Fishing the 'golden hour' on the Mississippi

Wildside column: It was an evening to remember

The last light of the “golden hour” silhouettes Capoli Bluff on the Mississippi River on Oct. 19, shortly after four anglers caught 60 walleyes in the hour before nightfall. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

LANSING — With the sun still hovering above the bluffs on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, imparting an ethereal glow to both sky and water, the fortunes of four down-on-their-luck anglers suddenly turned.

I and my fishing companions — nephews Seth and Sam Patterson, both of Atkins, and their friend Andy Zweibohmer of Morning Sun — were still half-buzzed Thursday, a week after the thrills of a near-supernatural walleye feeding frenzy.

At the end of a sunny Oct. 19, it was the “golden hour” favored especially by photographers, who welcome its warm, flattering light, and by anglers, who hope game fish will abandon caution as they press their lowlight advantage over their prey.

We had been struggling until that last hour when, in response to Seth’s plea for “one more hole,” Sam guided us to a shallow sand flat near the main channel, where the fishing proved to be spectacular and easy.

Before the magic had even begun, Sam and I — fishing together for the third straight day in the abnormally high, swift river — found the spot remarkable for its slack current and its lack of the floating eel grass that had fouled our hooks on almost every preceding retrieve.

The magic unfolded gradually, starting with me. After my first couple of fish, I remember thinking we ought to take note of this spot for future reference, not yet realizing the future was at hand.

After the next couple of walleyes, I thought there must be something special about the green-and-yellow plastic paddle-tail minnow on my jig. But by then Sam was catching them on whatever lure happened to be tied to the several rods surrounding him on the front deck of the boat, while Seth and Andy, fishing together in Seth’s nearby boat, caught them on crankbaits.

Once Seth realized his boat was at ground zero, he activated his trolling motor’s spot-lock feature, which uses global positioning system coordinates to hover in place, effectively providing us with a 20-foot-long buoy to mark our spot.

For the next 40 minutes, at any given moment, one of us held a bent rod, and doubles were too common to notice. On at least two occasions, three of us simultaneously landed fish, and we could have easily orchestrated a quadruple if we had paused long enough to coordinate our casts.

As the bites quickened, our giddy level heightened to the point that none of us even noticed the beauty of the golden light. Even if we had, it’s unlikely anyone could have stopped chattering and laughing long enough to pull out a phone camera to record the scene for posterity.

Walleyes dominated our catch, which included sauger, white bass, yellow perch and sheepshead. Many of the walleyes fell just short of the 15-inch minimum size limit, but 16 of them, plus two saugers and a perch, made it into our live wells. We estimated — conservatively, I think — we collectively caught at least a walleye per minute during the golden hour.

The ever-curious Seth wondered what confluence of factors could account for the swarms of ravenous walleyes congregating at that place and time. With what I hoped sounded like the voice of experience, I told him it was enough to be there to enjoy it.