Top 10 baits from the Mississippi River - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from the Mississippi River

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A wide variety of baits worked for the top pros at the Mississippi River, with finesse and power techniques earning a place at the table. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
July 31, 2023 • Erik Gaffron, Rob Matsuura • Invitationals

LA CROSSE, Wis. – The final stop of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season brought the pros to Pools 7, 8 and 9 of the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the river showed out. Bags in the 15-pound range were not uncommon, and it took more than 42 pounds to finish in the Top 10.

The anglers in the field of 150 were able to exploit several different techniques to catch their fish. While the Upper Mississippi has traditionally been a haven for power fishing tactics, many of the Top 10 pros mixed in some tried-and-true finesse tactics to separate themselves.

1. Leading the charge of anglers in the Top 10 who locked into Pool 7 despite a chaotic and often tense lock traffic situation, Matthew Stefan focused on a stretch of eelgrass with a plethora of clumps and pockets for bass to hide in. He exploited these clumps and patches of vegetation with a wacky-rigged, 5-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General in both green pumpkin and black and blue. Stefan was sure to alternate between black and blue on cloudy days and green pumpkin when the sun shone.  

2. Steve Lopez also took the trip up to Pool 7, and it paid off big for him. Lopez also went to work with a 5-inch green pumpkin weightless wacky rig, letting it drift slowly through the grass to initiate strikes. Lopez utilized a 7-foot, medium-action Duckett Jacob Wheeler Series spinning rod, noting that the softer action helped keep fish pinned while using 15-pound braided main line to a 10-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon leader.

3. Tom Monsoor dropped a heavy bag of 17-9 on the final day to jump up into third place. The La Crosse native has maybe the broadest wealth of knowledge and experience on the Upper Mississippi of anyone alive, and he leaned on it this week, targeting similar areas to the anglers finishing in front of him. Rolling to Pool 7 with Stefan, Lopez and others, Monsoor leaned heavily on a variation of a Carolina rig. A black, ¼-ounce bullet weight pegged up the line by a pair of bobber stoppers trailed with a 5-inch green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko was Monsoor’s savior after his swim jig bite faltered on Day 1. Monsoor reeled ’em in with Lew’s rods and reels spooled with Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

4. Nick Trim also climbed his way into the Top 10, bringing in the biggest bag of the event on the final day at 19-4. Trim headed to Pool 7 on Day 3 knowing the pressure was off of him, as he’d already secured a check. Trim tied on a topwater, going to work with a Heddon Super Spook in the golden shiner pattern after switching out the hooks to stouter Berkley Fusion19 trebles. Trim also mixed in a YUM Money Minnow in fog light to trigger bites when he wasn’t casting the spook at schooling fish. His setups of choice for all of his techniques were Fitzgerald All Purpose Series casting rods and Shimano Metanium reels.

5. Finding familiarity and similarities to his home waters of Clear Lake, California, Jared Lintner took advantage of his knowledge of grass fishing. Following the contingency of locals in the top four who headed up to Pool 7, Lintner went to work with a two-pronged approach, casting both a buzzbait and bladed jig to generate enough weight to land himself in the top five. His buzzbait of choice was a Tackle HD Worldwide Buzzer in white with a silver blade and a custom color Zoom Z Craw. He followed up with his bladed jig of choice, the trusted Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer in a shad pattern. Both offerings were fished with Daiwa rod and reel combos.

6. Pools 8 and 9 got little love from the week’s Top 5, but sixth-place finisher Cade Laufenberg did work in both of the lower pools to fish his way toward the top. The Onalaska, Wisconsin angler worked over wing dams with a 5-inch Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow in alewife pattern, rigged in a line-through style with a treble hook. He also spent a large chunk of time with a frog in his hand, opting to cast a Strike King Sexy Frog in the kamikaze color pattern on 65-pound Strike King Tour Grade Braid line. He noted that altering the frog with heavier-weighted hooks to improve its presence among the mats was important.

7. Star of the river Mike Brueggen resisted the urge to take the lock to Pool 7 and stuck to his guns on Pool 8, keeping a frog rod in his hand the majority of the week. Brueggen caught his fish on a variety of SPRO Bronzeye Frogs, mainly in the killer gill and natural red patterns. Brueggen worked his frogs on a 7-foot, heavy action casting rod with 65-pound braid spooled up. For fish that didn’t get it, Brueggen kept some punching and flipping options handy.

8. Putting up his second straight Top 10 finish on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Cody Meyer did his damage by staying in Pool 8, deciding to remain close to takeoff in the Black River. Meyer utilized an Evergreen Justine 95 in the ice fish pattern on schooling fish that came up to bust around wing dams and isolated grass. He slung the Justine on a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite rod with an 8.1:1 Daiwa Tatula Elite reel spooled with 40-pound Daiwa J-Braid. He followed up with a second offering of a Yamamoto Senko rigged weightless and wacky, slung on a 7-foot, medium light, Daiwa Tatula Elite spinning rod and a Daiwa Tatula MQ 3000 spinning reel with 10-pound Daiwa J-Braid tied to 10-pound Daiwa J-Fluoro.

9. Drew Gill leaned heavily on his electronics after making a run to Pool 9 each day, focusing on schooling fish with his forward-facing sonar and reeling a swimbait over the top of their heads to generate reaction strikes. Gill got his bites by swimming a 4-inch Keitech Easy Shiner in French pearl pattern with a 1/8-ounce ball head jighead. The swimmer was thrown on a 7-6, medium-light Ark Invoker Pro Series spinning rod.

10. Tristan McCormick decided to throw finesse baits (like many other top finishers) in the Black River and fished his way into the final spot of the Top 10. McCormick focused on areas where he could find retreads, capitalizing on the variety of local events that launch in the Black River area. McCormick’s offering of choice was a 5-inch Strike King Ocho in green pumpkin slung on a 7-foot, medium heavy spinning rod and Lew’s Custom Lite Series 200 spinning reel. He matched the combo with a 10-pound Strike King Contra Braid mainline tied to a 15-pound Strike King Contra Fluorocarbon leader.