Gary Clancy: For summer bluegills, focus on wing dams

Frankie Silker and Don Brummer, friends of author Gary Clancy, know that midsummer bluegill action can be slow — unless you're fishing wing dams on the Mississippi River.

The fishing was pretty easy back in May and June when the bluegills were spawning in the backwaters. But when the spawn ended and the bluegills (or at least the big ones) just kind of disappeared, that's it till ice fishing starts, right?

If that's your take on it, you are not alone — lots of anglers feel the same way you do.

But you're wrong.

Excellent fishing for bluegills up to 10 inches is happening right now. And the good news is that this action will hold up through August and often right through September, depending on how quick the water cools down this fall.

And the key to cashing in on all of this good summer fishing for dandy panfish? Simple — stay out of the backwaters. The larger panfish are not there right now. Concentrate your efforts on the river itself.


I know that many of you consider the main channel to be the domain of walleye and sauger. Bass fishermen know that the main channel is home to a lot of smallmouth and more largemouth than most think. And catfish anglers ply the main river for both channel cats and flatheads. But not many fish for panfish in or near the main channel.

They should, and they should focus on wing dams.

The wing dams on the Mississippi River were built by the Army Corps Of Engineers, many in the 1930s. They are built from the bank out and are designed to divert the current into the main channel, where the increased current resulting from re-directing the flow off of the wing dams will hopefully sweep downstream the silt and sand which builds up in the main channel.

Wing dams were built mainly so that barge traffic would not encounter water too shallow for their passage.

Walleye fishermen spend a lot of time fishing wing dams, but bluegills spend a lot of time hanging out there, too. And with good reason. Every day there is a lot of really good fish food washing happily along the bottom of the river. Mayfly larvae, assorted grubs, some worms and lots of nymphs to name just a few, run head-first into this rock wall.

It's a great deal if you are a bluegill. A steady stream of fish chow, and you don't even have to hunt for it.

Many fishermen, when fishing a wing dam, just automatically fish just downstream or the backside of the wing dam, assuming that is where the fish will be because the current will be slowed down by the wing dam. And yes, at times, there will be some fish holding there, but most of the time, the majority of the fish will be on the upstream edge of the wing dam, or in the hole gouged out on the end of the wing dam. This is where you want to be fishing.

You can creep along the face of the wing dam with an electric trolling motor if you want, but the most effective method of fishing wing dams is to anchor just above the wing dam or the washout hole. If you are fishing with friends or family, double-anchoring from the bow and stern will insure that everyone in the boat can get in on the action.


Just be sure that the current is not too strong. Double-anchoring a small boat in strong current is just asking for trouble.

Use the smallest jig you can use and still feel bottom. If the current is slight, that will likely be a 1/32 or 1/16 ounce. In heavier current, you will need a 1/16 or 1/8 ounce. Three or four-pound monofilament is my favorite line to use, but many seem to do pretty darn good using six-pound test.

Tip the jig with a red worm, angle worm, a couple of waxies or small (1/2 inch is about right) piece of crawler. Cast it up against the face of the dam and reel it slowly back to the boat. If you are fishing the washout hole, cast the jig into the hole and reel it slowly back up the slope at the front of the hole. Trust me, it sounds more difficult than it really is.

The other option is to use a slip-bobber. Nothing fancy here either. You can use a small jig, ice fly or a plain hook (I like #8 or #10 long-shank Tru-Turns). Put a couple of split-shot a foot above the hook or jig and bait up with one of the aforementioned baits. Cast out upstream, about halfway to the dam or the wash-out hole and let the current carry the bait to where the fish are waiting.

You may need to do some fine-tuning with the slip-knot or the split shot, but once you have that dialed in, you should get bit.

Oh yes, and don't be surprised if you catch some crappies, largemouth and smallmouth bass, redhorse, channels cats and the odd walleye. But hey, no system is perfect!

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