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Dick “Griz’’ Grzywinski displayed a big walleye caught on the Mississippi near downtown St. Paul.

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

Anderson: Playing hide and seek with trophy walleyes

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • July 26, 2012 - 10:26 PM

Griz and I had nothing going Monday so we slipped his john boat into the Mississippi not far from St. Paul to find the big fish that hide there in plain sight.

Like a lot of recent days, this one would be a steamer. Still, the breeze freshened over the water and in mid-morning, a tow boat captain pushing sand barges upriver toward the big bend near downtown and on through the Ford Dam had his wheelhouse windows open, his air conditioner quiet.

"A good day," Griz -- Dick Grzywinski -- said, and his outboard jumped to life with a turn of a key.

The Mississippi this summer has risen, fallen, risen again and now is fairly in free fall, barring more big rains up north. Also nowadays it's running clear as strong coffee, up a few notches from its usual thick-as-muddiness.

"When I was a kid my dad did make coffee with this water,'' Griz said, soon backing off the throttle and angling his boat alongside an eddy that swirled softly near shore.

We had a cooler full of ice and water and sandwiches and no goal except to waste the day and catch fish, among them a monster walleye or two. The 10- and 12-pounders that Pool 2 of the Mississippi can produce don't start really going until the end of August and on through the beginning of duck season. Some can be caught now, yet few anglers fish this portion of the river in summer and even fewer in autumn.

Navigational complexities keep many away: the wing dams, the red and green buoys, the tows and barges. Others understand how to fish lakes but not rivers, sensing rightly the mystery of swift currents, but more fearful of them than intrigued.

"Let's try it here," Griz said, and he pulled alongside a jumble of deadfalls whose water-sodden branches bent deeply downstream.

Somewhere just then, perhaps off Florida or the Bahamas or Costa Rica, fancy fishermen were piloting big boats with holds full of fresh chum and teasers trailing in neat wakes.

Griz and I took a simpler tack, fishing with jigs and minnows and lowering our baits into water variously 3 feet to 5 feet deep.

"They should be here," Griz said. "It's a good spot."

After which he pulled out a palm-sized counter to tally the day's catch.

Soon we had our first fish, a smallmouth, which Griz caught. Then I hooked a sauger and a sheepshead, or freshwater drum. Griz followed with a channel cat and I another. The counter read six, then seven, eight, nine and 10 before we boated our first walleye, a 17-incher. Another walleye and another followed it.

"Nineteen," Griz said, announcing the number of fish caught and released after an hour and a half.

As a fish chronicler, Griz is particularly interested in days when the triple-digit barrier is broken, 100 or more. A longtime guide (www.fishwiththegriz.com) on Leech, Winnie, Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods, he'll say with conviction the section of the Mississippi between the Hastings Dam upstream to the Ford Dam -- Pool 2 -- holds as many fish, in particular as many trophy walleyes and smallmouth bass, as any of the state's better-known waters.

In part this is because Pool 2 is a trophy fishery, with any walleyes, bass and sauger caught required by the Department of Natural Resources to be released.

"We'll get a big one yet today," Griz said, putting us on plane between spots he thought would produce.

Still, we couldn't find a walleye bigger than 3 pounds.

For a while, we thought that No. 38 would be our money fish. This was a real tail- dragger that I hooked and for a long while it stayed deep, swimming our john boat in circles in 4 feet of water, muddying the bottom.

But this would be another sheepshead, not our big walleye.

Finally we hovered over a backwater that Griz labeled Top Secret.

"The big walleyes are either in here or they will be soon," he said.

Following which his rod nearly catapulted from his hand.

Bass? Cat? Sheepshead? Sauger?

Not this time.

Instead this was our fat boy, or fat girl, a specimen pushing 8 pounds, with generous girth and healthy green-gold sides -- a trophy walleye.

Still we weren't done until another fish was in hand, a smallmouth bass, No. 41.

"Never stop on an even number," Griz said. "People won't believe you."

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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