The best smallmouth baits for rivers and streams will vary with the conditions. The water temperature, clarity, and amount of flow all impact the smallmouth’s feeding behavior. People not used to fishing for smallmouth often struggle with trying to catch them. The fish does act a little differently than other species. They are easy to catch once you understand their tendencies. The first step is knowing the smallmouth’s behavior.
Smallmouth Behavior in Rivers and Streams
The smallmouth feeds on aquatic insects, crayfish, and small minnows. In other words, small prey that the current can wash downstream. This is important since the fish will hang on the edges of the currents. The baits for rivers and streams need to do the same. In other words, your baits have to move with the current to be successful.
A fish will not move if their food is coming to them. The smallmouth faces upstream and waits for its food. As a result, this fact improves your chances of catching a smallmouth. A bait tumbling along in the edge of the current will be in the fish’s view longer. This allows them to see the bait and strike if the bait is considered worthwhile prey.
The way the bait is rigged can affect if the smallmouth will strike. The bait needs to appear natural in the water. A minnow or worm sitting stationary in current is not natural. Use the lightest weight possible to keep the bait down at the bottom and have it bounce along. You will likely get a few snags but an area without some snags usually does not hold fish.
Smallmouth Baits for River and Streams
The live baits for smallmouth in rivers and streams should be the same as the natural population of prey. The fish know if something is a natural food source and sometimes will avoid an unknown bait. The time of year is relevant in this aspect also. In other words, insects that have not hatched will seem out of place. The same as with trout fishing, you have to match the hatch with a smallmouth.
Minnows are an all-year option whereas the insects and crayfish have periods they are not present. Learn when the various prey is abundant and use the information to your advantage. You can see what insects are active or flip a few rocks over to check the crayfish’s availability in the river. This is part of knowing the river, I have discussed this in other articles.
Smallmouth Lures for River and Streams
Base lure selection on water temperature and clarity primarily. Although depth plays a factor also. The lures need to be above the bass to be seen easier. If the bass is hugging the bottom. Crankbaits, jigs, and other soft plastic presentations work. A suspended fish means having the lure up in the water column. This is where jerkbaits, spinnerbaits work best. Although at the right time of the year topwater lures are the best options.
Winter is coming to a close and you are ready to catch some fish. The problem is the water temperature since the bass will still be sluggish. You must adjust the presentation for fish that are inactive or only slightly active. This is when jigs work the best. There are many options in jigs, such as hair jigs, tube jigs, and grubs on a jighead.
All jigs will work but a certain type may outperform the others. A selection of different types, sizes, and colors are required. The weight should only be enough to keep contact with the bottom, as the heavier jig falls too fast. The types of jigs all will look different in the water. The curly-tailed grubs impart a lot of action, tubes are moderate, and hair jigs can be a subtle presentation. The bass will let you know which one they want.
Suspending jerkbaits are another great option this time of the year. These can be worked at different depths and be allowed to hang in the water column. The less active bass will not chase a bait moving too quickly therefore slowing down is required. A jerk bait with a long pause can achieve the desired presentation.
Simply rip the lure down to depth and wait, sometimes 10-15 seconds is needed. You need to vary the cadence until the bass reacts to the lure. This technique is easy but many anglers are not patient enough. Fishing for smallmouth in the spring will test your patience and skill levels. It will take time to find the fish and see what lure is effective.
The spawn is over and bass will be in search of food. They will be on the hunt near the shallows along current seams. As a result, this is the best time of year to catch smallmouth in larger numbers. The key in summer is working the covers thoroughly. Work the lures upstream and downstream along with the cover. Minnow will go back and forth across cover so do the same with lures. Baits for smallmouth in rivers and streams need to be worked in harmony with the currents.
The selection of lures varies on water clarity. So in stained waters use small spinnerbaits. In clear water the crankbaits or jerkbaits are options. The fish are active and will hit the reaction lures. Do not use lures that are too big. Since smallmouths do have smaller mouths than their cousins the largemouth. Lures that are too big are a common mistake made on rivers when fishing for smallmouth.
A five-inch bait is fine for largemouth but a smallmouth will generally pass them up. Try using jerkbaits and crankbaits lures 2 1/2 to 4 inches in length or 1/4 to 3/8 ounce spinnerbaits. Fish swallow the prey whole and can only consume food up to 30% of their size. This means a 14-inch bass eats 3-3 1/2 inch prey. Soft plastics need to be smaller also, use worms around 5 inches and avoid the 8-9 inches models.
Summer is also topwater lure time. River bass will check out any commotion on the surface due to their curious nature. If you see any fish at the surface target the spot with a surface or shallow running lure. Smallmouths will check out another fish feeding on the surface. They are opportunistic feeders and will hit lures worked around carp or other fish-eating insects.
At the beginning of the fall season, stay with summer tactics that have proven successful. The waters cool down at a slower rate than the air temps going into the fall season. This means the bass will still come into the shallows and feed. This can last until October or even November depending on the region you live in. Once the water begins to cool off it is time to change tactics.
The later fall season is the same as the spring with smallmouth fishing. The fish will feed but less often as their activity level is dropping due to cooler water. Look for fish near deeper water as they will begin migrating to their winter home. Once the waters start dipping into the low 50’s you are probably better off fishing for a different species.
Recommended Jerkbaits, Crankbaits and Spinnerbaits This is a good selection of jerkbaits, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits. Choose the colors by your experience of the waters you have fished.
Soft Plastics You have to choose based on what you like. Everyone uses different soft plastics. Remember to keep them on the smaller side for smallmouth.
Conclusion on Bait for Rivers and Streams
Smallmouth bass fishing is an exciting aspect of the sport of fishing. It does take knowing their tendencies and habitat. Smallmouth frequent different structures and cover if available than other basses. This article covers the baits to use in rivers and streams for smallmouth fishing. Read the other articles on smallmouth on the site for more information on smallmouth bass. The more information you have will improve your abilities and catch rates.
Keeping fishing simple for tight lines and bragging rights