BassGold previews the Miss. River

This week, the world's best bass fishermen will be likely be headed into the backwaters of the Mississippi River in search of clearer water and big largemouth bass.

It’s been a while since the Elite Series pros have had a crack at what calls a “Riverine Reservoir” – in this case meaning a river with locks and dams, as opposed to a naturally flowing river.

Coming off three reservoir tournaments, the latter two of which were deep bites, Elite pros will be fishing shallow again on the upper Mississippi River. In fact, they’ll be in backwaters, just like – you guessed it – this year’s Bassmaster Classic on the Red River.

This week, the world’s best bass fishermen will be seeking out clearer water in backwaters, and they will be on a fishery where many tournaments have been won on top, notably with frogs. The one big difference from the Red River: smallmouths. Main river brown fish probably won’t win the tournament, but they could factor in it if – and it’s a big if – the water’s not too muddy.

With that preamble, Bass Fishing Hall of Famer and patterning guru Ken Cook and I took a quick look at what BassGold tells us about what’s worked well here in the past.

Macro Factors

Remember that “Macro Factors” are generally where fish have been found on a body of water. BassGold shows that anglers who have finished first through fifth place in tournaments this time of year have fished primarily “shoreline” and secondarily “backwater.”

This is where knowledge of a fishery comes in; shoreline, in almost all cases, equates to a backwater here. So backwaters are by far the most successful places to finish high in upper Miss tournaments – more than 80 percent of the time. Backwaters also mean largemouths more than smallies, which mean heavier weights, which means wins.

Note that water fluctuation is a fact of life on riverine reservoir systems, something that hurt some anglers (like Kevin VanDam) on the Red River. Ken noted that “water level could play a role in determining the best pattern here, but this amounts to small adjustments within the targeted habitat, not major moves into or out of the backwater areas.”

Habitat Factors

Habitat means cover and structure, and when you’re talking about backwaters, it’s no surprise that the most successful habitat is vegetation and wood.

In this case, “emergent veg” (vegetation that emerges above the water) and “submergent veg” (below the surface) are tied as most successful, with wood as second most successful.

But, as often happens with BassGold, when you manipulate the “Habitat Factors” bar graph, you can see a difference between winning and placing (second through fifth): Winners most often fish emergent veg and wood.


One bait type stands out as the overwhelming choice on the upper Mississippi this time of year: topwaters or, more specifically, frogs. “This is the only instance in my memory where ‘topwater’ produced more winners than any other lure type,” Ken said.

That fact means any number of anglers, no matter where they’re from in the country, have a good shot at doing well here, providing they can find and manage fish and possibly lock times.

But while frogs are by far responsible for the most wins this time of year (with jig-n-pigs second), the bait that’s gotten the most second through fifth finishes is an iconic one for this area of the country: the swim jig.

Topwaters (frogs) are the second most used bait for non-winning high finishers, with buzzbait, crankbait and topwater in third.

The thing all those baits have in common: movement.


The weight data is less cut-and-dried. It indicates a winning weight that will average in the mid-teens per day. I’m tempted to second-guess that, these being the best anglers in the world, but I won’t – BassGold has been right too many times this year!

Just bear in mind that the consistent X factor in these events is Elite fishermen. If history is any predictor (and it is), the winner will find something that even the locals may not know about and will mow down the bass – bad conditions or no. Can’t wait!

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