By Chris Larsen
Big rivers like the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri can be daunting for anglers fishing them for the first time. One of the best river patterns to fish is wing dams. Wing dams are man made structures built to keep the river channels deep for barge traffic and limit shoreline erosion. Many were built by the Army Corps of Engineers with boulders, rip rap, rubble, and rock. Some are marked by buoys, but most can be easily identified by ripples on top of the water.
While motoring down a river channel, look to the sides for a line of ripples running perpendicular to the shoreline. Anchor your boat upstream from the wing dam and cast into it. Professional walleye angler, Tommy Skarlis, advises fishing the upstream side of a wing dam. “This is their dining room. The backside of a wing dam has restricted current flow too but I would refer the backside of almost every wing dam as their bedroom. That’s where they sleep. You might mark a ton of fish on the backside of a wing dam and you can catch them occasionally. But when it‘s game on or time to eat they are on the front side of the wing dam.”
One thing to keep in mind while looking for wing dams is to stay in the channel. The worst way to find a wing dam is with the lower unit of your outboard. Some wing dams are just a foot or two below the surface. The best wing dams to fish are three or four feet below the surface. These wing dams will have larger scour holes, or low current resting areas. The scour hole is where walleyes wait for meals to fall in front of them.
Wing dam walleyes are feeding. If you fish a wing dam for more than 20 or 30 minutes with no results, it’s best to move on to the next. If the scour hole fills up with sediment it won’t hold fish. One of the more popular ways to fish wing dams is with jigs. Some anglers like three way rigs, but it’s a matter of preference. Anchor the boat 20-30 yards upstream of the wing dam and cast toward it. Let the jig fall short of the wing dam and allow the current to take it into the scour hole. Wing dam walleyes are aggressive and the bite is usually unmistakable.
Crankbaits are another popular lure for wing dam walleyes. Some anglers will troll over wing dams with planer boards but casting is the most popular method. Again, anchor the boat upstream of the wing dam. However, with crankbaits you want to cast over the wing dam and reel the bait over it. Divers like the Lindy Shadling and Shad Rap are best in these situations. Rebel Bombers are also popular. Your looking for a bait that can get into the strike zone quickly. You should feel the bait bounce off the rocks and then into open water. That split second after your bait clears the rocks is where most strikes will occur.
Fishing wing dams for walleyes is one of the most effective ways to catch big numbers of trophy river walleyes. It is a productive strategy almost all year long. The best part is that you really don’t need that much knowledge of the river to locate and catch them.