Our Nations vast river systems are some of our most precious bass fishing resources and are often under utilized. Some of the hottest bass fishing this time of the year can be found on our river systems as long as you know what to look for and have a basic understanding of how current affects where the bass will be located.
Before you head out on the river it is important that you take a look at the fluctuation in water levels and the amount of current. You should do this for safety as well as to get an idea of what the bass might be doing. You will want to determine whether you are going to be targeting smallmouth or largemouth bass. If your river has smallmouth you can start your search in areas where there is more current. Sometimes your smallies will be found out in the main river channel. If you are after largemouth the areas with a slower current or areas just outside of the current will be your best bet. When the river is on the rise you can bet on three things….the main river’s water clarity will not be as good, their will be an increase in the amount of backwater, and an increase in current.
When you are fishing the main river you need to pay attention to the rate of current you have and how the current breaks around the areas where you are getting bites. Bass like to be located around current as long as it isn’t too strong because it brings the food right to them. You can have the best looking lay downs or docks but if the current is too strong in those areas they won’t hold fish. When you are trying to pattern the fish it is often a combination of the type of cover your looking for and the amount of current.
For main river bass I like to start my search around any available barges because barges are great for blocking current. Usually behind these barges you’ll see an abundance of baitfish because they like to get behind the barges to get out of the stronger main river current. As the baitfish move in so do the bass. Depending on the sun angle barges also offer a great amount of shade which can be awesome on a hot summer day. Algae grow on the sides of these barges and algae is the start of the whole food chain. Behind these barges you’ll often find a pile of brush that has washed into the corner or has been trapped behind the barge. These can be hot spots and it is great when you can get on a milk run and run from one pile to another. On some river systems you’ll find bigger flats behind the barges and they will have a lot of lay downs and washed up wood to fish. The water will be deep around the back of the barge but will shallow up but those first rows of lay downs will usually produce a couple of fish. You might have to raise the trolling motor to get to these but it will be well worth it.
After exploring the barge bite I like to check out the wing dams especially if they have grass. It doesn’t take that long to find out if there are bass using these areas.. You can usually take a crankbait like the Gizz 3 from Smack Tackle and make a couple of casts to find out if anybody is home. If you start to catch bass out in front of the grass on a crankbait make sure that you also pick up your flipping stick and make a couple of pitches to that grass. You see a lot of angers making that mistake of not flipping the areas as well. When it comes to fishing these areas current is just as critical as when you are fishing the barge pattern. Certain wing dams will hold more fish than others because of the amount of current and the available cover.
One last area that I look for bass is bridges. These areas offer a lot of current breaks and often cover gets washed up around the banks which attract bait and bass. The main problem I have with targeting these areas is that they get hit hard by other anglers. Most bass fisherman know that bridges are big time fish holders so the bass see a lot of baits. You will want to be sure to work the up current side as well as the down current side because they can both be good.
If these main river patterns fail to produce for me I like to get off the main current and head to the marinas and look for bass there. Marinas are great because they have deeper water and offer bass a lot of shade around the slips. Bass like to use these areas to seek relief from the hot summer sun. These marinas also are abundant with bluegill and crappie which bass just love to eat. After working over the marinas I like to take a look at the lakes that come off the river because these can be hot spots. Often times since these lakes are off the main river they offer clearer water which bass can prefer for easier feeding. The key is finding ones that have some depth to them so that they will hold more fish. If your fishing a multiple day tournament shallower lakes usually won’t hold up for a couple of days because the areas just won’t replenish.
When I head out on the rivers the forage is often smaller so I like to make a couple of adjustments to the size of the baits I throw. I like to fish ¼ oz Buzzbaits, Gizz 3 crankbaits, and smaller ¼ spinnerbaits when I’m covering water. If I’m flipping usually smaller 5/16 oz jigs, sweet beavers, senkos and tube baits get the job done. If you get into some lily pads you will want to have a frog to throw to capitalize on a bigger bite.
River bass are very fast because they spend their whole lives dealing with current. I don’t like to use anything less than a 7 foot medium heavy AiRRUS Rod with a 7.1 baitcast reel so I can catch up to them and keep them under control. The bass bite so hard that you need to invest in the sharpest hooks you can find. I don’t like to flip with the superline worm hooks for my river fishing. I prefer to use a regular diameter wide gap worm hook because I can get the hooks into their mouths quicker. For flipping and shallow water cranking I really like GAMMA’s High Performance Co-Polymer in the 20lb pound test.
Bass East Editor