By Steve Weisman
The temperatures are finally moving out of the “freezer,” so to speak. Yet, the ice still has its grip on the area lakes. For a lot of anglers in northwest Iowa, lack of open water leads them to eye the Missouri River at Chamberlain, SD. As I mentioned in a previous column, open water fishing has been going strong for several weeks. Last week I couldn’t take it any longer. So, I talked Dick Lineweaver, a friend of mine from Arnolds Park, into spending a couple of days fishing Lake Francis Case.
What I like most about fishing the reservoirs on the Missouri River is that they are a river/dam and fast water fishery and a lake-like atmosphere when you get a few miles down from the river. So, to me it’s the best of both worlds. Being a South Dakota boy, I’ve fished all of the impoundments since I was in my teens. Most of the time I used my own boat, but this time with my pontoon still in winter storage, Dick and I decided to use a guide service. I turned to Garry Allen, who owns Allen’s Missouri River Guide Service and the Hillside Motel in Chamberlain. It was a natural since my father-in-law and I began staying with Garry back in the early 1980s.
The only trouble with fishing in March is the weather. This year especially, we’ve had cold, wind and snow squalls just about every week. So, I kept watching the weather until it looked as if Wednesday and Thursday would be in the upper 40s to low 50s with southeast winds 5-10 mph.
So I called Garry on Sunday and penciled it in with the option of postponing if the weather took a turn for the worse. Fortunately, it was exactly as forecasted.
Allen’s Missouri River Guide Service (www.allenshillside.com)
Since the late 70s, Garry has built a guide business based on catering to his clientele. He offers a full guide service, a motel, a baitshop and just plain fishing advice. It’s grown to the point that seven full time guides are kept busy throughout the open water season. When you stay at a place year after year, you can tell if they are the real deal or not. Allen’s office is one of those places anglers head to early in the morning for coffee, some bait and last minute advice. However, it is at the end of a day’s fishing that anglers get together in the main office by the big screen TV at the to share the day’s stories. Add a big spread of deer sausage, crackers, and chips along with a beverage and it doesn’t get much better than that!
Day I – Wednesday
Our plan was to leave Spirit Lake early on Wednesday and be ready to fish by 11 or so. When we got there, Garry had his 20-foot Lund hooked up and ready to go. All it took was getting on our fishing clothes, grabbing several dozen minnows and heading north to the dam at Ft. Thompson. This pre-spawn bite usually centers around 1/8, 3/8 or 1/4-ounce jigs tipped with a lively minnow. Sometimes a short shank and sometimes a long shank jig works best, so we used both. Chartreuse and green are the most common colors, but others will work.
Garry told us on the way, “Fishing was really good by the dam this morning. I had two guides out and they all took limits with one group of four getting their 16 walleyes by 9:30.”
That was the good news. The bad news: that bite had died by 10:30. “The best bite has been in the morning, so it’ll be a little tougher this afternoon,” said Garry.
That was another reason that I wanted to have Garry guide us. We didn’t have a lot of time to search and explore to find the fish. We only had a limited time to fish. With nearly 20 miles of water from the dam to Chamberlain that’s a lot of area.
Garry actually ran south nearly 12 miles to an area known as Kiowa Flats. “I’ve had some good days here,” said Garry. One thing about fishing walleyes on the river this time of year is that the bite can change constantly. After a little searching at different depths, Garry found the fish in a deeper trough between 20-24 feet of water. We trolled between .2 to .3 mph bouncing the jigs off the bottom. In addition, we would put out another jig and just put the rod in the rod holder and let the boat provide the movement (dead stick).
After about four hours, we had nine nice 15-19 inch walleyes in the boat. We then headed toward the ramp and ended up picking up two more before calling it a day. After all, we needed to be back by 6 p.m. to watch the Hawkeyes and Virginia.
That evening we sat around the office with anglers from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota eating horsd’euoveres, sharing fishing stories and watching the Hawkeye victory. Of course, there was a little good natured Iowa vs. Minnesota “talk” going on!
To end the day, Dick and I took six fillets to Charley’s Restaurant next door and had them fix up a meal of walleye, along with salad bar and baked potato.
On Thursday, we were on the water by 7:30 a.m. It was only 26 degrees, but with very little wind, it was still relatively comfortable. This time we fished a stretch east of the campground. After working depths from 11-20+ feet, Garry found the fish in 11-14 feet of water. By 11 a.m., we had 12 walleyes in the boat ranging from 16 to nearly 22 inches. We also released a few other walleyes. I did catch the 22 incher on the dead stick.
A White Sight
The majesty of the Missouri River breaks, the water and all of the wildlife is something I always look forward to when I head to Chamberlain. This time, though, I got a huge, huge surprise.
Snow geese, yes snow geese. Their migration was on, and it was a sight that even Garry had never seen the likes of before. Are you ready for this? Several hundred thousand snows and blues were using the river as a resting place. The noise was deafening and the swarms coming in to the flocks already on the water looked like huge swirling flocks of blackbirds migrating through in the fall.
Toward evening the sky was filled with line after line after line of snow geese heading east to feed in the cornfields. The flocks filled the sky as far as the eye could see.
The two days went by all too quickly; they always do. However, the photos combined with the memories will give the two of us plenty of stories to tell and re-tell!