“Monday. 6:00. Otsego. Millers”. Who would know what to make of this cryptic text I sent out on Monday. The recipient was Gunnar, he knew what it meant—Miller Time on the Mississippi. Most of you probably still don’t know what I’m talking about. There is a mayfly hatch that occurs all across North America, the scientific name of this bug is “Ephoron Leukon” or something similar, I’m not even going to look it up. Around here we call these things “White Millers”, and every year in late July/early August they hatch in great enough numbers on the Mississippi to get the smallies feeding on them.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had fished this hatch. Figured it had been at least ten years. Turns out when you start getting old and have kids and grown-up responsibilities that being out on a river in the dark isn’t quite as appealing as it once was. But the wife and I had sent the kids to grandma’s house for the week, so this meant I would have at least a few days without some softball related activity. I had only had the jon boat out once this year, and I had just bought a new foot pedal for the trolling motor AND a new battery, so it seemed like a river trip was in order.
Gunnar texted me back saying he was in, and Monday evening found me west-bound on Highway 10. Traffic was backed up in Anoka by a bunch of people that obviously didn’t have smallmouth to catch, eventually I got to the access, and I had the boat floating soon after. The trusty Yamaha started on the third pull as always, I idled across to start our session.
I saw an on-line article today by Gord Pyzer about “junk fishing” for smallmouth, and it really rang true. Junk fishing amounts to casting different presentations as you go along to match the water. There is nowhere this is truer than on the river. A fly rod popper works great in some water, a jig/craw/Cheemo works well in deeper, slower stuff or around logs, I love casting plastic shad/fluke baits, these work well on flats, crankbaits work well in medium deep runs with some current. When I’m on the river I generally have rods rigged for all of this. And more. Turns out it all worked, we caught a bunch of fish, including two really big ones. But this was all a warm-up for what we were hoping for at sunset—the Miller hatch.
As darkness approached we anchored up on a spot I had dubbed “Miller Time” long ago. For whatever reason, this non-descript current seam always had the smallies feeding on the bugs when the hatch happened. When you fished the river until dark multiple nights a week like I did in the 90’s you can learn these things. But it was looking like the hatch wasn’t going to happen on this night. On nights when it is really good, the bugs start flying about the time the sun hits the trees, and within about 15 minutes it looks like it is snowing. This night had a few bugs flying around, but not enough to get the fish looking up.
This didn’t stop Gunnar from putting on mini-clinic with his secret wacky worm rig. He caught 4 before I picked up my rod with a wacky worm, I was rigging the fly rods for the Miller hatch. I managed one on my plain wacky worm, you’ll have to ask Gunnar to show you his secret rig.
Eventually, a few smallies started gulping some Millers, and while we each managed to hook a couple, it never really got cooking like it does on some nights. Maybe there was another current seam or eddy where they were going gangbusters that night…but I was totally satisfied with the fish we caught. How can you beat a quiet summer evening on a wild river with a good friend?
The moon came up enough to light the way back to the landing, and even though the river was running a little thin at 3,600 CFS, I managed to get back to the access without even nicking my prop. For some reason, there was no shortage of Millers at the access, they were everywhere as we loaded up the boat. We also got buzzed by a dobsonfly, a bug that is big enough to make even the most jaded outdoorsman jump, these things are about 4” across when they are flying, they are the adult form of a hellgrammite. Plenty of mosquitos were around the access too, but I had covered myself in DEET while we were still fishing so they left me alone. Until morning. A bunch of them were smart enough to get in my truck and wait until morning when I was all shiny and clean to do their feeding.