An Outdoorsman’s Journal: Mississippi River Perch Challenge

An Outdoorsman's Journal

Mark Walters, Contributor

Walters and Ruby on the trek to paradise.

Follow along each week on the adventures of Mark Walters, a syndicated outdoor adventure columnist who lives in Necedah, Wisconsin. He began writing his column, An Outdoorsman’s Journal, in 1989. It includes hunting, fishing, lots of canoeing and backpacking. He currently writes for around 60 newspapers on a weekly basis. He hopes you enjoy reading about his adventures!

Hello friends,

The last two years in the month of March I have headed down to Buffalo City which is located on the Mississippi River about 40-miles north of Lacrosse and used my ATV to go three miles where I fish some of the backwaters of the Mississippi for perch and walleye These backwaters are very close to the dam that controls pool number 5 and I have had excellent success shore fishing for perch and walleye that temporarily migrate to it for the spawning season. In all honesty I have been very excited for this trip for at least a month.

Red horse were plentiful on this trip!

Sunday, March 21st
High, 57, Low 30 (Sustained 40 mph wind)

I have my ATV in my enclosed trailer and a four wheeled feed cart to pull behind it with gear. Because all of my gear for this overnight experience will not fit into the cart, I have an Otter Sled strapped to the top of it. As you are about to find out bad luck would soon come my way! I arrived at the public boat landing at Spring Lake where I planned on unloading and taking the pleasant trip down to the dam with my golden retriever Ruby.

As soon as I pulled into the landing a fisherman told me the trail had recently been closed to ATV travel. In all honesty, I would have rather been punched in the gut than hear that report. My new plan had me pulling my load exactly three miles and here was the killer. The wind was blowing into my face at a sustained 40-mph and I actually verified that report.

I pulled my load and kept going back to the line I would use, that I created when I hiked 1244 miles of the Appalachian train back in ‘91. “Eyes that see, ears that hear, feet keep moving, Home is near!”

So, I make the journey and am super excited to catch some huge perch and walleye and when I hike into the backwater, I have some really bad news. The main channel of the river has created a sandbar that has 100% blocked the entrance. In other words, migrating perch and walleye could not get to where I was fishing.

On another front, this was a challenge to myself and I had not brought any food whatsoever, I was going to live on fish. I rigged three poles with worms and spread them out over 60-yards of shoreline and after 4-hours concluded that I was going to starve.

I knew that I could go to the river, but the sand was blowing so intensely that it looked like it was snowing. Just before dark I moved one pole over to the river and caught a teninch perch right off the bat.

In the dark I moved my entire operation over to the river and though I caught several red horse which are inedible, I did not catch any more perch. A couple other side notes, I did not bring a tent and a light rain began and it was so windy that for the first time that I can remember, I could not light my propane light.

I was super hungry, so I filleted and fried my one perch and it actually made me feel very good.

The main channel had created a sandbar that blocked the fish from swimming into this backwater!

Monday, March 22nd
High 61, Low 44

I was up long before the sun and caught one undersized walleye that I really wanted to eat but let go. At daybreak it was the lets watch people in boats show while they watch the crazy guy on shore show! You cannot reach this spot by vehicle or ATV so it was all mine. I started catching perch, very slow but I was catching them, and one was almost 13-inches, but unfortunately I lost most of my spot to fishermen that anchored over it.

I fished super hard and loved it and it was amazing to watch the people show. There was one guy that every time someone caught a fish he would watch with envy and literally move his boat within 15-feet of them or me if I caught one.

The other crazy part of this day is that by 3:00 when I loaded the cart, I had caught 44 red horse. I filleted five of the perch and fried them before the hike back and that gave me big energy for the trek.

Another side story is that since I thought I was using the ATV, I only had hip boots or cowboy boots, neither are ideal for a long slog, pulling a load. I love the Mississippi, my first job out of high school was as a deckhand on a river boat when I was 18. I tried canoeing up it back in 87 and this trip was just another notch in the belt of positive, life experiences. Live till you can’t!


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