The View from the Pros: High Water May Not Give Local Anglers The Edge

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 Jun 21st, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jun 21st, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Spring flooding along the Mississippi valley has forced high water to overrun river banks. Conditions that change on a daily basis make walleye locations anyone’s guess going into the third stop on the AIM Pro Walleye Series at Dubuque, Iowa on June 22-24.

The largest river system in North America, the Mississippi stretches from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to New Orleans where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico after some 2,320 miles. The clear, blue water of northern Minnesota gradually changes to brown with distance and the input of countless streams and tributary rivers. Flood waters add to the sediment and debris that will complicate the fishing presentations of the AIM competitors.

The mighty Mississippi is also known by its nickname, the Big Muddy, and this fits perfectly because of the flooding of 2011.

Huge rafts of barges pushed by tugs, stern-wheel party boats, speed and ski boats and fishing craft of every description use the Mississippi River on a daily basis. But for the next three days it is also home to the nation’s top walleye anglers, who will be fishing a challenging system.

AIM Pro Anglers Brandon Carpenter, who grew up on the river, and Tommy Skarlis, who lives 100 miles from the Mississippi, gave their predictions.


Brandon Carpenter:

“Sorry I missed your call. I’m probably out fishing,” Carpenter’s voice mail message says. “I’m fishing right now,” he said on the returned call. Growing up on the river, Carpenter has fished the pools with friends for years. The Rockwell, Iowa resident is no stranger to competitive fishing, having fished tournaments for the past 22 years, and professionally for the past five.

The AIM tournament competitors will be fishing a flooded river system that makes it twice as wide as normal, he said. There are over 100 miles of river that includes Pools 11, 12, and 13 available to fish. Added to this are backwaters and slough-areas, plus flooded creek channels, all of which are good bets to fish, especially if there is current.

Located on Pools 11 and 12, Dubuque will host daily launches at its new and improved ramp site downtown and next to the Mystique Casino – where the daily tournament weigh-ins will take place on Wednesday through Friday.

“Flooded waters shouldn’t affect the quality of fishing, just the location. The walleyes just move from the main river to the backwaters to escape the strongest current” Carpenter said. 

“The area close to Dubuque is usually a nice part of the river but right now there is lots of debris in the water. If the water levels continue to drop, we can probably break most records with the wing dam bite. A foot or two drop and we’ll be casting crankbaits and jigs. There is too much debris in the water to troll,” he said.

“This is a different fishery from the lakes and reservoirs we fish in other tournaments. I think this could be a record-breaking tournament catch-wise if conditions are right,” he said. The unique Catch-Record-Release format of the AIM Pro Walleye Series allows each boat to weigh the seven biggest walleyes each day, with no slot limits or culling restrictions. Each fish is photographed and then immediately released where it was caught.

This is the first time the AIM Pro Walleye Series has visited Dubuque. Carpenter feels river fishing is easier than fishing lakes. “In lakes, fish can be spread out. In my opinion, the river is a lot easier because if you find them you can throw about anything and catch them,” he said. “The current of the river concentrates fish a lot more.”

But Carpenter says that fish here are well-fed.  “There is lots of food in the water now. I‘ve seen baby shad, shiners, minnows, perch and sheepshead, which walleye love,” he said.


Tommy Skarlis:

If there is such a thing as home water advantage, Tommy Skarlis wouldn’t be the best pick. “I’m not familiar with the river in the Dubuque area. On a scale from 1-10 with that section of water, I would give myself a 3 or 4,” he said.

According to Skarlis, this will be the first summer walleye tournament held in Dubuque area in over 20 years. “This is big news. There are some really cool activities set up with the Mystique Casino and a lot of community events. I’m pretty fired up to go,” he said.

Another plus for holding the tournament in Dubuque is a huge population of fish with the normal slot limit from 22-28 inches. Normally all walleyes within this size range have been protected. However, with AIM’s Catch-Record-Release format, the slot limit isn’t a factor. “This is a perfect venue for us,” Skarlis said. “There may be a million meaty walleyes within this slot that are just waiting to be CRR’ed”

Skarlis says the water is still high and doesn’t think those conditions will change a whole lot, but unlike Carpenter, says that the water he’s been plumbing is relatively clear of debris. “If anything, the river might come up. It’s been running clean where I have been prefishing,” he said. “I really feel for those people who live downstream with all the flooding,” he added.

According to Skarlis, about half of the field will be made up of local anglers. Normally that would be a big advantage but under current conditions with the walleyes being positioned differently due to the high water he’s predicting the playing field will be even.

There is more to tournament fishing than just finding fish. Moving with the walleyes is required to win. “They may only move 100 yards, but which way did they move?” Skarlis said. The Iowa pro will work wing dams and rock piles, especially those that only come into play in high water situations. He is planning to use a variety of baits including Salmo Hornet or Bullhead crankbaits to troll, Berkley Flicker Shads for both trolling and casting, and a wide assortment of jigs for casting or pitching.

As a result of past flooding, a new launch ramp has been built downtown. There is plenty of parking close to the ramp as well as at the Mystique Casino – where the daily indoor “virtual weigh-ins” will occur.

“I was in favor of coming to Dubuque not because I know the water. I live about 100 miles from it. The last time I fished there was in a PWT tournament in 1997 and I didn’t cash a check,” Skarlis said. “I do like that we are coming to Dubuque because I think it’s a great area to hold a tournament. Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city and is rich in heritage, culture and history,” he said. “Dubuque has worked hard to improve the riverfront downtown and the tournament will help showcase this area.”

For more information about Dubuque visit www.traveldubuque.com. For information about the AIM Pro Walleye Series tournament and to keep up with the all of tournament action on-the-water and the daily live weigh-in, visit www.aimfishing.com.

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