The Ol’ Man River, The Old Blue, The Big Muddy, Father of the Waters, The Gathering of Waters, The Great River… There are many names for the mighty Mississippi River and probably more love for this body of water than any other in the United States. And, not to much surprise, unbeatable fishing on the Mississippi River is one of the main reasons why this 2,300-mile watershed is so beloved.
Appearing almost like the spine of the continent, America’s greatest river passes through 10 states: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Naturally, it has more fishing spots than you could count, and is home to well over a hundred fish species.
The main channel of the river and its numerous tailwaters, levees, and backwater lakes turn fishing into a treasure hunt. The Mississippi has a fickle temper and is often considered the ultimate challenge for seasoned freshwater fishermen. At the same time, there are plenty of spots that are excellent for novice anglers to hone their skills. In short, whatever you’d like to try in the freshwater realm, it’s possible to do it here.
Top Catches on the Mississippi River
There’s no limit to what you can catch on the Mississippi, as long as it’s a freshwater species. Every state has their favorite catch, so depending on what you’d like to target, there are different areas to visit.
The only limit to your Mississippi fishing escapade is your angling appetite, and if you aren’t sure what to target, we’ve got your back!
The Almighty Catfish
There’s no catch in these waters more iconic than a big feisty Catfish. This species is so popular that the official mascot of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is Freddie, the Flathead Catfish.
You can hook three different Catfish species in the vast Mississippi River – Channel, Flathead, and Blue Catfish. Flatheads and Blues are usually the largest of the three. They can easily reach 30+ inches and weigh anywhere from 20–100 or more pounds. Channel Cats are usually in the 20-inch and 30-pound ballpark. Though all three species are quite resilient and can live in all kinds of conditions, clear and well-oxygenated waters are their perfect home.
The lower section of the river is teeming with sizeable Cats, and each of them requires a different tactic. This is because they each have a preferred environment and, though Catfish are generally gluttonous eaters, some finesse is needed to attract the species you’re after.
Channel Catfish aren’t particularly picky about what they eat. You can find them in the deeper sections of the river with slower current, especially in the side channels.
Flatheads love to congregate around sunken logs and underwater structures. If you want to get their attention, it’s a good idea to use live bait.
Finally, Blue Cats, the tastiest of the three, love stronger currents and flows of the river’s main channel. They won’t be able to resist nightcrawlers. Local anglers will always have tested techniques and types of bait that work best on their part of the river. This is why it’s a good idea to have a guide take you to your trophy Catfish.
You can find Catfish in the Lower Mississippi River throughout the year, but the best time to go after them is during the warmer months, usually from late May–September. This is the time when the Big Muddy is most abundant and you can land something truly brag-worthy.
The Walleye-Sauger Fever
While the Lower Mississippi River has a phenomenal Catfish population, the upper section of the river offers fantastic Walleye and Sauger opportunities. Minnesota, in particular, is so proud of its Walleye that it was named their official state fish back in 1965.
Millions of delicious and hard-fighting Walleye are caught each year all around Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Sauger numbers follow close behind. Walleye range from 15–30 inches, while Sauger are smaller and usually grow up to 20 inches.
One of the best things about Walleye fishing on the Mississippi is that you can enjoy it all year. However, this doesn’t mean you should expect the same action any time you cast your line. The best times to target Walleye are dawn and dusk, as well as cloudy days, when lower light conditions make it harder for these fish to see. This is also the reason why ice fishing for Walleye is such a big deal on the Upper Mississippi.
In summer, it’s a different story, as these fish head to the deeper, cooler waters. Try to change your location regularly (move if you don’t get a hookup after 30 minutes) to find the bite. Bear in mind that these fish move in schools and if you find one, there will be others nearby.
All About That Bass
Mississippi River Bass fishing is one of those things people don’t talk about nearly as much as they should. Smallmouth, Largemouth, and White Bass are abundant in the Upper and Middle Mississippi River, though you can find some in the south as well.
Bass are ferocious fighters and, on a good day, you can catch dozens on the Mississippi on one trip. Smallmouth are the most popular catch, especially in cold clear waters. Largemouth love to hang out around any type of underwater structure. White Bass are another very popular target of “bassing,” especially in the clear open waters and near jetties.
Locals are almost religious about changing their setups every season to catch the Bass’ interest. From spinnerbaits in the early spring to crankbaits in the fall, there’s an assortment of lures and bait that you can use to get Bass to bite.
