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BradH

Fishing The Missouri During/after The 2011 Flooding

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As many of you may know 2011 was a rough year on the Missouri River. Releases from the dams were more than double what they had ever been before. There was a tremendous amount of property damage and access to the river was very limited. I'm talking about the Missouri River from Sioux City up into South Dakota. I had last fished the river in May when it was coming up but starting late May most of the boat ramps were under water and the river was closed to boat traffic below Gavin's Point Dam. In about August I was starting to get a little jumpy and I needed a river smallmouth fix to settle my nerves. I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to navigate the river and get to the spots I wanted to hit.

Prior to this year I had come up with a formula I use to locate smallmouth on a river. Others may agree, others may not, it's what I use and it has not failed me yet. I look for four things. Current, clear water or water cleaner than the rest of the river in general, vertical structure and rocks/riprap. If I find those four things I will find fish. With that in mind I did a map recon using Google Earth to locate new spots that the high water would create. I already had my old spots I knew would produce and I formulated a game plan.

On my first trip I put in at the west end of a reservoir and headed upstream. The dams on the Missouri were still releasing 150,000 cubic feet per second and the river was absolutely raging on its narrow stretches. For me this was uncharted water and with the river being high all the sandbars were now underwater and I was pretty much running blind. I have some water reading skills but it was still tricky. My target was 25+ miles upstream and fighting a 3 to 4 mph current ate up a ton of time, not to mention I did not run on plane very often. I hit some bluffs along the way briefly and picked up a few fish but nothing like I knew I could get into so I kept pressing on. After about three hours in the boat I finally came to my first target spot. Jackpot! In less than a half dozen casts my Dad and I each had a smallmouth hooked up and it went on like that until we decided to head back. Throughout the next month or so I continued this same pattern. All along I had been plotting the main channel on my GPS so after a couple trips I was able to run up on plane and not mess around.

One thing I noticed was the average fish size was up. This is no scientific study by any stretch of the imagination, just my own observations. Prior to the 2011 flooding the average smallmouth would be about 12" to 14" and you would get a few 16" or so fish each trip. Sure, you would catch bigger fish from time to time but you could pretty much bank on a 16 to 16.5 inch smallie or two on every trip. Now during the flood and from there on out the average fish was 14 to 16 inches and big fish for the trip was 17 to 17.5 inches. All the fish were bloated on baitfish and shaped like footballs. The high water had flooded so much backwater area that the year class of baitfish and all other fish for that matter was huge. I took a few guys with me on my trips. They were well outside their comfort zones until we started catching fish, me, I was HOME, haha. One guy I took with me had never been on what i would call a "real" fishing trip. Every smallmouth he caught that day was over 16". I wish I had that kind of average.

Once the water started to go back down I found my hotspots growing cold, the current was less there and the vertical structure was limited, so I applied the same formula I have always relied on and got back on the fish. Let me back up a little. Prior to the flooding there were endless cattail/reed islands in the river with channels going through them. I had picked off a few fish on them in the past but I always had the best luck fishing rocks/bluffs/cliffs. The flood had washed all those reed islands away. The back waters were draining and there was limited cover and structure for the fish to utilize (gamefish and baitfish). The fish were now stacked on key spots. A "perfect storm" condition had setup. All those fish that had previously hung out on the reeds prior to the flood or in the flooded timber during the flood now had to find new homes, they were concentrated. Sweet!

A few notes on equipment and safety. With the strong current in the spots I was fishing I had to kill the trolling motor and let the boat run with the current to get a fish with any size to it in the net. A true cranking rod saved my rear on baits with treble hooks. My Dad must have grown tired of me kicking his butt so he put away his pool cue worm rod he was throwing cranks with and bought a glass rod for cranks (thanks Hooligan). The right rod helps keep the fish hooked. In a current the smallmouth's ability to throw hooks when it jumps out of the water and unloads a stiff rod is very good. After my first trip I came to the conclusion that if I went in the water in some spots I wasn't coming up. I wear a auto/manual vest all the time now. Make sure your boat partner can operate the boat. Carry a spare prop and the tools to change it.

Not only was the smallmouth fish good but other fish were more than happy to smash a crank, jig, plastic or spinnerbait. We caught smallmouth, largemouth, drum, sauger, walleye, pike, yellow perch, crappie, goldeye, channel cats, white bass and even a chinook salmon. I like anything that will smack a bait so for me it added to the fun.

In summary if you find Mother Nature has dealt you a blow put in the work and use it to your advantage. Oddly enough despite the excellent fishing I pretty much had the whole place to myself. I like that. When I see a cluster of boats I go the other way. I might be eating turkey jerky on a boat for Thanksgiving if I can find another crazy person to go with me.

Shane's first ever smallmouth

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A few more nice ones.

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Nice post Brad. Your definitely on the right side of the learning curve.

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It just won't quit and they keep getting bigger! Some nice bonus species too. I must have died and gone to heaven or something.

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Great job locating the fish again! It's amazing that you're fish the same Missouri river that has nothing but catfish and rough fish in it here and doesn't have anything you could even being to consider clear water. How far north would a person have to drive to catch smallies and such from the mighty mo? I enjoy fishing rivers and that just sounds like a good time!

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Yep... Some nice Brownies and great photos too!

www.ragetail.com

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Great job locating the fish again! It's amazing that you're fish the same Missouri river that has nothing but catfish and rough fish in it here and doesn't have anything you could even being to consider clear water. How far north would a person have to drive to catch smallies and such from the mighty mo? I enjoy fishing rivers and that just sounds like a good time!

Anywhere from Sioux City up and I would really say from Ponca State Park up. The farther up river you get the better it is. If you ever decide to make a trip give me a hollar. There are rough fish too. I was actually excited to hook this 27" shortnose gar. Bigheads and Silvers have not made it past Gavin's Point and won't unless some idiot moves them.

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Hmm says it's about a 5 and a half hour drive from here. Might have to try to talk the wife into letting me make a trip up there for a few months. The silvers and bigheads are bad down here in the missouri and the Kansas. It's to the point that it's getting pretty dangerous to try to run the river. I took a 20 pounder to the ribs and thought they might be broken for awhile.

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WOW!!!!...Nice multi species pix....looks like a great time!!!

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