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Rising river stocks lakes with large fish

We who use the Mississippi River and its fine lakes, sloughs, and blue holes greatly appreciate rises that redistribute countless millions of game fish.

As I write this near the end of February, the Mississippi River is still rising — all the way from Cairo, Ill., down. It has now reached a stage of just over 33 feet on the Helena, Ark., gauge, which is a long way from flood stage. It seems, however, that it will continue to rise slowly because another relatively small rain front has just gone up the Ohio Valley from which we get most of our high water.

Many people are of the mistaken belief that heavy rains down in the Delta of Mississippi and Arkansas affect the Big River. This is almost totally incorrect. The main levees long ago blocked any appreciable runoff in this region. Rises depend almost entirely on what happens up the Ohio River Valley.

We people who use the river and its fine lakes, sloughs, and blue holes greatly appreciate rises high enough to flow into our lakes and redistribute countless millions of game fish that fill the river. I have watched it carefully for many years. when high water runs into our fishing holes, we are sure have fine fishing when the water goes down.

Watching a rise on the Mississippi is always a sort of ticklish experience for people down river with hunting and fishing clubs behind the levee. It becomes a case where we want our cake and to eat it, too. There is a little range in the rises that makes it possible to get the needed water in the lakes without actually going over the banks and causing great damage to the road systems on most such lands.

I well remember a few floods which literally wiped out most roads to our land. Once it was around July 1 before we could really drive around on the property.

The “entry pipes” that many riverbank clubs have installed are placed at points on the rise that will give our lakes all the water they need without flooding the property and damaging roads and destroying turkey nesting.

It has always been something of a mystery to me how such abundant numbers of fine game fish show up in our lakes after high water. Not only does the water fill the lakes with fish, it sometimes appears to fill a fishing hole with nothing but large fish.

Quite a few years back, a flood filled up one of our lakes known as McWilliams Old River after it had been totally dry for more than a year. My friend Sam Abraham and I started in after bass with bait-casting tackle as soon as it cleared up. Every fish we caught during that entire season was much larger than normal. Most of them were 3 to 6 pounds.

We also began catching slab crappie on the old Christmas Tree Dive Bomber, even though we were using the standard size 400 and 500. Believe it or not, we got smart and obtained some much smaller Bombers (in the 200 size), most of them solid white or white with a touch of black. From that point on, our catches consisted of almost 50 percent bass and 50 percent crappie — all of them much larger than normal.

The same was happening with all of the fellow who fished the lake. The minnow fishermen of that day brought in huge strings of oversized fish. That was back before the use of jigs became popular, but I am sure they would have produced the same results.

After a year or two, our catches from the lake returned to something like normal, with a mixture of other sizes. That led me to believe that the huge numbers of game fish like bass and crappie must swarm together in large groups of roughly the same size and, therefore, sometimes virtually fill a dried up lake with fish of more or less the same size.

I hope this current rise on the river will be one of those that are not so nerve-racking to people who use the land and those bodies of water. If I had my druthers, the river would rise to a stage of 39 feet at Helena, hang there for three weeks, and then fall back to normal. It surely can't hurt to hope.

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