Fishing rivers often bring to mind trout, steelhead, and other migratory fish but rivers offer other forms of outstanding fishing; namely, smallmouth bass. These fish are top of the food chain predators in rivers, and they have the aggression and fight to back it up.
In this article, we will take a look at how to catch smallmouth bass in rivers.
4 Tips On How To Catch Smallmouth Bass In Rivers
Time of year and fish behavior
Spring. While summer is usually what anglers associate with smallmouth fishing, Spring can be a great opportunity to hook up with a lot of fish. From pre-spawn to post-spawn, there are a lot of opportunities for finding heavily feeding smallies. Parts of the river that have warmer waters are the best bet for finding spring bass as well as potential spawning areas that have a decent amount of cover in the surrounding areas.
Summer-Fall. Any serious smallmouth angler knows that the coming of summer means aggressive smallies. Rivers usually run a bit lower, and smallies really seem to turn aggressive during this time. From Summer through Fall, we love fishing zones between faster and slower moving currents.
We also like hitting the deeper pools with swifter water upstream. We love dead drifting and swimming lures during these months and even jigging when around the right terrain. The fish are aggressive, so there are few lures and presentations that won’t land fish.
Winter. Even during the cold winter months, smallmouth fishing can get exciting. It takes different tactics and a more delicate approach but don’t let a little cold keep you off the water. We like to go after smallies during colder months anytime there is going to be a shift in atmospheric pressure or during a brief warm snap where you get a few degrees warmer temperature for a few days. This seems to get the metabolism of the bass revved up a little.
We like deeper holes that will retain warmth and provide food and cover for the bass. If you can find these holes that are sheltered from current, hitting the shallow areas around these holes when the weather turns as we discussed above, you should find some fish.
Reading the Current
If your fishing a river pretty close to where it enters a lake, it fishes a bit more like a lake than a more shallow, swifter river that might be further away from the mouth of the lake. For the latter, it is very important to be able to read current.
Just like trout, smallmouth are going to hold in areas that give them a break from the swifter portions of current. Our favorite place to search for smallies on a river is around seams in the current where you have a much swifter current coming in contact with a slower current. Smallmouth will hang out in the slower current and zip out to hammer prey coming through the fast current. During summer months, we like to dead drift through areas like this.
It is sometimes just as important to locate areas where there is very little to know current. Some of these places include protected eddies, side channels, or areas where creek feeders spill into the river. These are great places to search for during the early spring days when smallmouths are looking for warmer waters and high sources of protein.
Where Fish Hold
We already mentioned seams in the current for holding smallies but there are other areas as well. You also want to key in on breaks in the current. This is usually from boulders or sunken timber. Another place smallies will hold has to do with the dynamics of a river. One of our favorite place to search for them is in deeper, slower moving pools that often occur after a series of runs in the river. Not only is the current reduced, but the runs are basically bringing food to the fish.
If you’re in a larger river system, fish hold in a lot of the same areas as bass in lakes. You’re mainly going to want to find structure along the bank or in areas of the river where you see pretty quick changes in bottom terrain.
Dead Drift. There is nothing we like better during summer and early fall than dead drifting soft plastics along seams between fast and slow-moving water. During this time, bass are going to be holding and feeding in a lot of different areas in just small sections of the river. Be very thorough when working a section of water. Drift a soft plastic at different angles and different depths. Anywhere that you see changes in the current should have a lure worked through it.
We like to start working a hole at the downstream end of it and work our way up. We feel that this reduces the chance of putting down a hole from bad presentations.
Baitfish (swimming retrieve). Using a swim retrieve with any swimbait is perfect for aggressively feeding smallmouth. We like to cast almost directly upstream and retrieve the lure back through the current with a slight swing on it from the moving water. It’s very important to keep slack out of your line when fishing a lure in this manner.
During the post-spawn period, we like using topwater and shallow diving crankbaits in a bit slower moving pools.
On most occasions, you don’t want to be retrieving your lure directly against the current. Like trout, smallmouth are mostly going to be facing upstream when searching for prey. Bringing the lure in, be it a swimming soft plastic, crankbait, or spinner, from this direction, is going to reduce the number of hits and spook more fish than tempt them into a strike.
Drop shot. Too many anglers do not utilize the drop shot. A drop shot with a soft plastic bait is one of our favorite methods for river smallmouth. You can keep the lure in the strike zone for an unlimited amount of time, and it gives the bait great movement and the appearance of helpless prey.
And a drop shot does not have to be a dead stick presentation as it is often used in lakes. We are working with current here, and we often use a drop shot setup mixed in with a dead drift. The reason again, is that we can control the depth of the lure.
This is a technique that can be utilized during any time of the year and be effective. We will dead stick it in holds around structure in the winter and drift it or dead stick it in the spring and summer depending on the water we are searching.
Jigs. Using a jig for river smallies can also be a highly effective technique when used in the right situation. If there is a gravel or rock bottom, we love hopping a jig dressed with a crayfish.
If we are keying in on bass beds, dressing a jig head with a plastic lizard is also a deadly pattern. How slow or fast you fish it should be determined by the bass. Play around with different retrieval speeds until you find what they are liking for that day.
You may also enjoy reading: 17 Of The Best Topwater Lures For Smallmouth
With the above tips and tactics, along with some time on the water learning the hard way, you should be able to rip smallies out of the river year round. Be warned, it is an addiction and successful river fishing for smallmouth can eventually take the top spot of your favorite style of fishing.
Now it is your turn. Share with us your experience on how to catch smallmouth bass in rivers in the comments below.