most, like us, seeking walleyes that had migrated up the Mississippi.
“You can watch the calendar and get an idea where the walleyes will be in the river,’’ Griz was saying, “but in a year like this, when spring was so late arriving, you have to spend a little time on the water to find out if the fish have arrived yet.’’
Griz, a St. Paul fishing guide (www.fishwithgriz.com), begins his springtime Mississippi River fishing in the last half of March near Red Wing. These early-season days can be bone-chilling. But sooner or later, walleyes migrating from Lake Pepin start to show up, including some monsters.
On multiple occasions, Griz and I — he more often, admittedly — have taken walleyes between 8 and 12 pounds on the Mississippi, not only while fishing near Red Wing but also in Pool 2, near downtown St. Paul.
We release these fish, as well as smaller specimens. But not everyone does. In fact, arguably, walleyes congregated within a few miles of the Red Wing dam in early spring, preparing to spawn, are targeted for catch-and-keep more aggressively than any other pre-spawn walleyes in Minnesota — a fact that is long overdue for review by Wisconsin and Minnesota fisheries managers.
That said, upstream Thursday morning, near Prescott, Wis., Griz, Cole and I were untroubled by such serious considerations. The sky was blue, mostly, and a faint breeze rippled the rivers’ surface beneath a warming sun.
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Griz can be almost impossible to outfish, as I have proven many times. But Thursday morning, as soon as I dropped my jig-and-minnow to the river bottom, I lip-hooked a dandy walleye. This occurred almost simultaneously with a similar score by Cole, and we reeled in our fish together.
“A double!’’ I said, “a good way to start.’’
Griz possesses modern fishing gear. But he also has vintage stuff, and among the latter is a three-digit counter he uses to log the number of fish boated in an outing. That it can record catches exceeding 100 is a tip-off that Griz knows where Mississippi and St. Croix walleyes are, and how to catch them.
Having clicked the counter twice to record our first two walleyes, Griz soon punched it again, logging a catch of his own.
Then, soon, the clicker showed, “4,’’ “5,’’ and “6.’’
Had we wanted to keep some of these walleyes, by regulation they would have had to be at least 15 inches long. Among these first fish, some were and some weren’t.
Home only for a week or so, Cole had recently finished his junior year at the University of Montana. Soon he would return to Missoula and his summertime job as a fly-fishing guide.
Last weekend, he was on Upper Red Lake with me, enjoying that lake’s walleye bonanza. Then on Monday, he and his brother, Trevor, who also lives in Missoula and guides there year-round, took their mother to a secret Minnesota lake where, as a belated Mother’s Day gift, they caught and released more than 100 crappies and largemouth bass.
Now, Cole was hooking river walleyes rapid fire.
“You’re having a good little vacation,’’ I said to him. “I want to be you.’’
As I spoke, Griz’s counter clicked away. Soon we were in double digits, “10,’’ “11,’’ “12’’ — then on to “20’’ and, in just over an hour, “25.’’
With his distinctive gray beard and shock of similarly shaded hair, Griz is easy to pick out among anglers on a river, particularly while perched in the stern of his trademark john boat. Thus recognized, he often draws a crowd, especially when his boat is catching fish.
So it was Thursday until Griz finally retired his clicker at “53,’’ indicating the number of walleyes and sauger we had fooled in our 2 hours and 20 minutes on the water.
“These walleyes will be in the area another day or two or three,’’ Griz said. “Then they won’t be. They’ll be farther upstream, either in the Mississippi or the St. Croix.’’
Where Griz will be waiting, counter in hand.
Editor’s note: A Mississippi River gamefish regulation meeting will be held 6-9 p.m. Tuesday at Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, Minn.