Something you seldom see on T.V. is how to fish rivers. Rivers are challenging to some anglers but does not have to be a challenge. The key to river fishing is reading the currents. Fish use the currents in rivers waiting for food to come by and as a result, they offer a lot of opportunities to find fish. Then the next step in river fishing is the presentation, you need to learn how to use currents to your advantage.
Fish Rivers; Finding Fish
Finding fish on rivers involves learning the water. This is the same as on a lake, however, on a river it is a little different. Rivers have fewer weeds and few calm waters. As a result, the calm water in rivers tends to hold less fish, with a few exceptions. The current in rivers is akin to structure in some regards. So if you find cover along with a current, the fish will likely be there.
The structure will also vary with river levels changing throughout the year. The changing water levels increase the current moving sand bars and creating other features. As a result, you have to spend time on rivers to learn how they may change.
Structure on rivers
The structure on rivers starts with the main channel, this varies by river whether it has dams or is free-flowing. Rivers with dams have channels cut into them for shipping traffic. A free-flowing river likely doesn’t have a dredged channel. These channels are the deepwater refuge areas for many species and also contain the most current.
The fish will be at the bottom edge of the channel until feeding time. Then they will go up to the top edge of the channel to feed. Crayfish, minnows, and other baitfish use the shallower water hiding near rock piles and boulders as cover.
Tributaries coming in the main channel are another structure feature on rivers. These areas create points underwater. Fish are attracted to points as structural elements.
Shorelines on rivers hold fish if the right conditions are present. Look for fish on the outside of bends, as these areas are deeper than the inside of the bend. The outside of bends also have cover washed into them by the current. Trees and brush piles will collect in these areas creating the cover for fish.
Do not ignore the straight sections of a river as they offer structure also. Look for steep banks, the contour of the bank often extends into the water. Fish will be packed tight in along these areas at a specific depth.
Islands can be prime fishing spots. The shape of the islands creates points above and below. Weeds and other vegetation tend to grow near islands in rivers. The islands erode into the water providing fertile soil for plant life. Additionally, islands on the river tend to be undeveloped, which means an abundance of insect life for baitfish and small fish. The bigger fish are drawn to areas with good baitfish populations.
River Specific Features
The rains will swell a river at times. Making the main channel a very tough place to fish. Look for backwaters, eddies, wing dams and other structures breaking the current. Fish will not battle the excessive current and they will use structure to avoid strong currents in high water. Look for current seams in these spots, as they tend to hold more fish than slack water towards the shore.
The backwater areas are good places to look during high water but need to have sand or gravel bottoms. These areas tend to have trees, brush, and other cover washed into them also. Some backwaters may even have weeds.
Rivers have bad spots the same as a lake. These are the areas with silt accumulation. The inside of bends and slow slack areas below faster current will have silt accumulation. These areas also likely lack cover and structure. So avoid areas with silt.
Cover on Rivers
Everyone knows fish are on or near the structure, but cover also has to be present to hold adequate numbers of fish. In rivers, the cover is primarily rocks, trees, and brush. Look for rocky shorelines as brush and trees will hang up in the rocks, offering more cover to the fish.
Current seams although not technically cover are spots fish congregate. These are located near tributaries, wing dams, and at depth changes on rivers. At normal levels, the main channel will have more flow than the shallows above the channel. Look for changes in the flow on the surface. These are fish-holding areas.
Fish Rivers; The Presentations
The presentations vary among anglers on rivers. Live bait is drifted or anchored in place. What you are fishing for will determine how to use live bait. Use the current regardless of the technique.
Trout and bass anglers use the drifting technique. The bait is cast upstream and allowed to bounce along the bottom. The weight is the key, as a result, too much and you snag and not enough it will whip downstream. You want the bait to bounce and look natural in the flow of current. This is similar to the bottom bouncing a rig in a lake.
Anglers going after catfish or general fishing use a heavier weight. The bait is placed in the “right spot” usually a current seam or underwater point, bar, or ledge. This style of fishing is to sit and wait for the fish, and it can be very productive. On bigger rivers, shore fishing is done this way almost exclusively.
Fish will face upstream on the edge currents waiting for food, so use this as an advantage. Lures can be worked with the current if not too swift, otherwise, try using them cross current or working them upstream. The upstream retrieve has the added benefit of maintaining an action on the lure even when paused. Working lures in current take a little practice, however, the fish will tell you what they want. After a few outings, you will have enough experience to work lures effectively.
In the early springtime, use the slower presentations. Jerkbaits and jigs are the best options on rivers since they allow the pausing of the lures. The fish are becoming more active, but the water is still on the cool side. Lean towards fishing cold front conditions for better results. Later on in the spring, more options will become available. Use spinnerbaits as the water warms up and especially in turbid or muddier waters. In those conditions, visibility is lower, but the vibration will alert the fish of the lure’s presence.
In the summer all lures work. See what the fish wants as a presentation since a certain lure will likely outperform others in certain situations. Crankbaits and jigs are the deepwater options in summer. In the shallows switch over to a spinnerbaits, jerk baits or topwater lures. These are merely tips to get started and other presentations might work better in a given situation.
Check shady areas along shorelines, as fish will avoid areas with direct sunlight. Areas with trees and brush overhanging the water are good places to try, as long as the cover is present.
In the early fall, the summer patterns will still work. When the water cools down you will need to slow down. Fish the early spring techniques, as the cooler water temperatures affect fish in rivers the same as in lakes.
Rivers constantly evolve throughout the year. The currents change with water levels along with the structure and cover. Spending adequate time on the river overcomes this aspect. Learning to fish rivers takes patience, but is worthwhile as they are productive throughout the year. In early spring or late fall try rivers instead of a lake. You may be surprised at how many fish can be caught.
Keeping fishing simple for tight lines and bragging rights.