If you’re a passionate Bass angler looking to test your abilities on the Mississippi, your best bet is hitting the water in spring and fall. The action during fall is especially fast and furious because Bass are ravenous and will gulp down just about anything. And for any Bass fisherman out there, this is as good as news can get.
Let’s Not Forget About Crappie
White and Black Crappie are very popular catches in the Mississippi, especially because they make for excellent table fare. The Lower Mississippi, in particular, offers some great action.
The best spots to target Crappie are usually in oxbow lakes. These little lakes are affected by changes in the main channel of the river without becoming too turbulent. You’ll find Black Crappie in clear(er) waters, while White Crappie are more resilient and don’t mind turbid waters as much.
Crappie are active on the river throughout the year, and the most productive time to go after them is in spring. This is their spawning period, when they move to skinny waters and hang around underwater vegetation. While spawning will begin in the main channel as early as March or April, it begins later in oxbow lakes, usually at the beginning of May.
The Best Fishing Spots on the Mississippi River
Now, this is a topic that should be covered in an encyclopedia. Seeing that the Mississippi River runs down the whole length of the US, it’s safe to say that you could spend several lifetimes exploring all the treasure troves in this 10-state area. Here’s a short run-through of all the states to help you find the best bite near you.
Whether you’d like to go ice fishing or just explore the north end of the Mississippi River, you can join many Minnesotans who spend their free time doing the same. This is one of the few states where ice fishing on the river is actually possible and productive.
If you’d rather stick to conventional fishing, then one of the best spots in the state is definitely Lock and Dam Number Two (very close to St. Paul and Hastings). Anglers from all over the country come here to experience the superb Walleye and Sauger bite. This is a catch-and-release fishery, which allows for some real lunkers that could easily find their way to your line.
If you’re in the mood for some first-class Smallmouth Bass fishing, then hit the waters around Coon Rapids Dam. You won’t be disappointed.
Some of the best spots for Walleye fishing include shallow waters, as well as underwater structures like flooded tree trunks and debris, where they can hide and spawn. Current breaks are another potential gold mine, especially when Walleye make their spring trip to the spawning grounds. Walleye fishing around dams is very productive, but it can also get crowded, so consult a local before you go.
Wisconsin is another state where ice fishing is serious business. This is because there are so many hot spots to get your fill of fishing action, even on the coldest days of the year. One of the well-known ice fishing spots is Mississippi River Pool 8, where you can hook a nice Walleye, Crappie, or Perch, just to name a few. Not only is the area productive, but the scenery is stunning.
Fishermen who prefer warmer parts of the year can hit Mississippi River Pool 10, wedged between Iowa and Wisconsin. In these backwaters, you’ll find plenty of Bass, Sauger, Northern Pike, and of course, Walleye.
If you want to try something completely different, head out to one of the fishing floats on the river. These floating platforms are conveniently anchored in some of the most productive spots on the river, and make it possible to reach them without a boat. You can find floats in several towns, including Alma, Trempealeau, and Genoa. There’s a small daily fee you’ll need to pay to fish there, and you’ll need to bring your own gear, but the fun is worth it.
About 300 miles of the Mississippi runs through Iowa, making the riverbanks of this state a very attractive fishing destination. You’ll find the best Walleye and Sauger action near Dubuque, especially during the winter months. Paddlefish, Carp, and Bluegill are also common catches near dams, where the water runs slower.
You can fish the many sloughs and side channels both from shore and from a boat. Still, deep holes around underwater structures are your best shot at securing a hookup or two, or much more.
A long stretch of the Mississippi River (almost 600 miles) also makes up the western Illinois border and boasts excellent fishing opportunities. You can hook the likes of Channel Catfish, Walleye, Northern Pike, and Bass on the river throughout the year. Whether you’re on the main channel or backwater, finding a good fishing spot is quite easy.
Some of the most popular Illinois fishing spots on the Mississippi River include the area around Fort Kaskaskia, where you can enjoy both beautiful nature and good fishing. The Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge is another gold mine where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers meet. Here, you and you can fish for anything from Bass and Crappie to Catfish, and it’s both fun and productive!
We’re slowly getting into Catfish territory, and there are many fishing holes in Missouri where you can find all three species – Flathead, Channel, and Blue Catfish. One of the most popular spots to chase jumbo Catfish is Sulphur Springs. This prolific fishing spot is just a short 30-minute ride from downtown St. Louis.
