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Effects of Fishing a Drought Affected River

Most of the country is experiencing drought conditions and high heat. Most of the upper Midwest is in severe or extreme drought conditions. This should come at no surprise. We really didn’t have the spring rains we are accustomed to experiencing. With lower water levels water temps were up sooner than previous years seeming to cause an earlier spawn. The bass spawn seemed to be almost a month ahead of last year in the stretches of the Milwaukee River I most often fish.

Drought on the Milwaukee River
This Year's Water Levels

According to over 30% of the Midwest is in a severe drought. This is effecting crops and wildlife including aquatic life. I have never seen the stretch of the Milwaukee River near my house so low. Not even in July and August. Aquatic vegetation and algae are also taking over in ways I have not seen before. On one recent walk to the river I saw something I don't often see in a deep pool in the shadow of a bridge. I noticed a half dozen three pound and bigger smallmouth all bunched up in what remained of this normally deep and dark water. At this time of the year, I don't often find the larger bass all schooled together on the river. My observation was that they don't have many places to go, so they are moving in on each other.

None Drought Levels Milwaukee River in Grafton
Last Year Normal Levels

With spring rain totals at 25% of normal it may be time to take a break from fishing the Milwaukee River and other stressed bodies of water. Drought conditions that cause low streamflow bring higher water temps and lower oxygen levels. In addition low water levels will decrease a river's ability to flush both man made and naturally occurring pollutants. Think about how you feel when you get back into your car after the sun has been beating down on it while you are working or shopping. It's hard to breath. You have to flush the air. Catching a fish in these drought conditions can stress the fish and even returning them to the water may not be in the best interest of the long-term fish population.

I am not a scientist. I am not advising with this article. I am someone who spends a lot of time on the river and have come to recognize patterns. You all see the kind of fish I catch. That comes from knowing a little bit about the river. My interest is a healthy fish population that continues to produce large fish to catch. An additional interest is the overall health of this river I have come to love.

I consider it a good thing that we are getting some rain finally. However, it will take a sustained period of rain for water levels to get back to normal. I have three videos from past fishing outings on the Milwaukee River so I am not hurting for content to share and I am going to spend time looking for and exploring other bodies of water like ponds and lakes until I feel that the Milwaukee River is back up to near normal levels.

I share this article with you as a way of creating a dialogue that can be useful to all of us as people who care about the river. If you think I am wrong with my observations and in my conclusion share that with me in the comments.

See you on the river soon.

Mark Brent

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Mark Brent
Mark Brent
21 jun 2021

Let us know your thoughts on fishing a drought affected river...

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