The sixth stop of the FLW Tour presented by Evinrude on the Mississippi River is a breath of fresh air for Matt Stefan of Junction City, Wis., considering it is a short few short hours from his house. But just because he lives relatively close to the Mighty Miss doesn’t make him a river rat by any means. Stefan has fished this stretch of river numerous time throughout the summer and fall, but has never ventured here this early. Still, Stefan has a leg up on the field considering many of the pros have never even seen this section of river before and because of that I decided to jump in the boat with him while he did some exploring on day two of practice.
Our day starts at 6 a.m. when we rendezvous at Veterans Freedom Park (the takeoff and weigh-in site for the event) where Stefan wastes no time paying the daily launch fee before dumping his boat in the river. After I load my stuff and park the truck we begin idling out of the no-wake zone that stretches down towards the main channel.
Stefan spent his first practice day down on Pool 9 and today plans on spending the first few hours of the day up on Pool 7. He likes to sample a bit of everything in his practices and because 7 is a much smaller pool than 8 or 9 he believes he can scout the areas he wants before lunch time.
As we run up to the lock Stefan decides to make a few casts on a stretch of bank that looks good before locking up. He makes a few casts, missing a few fish, and then heads to the lock.
It doesn’t take long for us to lock up to Pool 7 and after about 15 minutes or so the doors open and we idle out of the lock.
We run up the river a bit and begin to meander through some cuts leading into a backwater Stefan has fished before in the summer. As he turns off the engine, he picks up a Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko and begins to flip bushes and laydowns on the bank.
“I’ve fished this area before in the summer and always thought it looked really good for a spring spot,” says Stefan.
His hunch was right as he hooks up with a keeper after about 50 yards of fishing.
“It feels kind of nice when a plan works out like it should,” he chuckles.
After releasing his fish Stefan turns around to dig out a new rod to add to the collection. Stefan already has some standard river tackle on the deck from a swim jig to a frog and even a lipless crankbait. The new weapon of choice is a prop-style topwater.
“I’d like to try the topwater just to see if they’ll roll on it and maybe I can get a better idea of how big they are without having to set the hook,” explains Stefan.
In order to make sure he doesn’t hook any potential lookers Stefan swaps the hooks to a set he has rolled over. And just like that he is ready to get back to fishing.
After fishing closer to the end of the backwater with a few small boils on his topwater, Stefan takes another break to do a little map study. He made a book with laminated aerial photos of certain stretches of the river he wants to check out. In this circumstance, Stefan is looking at which cut in the island is the best way out so he can fish his way that direction.
It takes just a few moments for him to get a good sense of where to go and he’s back to casting.
The far end of the backwater has a plethora of flooded bushes so Stefan drops the topwater and grabs a swim jig. Despite fishing the swim jig through some prime habitat only a northern pike takes a swipe at it so it is time to head for green pastures.
Stefan cranks up the big motor and begins working through the maze of channels to reach the main river. As you can tell from his Lowrance units and console, there are no shortage of bugs out and about on the river this time of year.
As we idle through a shallow stretch, Stefan grabs his phone from the center storage and checks his texts and email. He keeps his phone in a ugo case so it is completely waterproof and he can still operate the phone through the case, including making phone calls. It is a pretty nifty product and seems like a smart idea for someone who spends as much time on the water as he does.
It also is the perfect time to eat a few homemade cookies he has tucked away in the same center storage compartment. The snack break is just long enough to make it into deeper water and continue running to a new area.
Our next stop is another area that Stefan thought looked good on a map, but has never fished before. As he eases slowly down the bank pitching a Senko he notices something hanging from a tree.
He kicks the trolling motor on high and digs deep into the tree after his new-found treasure. It turns out to be a solid score of a Rapala Fat Rap with a steel leader attached.
“I love this bait,” Stefan exclaims. “I had to get it. It’s like leaving a five-dollar bill hanging in the tree.”
Stefan shifts down the bank a few hundred yards and gets back to work. He takes the time to dye the tails of a few Senkos orange before fishing.
A riprap bank with some wood looks promising so he deploys the Power-Poles to thoroughly work the area. A few short strikes later and he finally connects with culprit – a stocky river largie. Not quite the size he is looking for though, so he picks up the Poles and moves on.
Stefan has checked most of what he wanted to see in Pool 7 at this point so he starts to run back down towards the lock. As we get close to the dam he spots fellow Bridgford teammate Chad Randles and heads over to check in.
Randles is on his way to load the boat on the trailer and head down to Pool 8 and Stefan informs him that we are about to head downriver as well. Both pros haven’t been blown away from what they saw in Pool 7 and hope for better luck in the afternoon.
We make it over to the lock and Stefan moves in to pull the signal cord to open the lock. Being that it is close to lunch time he digs out a bag of jerky for us to snack on. There are definitely some perks of being sponsored by a company like Bridgford and I realize the best kind of jerky is free jerky. Thanks, Matt.
The lock doors finally open up and within minutes we are on the way back to the ramp to drop me off.
It is a little after noon at this point and I jump off on the dock so that Stefan can get back to fishing. He plans on checking Pool 8 for the remainder of the day and depending on what he sees may investigate it some more for the final day of practice. As Stefan idles away from the dock he will continue hunting for rest of the pieces to solve the puzzle Ol’ Man River has laid out. Good luck, Matt.