The section between the McKinley Bridge and the Chain of Rocks Canal has a good population of White Bass and Catfish. If you’d like a mixed bag, then head here – whether you’re casting your line from shore or aboard a boat, chances are, you’ll be successful.
We’re officially in the middle section of the Mississippi. The fish available to you will change at this point, but the quality of action is solid. In Kentucky, Carp, Crappie, Bass, and Catfish are all in the cards. Carp, in particular, has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially among fly fishermen.
Fly fishing is very popular in Kentucky, especially because targeting Carp on a fly has become somewhat of a trend. Carp are relentless fighters and targeting them on a fly takes the fishing battles to a whole new level.
You’re welcome to fish wherever there’s public land close to the river in Kentucky, so long as you’ve got a fishing license. Columbus-Belmont State Park and Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site are both excellent fishing locations, and you can even explore the river fishing opportunities from a kayak. In short, there’s a bit of something for everyone.
In the Volunteer State, it’s all about Catfishing! Wherever you cast your line in this 167-mile stretch of the Mississippi, a Catfish will find its way to it.
Here, you can actually go after five different types of fish – Spoonbill (also known as Paddlefish), as well as Channel, Flathead, and Bullhead Catfish, and the most popular of them all, Blue Catfish. Blues can get giant in Tennessee, and they’re the reason why Catfishing in these parts has got such a good reputation.
You can find Catfish just about anywhere, but the Memphis area usually sports top-notch action, especially if you hit the water anytime from July–November.
On Arkansas’ portion of the Mississippi, Catfish still reign supreme, though White Bass and Crappie are following close behind. If you’re chasing trophy Catfish, your best bet is fishing the spot where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi. This is a known hangout of massive Blue and Flathead Catfish.
If you’re looking for White Bass here, be on the water in spring, when they’re on their way to the river’s tributaries. The Crappie bite is good in early spring in the slower moving sections of the main channel. If you’re looking to fish for a bit of everything, the confluences of the Mississippi with the Arkansas and St. Francis rivers are a good place to start.
The namesake of the revered river, Mississippi has a lot to offer when it comes to river fishing. Going after Catfish is the top thing to do here, both because it’s fun and because there’s plenty of fish to catch.
You can find guides that specialize in looking for giant Catfish in the opaque Mississippi waters, especially in deep waters. Tunica Lake is an oxbow of the Mississippi River, where you can find a good Catfish and Crappie bite.
This is the southernmost part of the Mississippi River, and is very popular with avid Catfish anglers. Blue and Channel Catfish are all the craze here and you can target them wherever you go on the river. It’s common knowledge that if you’d like to find mammoth Catfish, you come to the Louisiana section of the Mississippi.
Some of the more popular treasure troves include the confluence of the Red River with the Mississippi, as well as the area around St. Francisville. If you don’t want to leave New Orleans to go fishing, you don’t have to. The portion of the river around the Crescent City Connection is the playground of sizeable Catfish and they’re always there for the taking.
Mississippi River Fishing Regulations
Since the Mississippi flows through 10 states, it’s safe to say that fishing laws change as often as state borders. Different sections of the river have different weight and length limits on the same species, so what you need to know vastly depends on which state you’re fishing in. What’s more, regulations are frequently updated due to the river’s ever-changing ecosystem, making it crucial to stay in the know.
The best way to deal with this is to hire a local guide. They’ll keep you in the loop about what you can and can’t do while on the water. This way, you’ll avoid breaking any laws unwittingly, while still having a blast.
All (Fishing) Roads Lead to the Mississippi
It has to be said – there’s no river on the continent like the mighty Mississippi. From Lake Itasca in the north all the way to the marshes of Louisiana, and finally to the Gulf of Mexico, this marvelous (albeit murky) body of water is a dream come true for any freshwater angler.
Whether it’s Walleye or Bass, Crappie or Catfish, ice fishing or prowling the wetlands, the Mississippi has it all. There’s no need for an introduction, selling points, or persuasion – the Father of Waters has more than enough fishing opportunities, stunning scenery, and history to keep you coming back time after time.
What are your fishing experiences on the mighty Mississippi River? Do you have a favorite fishing spot? Do you have any special tricks to get that fish to bite? Share your thoughts in the comments, it’s always great to hear from you.