Outdoors column: Reading rivers during early springtime

by Steve Carney
Contributing Columnist

The art of reading rivers takes time on the water and a special focus that many anglers strive to achieve.

Outdoors column cutline: Becoming proficient on Minnesota’s early Spring rivers means boat control and the ability to read the water you are fishing. Submitted photo

I have been fishing river systems thru the past four decades and I have found a certain commonness among many rivers even though they can vary in depth, vary in age and are made up of very different ingredients. Here are some thoughts on helping anglers become better river fisherpeople as we head into the early season of river fishing in central Minnesota.

Original river channel
This absolute key rule No. 1 when fishing river systems in the spring – find the original river channel!

This is my first task when hitting any given river as I use my electronics to find the often snaking, irregular channel that is often disguised especially during high water periods.  Fortunately this Spring we are faced with very low water and finding the channel is quite easy.

I start on the west or east sides of the river and head across the river looking for depth variations.

Typically the depths will be basically the same then suddenly you plunge into deeper water.

After a short spurt the depth begins to rise signaling the rise to the other channel side.

It is the  edge  of these depth variations that divulge the original river channel.

The original river channels at this time of the season are the main corridors for walleye migrations that take place in March and April.  These are the walleye highways that are used for upriver travel.

I always start on these channels hoping to run smack dab into a large school of migrating walleyes.

If you concentrate on these original channels chances are you will have success within minutes.

Anglers waste too much time looking for fish in other areas such as flats or humps when in reality the vast majority of the fish are concentrated and holding in these channels.

Boat control
The most successful river anglers know how to keep their boats holding along these channel edges and it takes years of practice and experience. Much of the efforts are concentrated on bucking the wind direction, current strength and other boats in the area.

I use my outboard motor to hold me on these edges during heavy winds and use the bow and transom electrics for control in light winds.

The basic idea is to use your equipment to stay on a certain depth level and slow that boat to a snail’s pace when looking for fish.

Typically north winds will tend to make your boat travel downstream way too fast and I use my bow electric motor to slow my boat down.

When dealing with south winds this wind will counter the southward current making for easier boat control.  Using the transom electric to slowly work the boat downstream is the ticket.

River Choices
I often tell anglers that all rivers are not created equal. The Mississippi River is an old river that has different characteristics such as rocks, sediment-heavy bottoms and reads completely different than say a more modern river such as the Missouri River in the Dakota’s. The Rainy River in northern Minnesota is completely unique because of the narrow width and the quirkiness of the flow.

Even though these rivers are completely different today’s modern river angler can apply tactics that work on them all. Learn to read these rivers correctly and you will find that March and April on Minnesota’s river systems are many times the highlight of the open water season and yet we are still weeks away form the inland waters opening up.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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