Outdoors column: Mid-winter open water river fishing

It was really great the other day to actually hold a long, real fishing rod in my hands after the last few months of ice fishing with the short sticks. I always keep an eye on the weather during February to make note of those balmy, 30- to 40-degree days where I can grab my waders and hit the rivers for smallmouth bass. This little known pastime is a wonderful break during the winter months and once again, it feels great to throw a regular rod and feel the current below your feet. Here are some ideas to help you along the way.

Smallmouth bass can be had even during the cold winter months – look for that decent, odd day in the 30’s and 40’s and grab your waders.

Smallmouth bass can be had even during the cold winter
months – look for that decent, odd day in the 30’s and
40’s and grab your waders.

Current conditions
Right now the current conditions on our Minnesota rivers are perfect.

The lack of snow cover and Fall rains have kept the flow down to a minimum and by picking and choosing the right stretches of river you can have a ball fishing in ideal conditions. Some anglers have indicated they have never seen the water levels lower than they are right now. At this time there are no ice floes coming down river and the current is mild.

Pitching techniques
I have always favored the split shot rig and plain hook during February because this time of the winter these smallmouth bass are somewhat lethargic and not in the chasing mood. I try and experiment with different size split shots to find the best weight for the conditions at hand. Place that split shot about 24 inches above a plain, No. 4 hook and pitch into the main channel which is almost always in the center of the river. Let the current push that split shot rig downstream and there is no need to retrieve let the current do the work.

If you are constantly getting hung up in the boulders and rocks, drop down your split shot to a lighter weight. Once you hit the correct weight you’ll almost never get hung up again.

Minnow choices
February is the time for medium sucker minnows. These big minnows are by far the best choice as smallmouth often ignore a walleye sized minnow but attack a larger offering. Hooking the minnow through the lips or head allows the bait to travel downstream faster which is not really what you want. I hook the minnow directly through the side which makes the bait
perform slower in the cross current. Doesn’t matter if the minnow is alive or not because the current gives it plenty of action. Now the minnow, cross hooked through the side, will travel downstream slower because of the resistance and gives the smallies a great look.

River choices
The Mississippi River as it flows from Coon Rapids up towards Elk River is a great section. Also the Mississippi section just south of Hill City is another good choice. Many smaller rivers such as the Boy River near Leech Lake, the Snake near Pine City and the Sauk River near Sauk Center are also proven areas.
Steve Carney is a  contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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