Fishing for smallmouth in rivers is an exciting way to spend a day. These fish thrive in the waters with current. As a result, a river smallmouth feels like a lake bass twice its size. When you hook one the fight is on and it will give you a surprising fight for its size.
Smallmouth in Shallow Rivers
The small shallow rivers tend to be the best for smallmouth bass fishing. The shallow water can be waded or accessed by a kayak or canoe. Some shallow rivers are even jet boat accessible. In other words, most of the water is easy to access for all anglers. The shallow water makes finding them easier also.
You can usually see the cover and structure unless the water is high due to rain. Then there will be more current seams and eddies. When the water rises smallmouth will move towards the shore seeking current seams and eddies. Quite often an area that is dry land at lower levels will hold fish.
That brings up a key element of river fishing. You need to learn about the river and fish it often. Every time the water rises it will make changes to the shoreline and other structures. The bars below islands and the washout at tributaries are always changing. Cover made up of logs and brush will move also. Gravel and rocks in these areas make them better.
Smallmouth prefers gravel or rocky bottoms but will also inhabit areas with weed growth. Take your time and work all the cover and structure from all angles. Some times the little changes in direction or cadence will make them strike. I have watched anglers work in an area and not catch anything. After they leave, I go in and work the cover and catch several smallmouth in minutes. They did not work the area thoroughly.
Smallmouth in Big Rivers
The bigger rivers offer a different challenge most of the time. Having a boat is preferable but not necessary. On the shoreline, you need to employ small river tactics and work the rocky or gravel shorelines. These will be below dams on most rivers and offer several hundred yards of good smallmouth waters. Avoid areas of mud and silt as smallmouth generally will not inhabit the area.
In a boat on the bigger rivers use tactics similar to fishing lakes but use the current seams. Current seams with structure and cover are a winning combination for smallmouth. These fish actually like to be at the edge of the current, unlike largemouth. Think of current seams as a type of cover on rivers.
Use the current when working your lures. What is meant by this is retrieve a lure with the current or against it. A smallmouth faces upstream in the current. As a result, this will keep the lure in the sight of the fish longer. Lures retrieved across the current go by quickly from a bass’ viewpoint.
Lures for Smallmouths
Smallmouth in rivers will hit any lure being an aggressive fish. You have to know which lure is best for the situation. In rivers, the water conditions change quite often. A little rain or dams leaving out water will raise the levels. This will add a stain to the water making lure choices change.
When the river levels rise smallmouth become more active, except in the winter. In the spring if water levels are too high smallmouth will avoid the traditional spawning area. Instead, look for them at the bottom end of a deep hole used in the winter.
Using crankbaits or spinnerbaits will get their attention in the higher and stained waters. The lures with a lot of vibration are the key. The visibility is low so the sound is needed. Smallmouths are curious and will check out sounds and vibrations. Use their curious nature to catch them in stained waters.
In clearer water, the smallmouths are likely to be spread out since the water level has been stable. Clear water does make it more of a challenge but patience will pay off. You will need to find out how aggressive they are in the clear water. Jerkbaits are a good option to start with to find smallmouth.
The jerkbaits can have the cadence varied until you find out their tendencies. Afterward, you may choose to use spinnerbaits, crankbaits, or slow it down with soft plastics. Sometimes every lure will work and at other times a specific lure is required. The bass will tell you what they want in the clearer water.
Fishing in rivers is a little different than a lake but you need to find cover and structure on any water. On rivers, it tends to move so you have to adjust throughout the seasons or years. Fishing an area without good cover and structure is the most often mistake new or inexperienced anglers to make. Learning about the cover and structure will make you a successful angler.
Keeping fishing simple for tight lines and bragging rights