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River Smallmouth 101

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Lake guy here, trying a float soon.

I wouldn't know a great smallmouth spot from "frog water".

What am I looking for when I'm fishing a river? On bull shoals, it's all about finding the baitfish, and often involves chasing the wind. Give me the river basics if you can- what water should I float on by, and what should I be sure to work carefully-

 

thanks, 

Mark Burris 

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You usually want to fish in or near moving water this time of year. Usually where the current speeds up or slows down. Sometimes in the fast water in between.Wood, rock, current breaks where faster meats slower, changes in bottom or bank structure can hold fish. Throw at everything for the first mile or two and you will probably notice a pattern. 

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Fish feed in the current using current breaks to ambush food, be it a dislodged hellgrammite, madtoms or crawfish or minnow, stealth IMHO is important bigger fish didn’t get that way eating things as a canoe or kayaks banging along, don’t be afraid to slow down beach the boat and wade really fishy stretches, so if your fishing bite off less river, I’m not a big fan of braid, a lite outfit, 6 -8 lbs green line works great, crawfish plastics on heaver than you think heads are a go too, 1/4 to 3/8 to get down in current, they make some really nice hellgramite plastics that work well, small top waters, tried and true minnow plugs and craw cranks produce.., however nothing out produces live bait on pressured fish, red hooks colored shot and a natural looking float like thill brand, bring a good minnow trap and crackers, if you camp a crawfish trap, if you can keep things cool, conditioned night crawlers are hard to beat this time of year..,( look up how to condition crawlers)  if you watch fish eat spots and largemouths even rock bass let those smallies go they take so long to get nice sized a 2 pounder plus is to valuable to catch once

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Some of my favs salty craws in green pumpkin 3” bite off the end for nice fit on the jig head any color head as long as it’s black...the natural color on gramites, the small plopper 

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If you can find it ( pricy) “ lunkers love night crawlers “

old copy and the reprint from the 80s still have mine and it’s like gold!

 

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Hahaha, my dad was huge into the fishing facts magazine and he swore by nightcrawlers . Wouldn't buy any lures at all. Anytime my uncle would join us to fish my uncle ALWAYS out fished my dad using artificial lures. Not to say a worm won't catch a big fish because I know it will, but when using worms of any kind you normally get the smaller fish first. It wasn't even a contest, my uncle also caught the bigger fish on lures as well. Around curves in the river are a pretty good bet along with fast water when they are really feeding good. Laydowns along the banks are good too. I have to admit though, I have fished really deep areas that look great and not had success as well. That is probably me, but Buzz on here will agree with me on that one. lol

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19 hours ago, Gavin said:

You usually want to fish in or near moving water this time of year. Usually where the current speeds up or slows down. Sometimes in the fast water in between.Wood, rock, current breaks where faster meats slower, changes in bottom or bank structure can hold fish. Throw at everything for the first mile or two and you will probably notice a pattern. 

Yep, what Gavin says. On river with a lot of frog water and in really hot weather we’d fish only the heads and tails of pools. Sometimes in the middle of long slow stretches you’ll find a shallow bar that will get the current moving and create eddies. 

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If you are in a canoe or kayak, just fish it all (you kinda have to anyway without a motor), and you will figure it out quick enough, especially if you are an experienced angler on lakes and reservoir, like it sounds you are. When I first started I always looked for the deeper side of the river/creek to fish. If it is a turn, stay to the outside. If it's a straightaway, look to the bank and color of water to determine the side with the most depth and stick to those. Keep casting and you will pick up "patterns", usually related to current, breaks, wood, rocks, etc.

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If the water is less than a foot deep and you can see everything on the bottom for many feet around it, don't fish it.  If it's really deep and really slow, don't fish it this time of year.  Anything else COULD hold fish.  Sure, you can fish that deep water, but deep water in streams holds very little food compared to shallower water with good current, and the fish go to where the food is.  

If I'm in a jetboat, I do skip some water--especially long runs with gravelly banks and not much cover.  If I'm in a canoe, I fish everything that I can reach while drifting that could possibly hold a fish.  It's one of the reasons why I nearly always fish fast moving baits, classic run and gun power fishing, on streams and rivers.  It ain't rocket science.  It ain't all that hard to figure out where the fish have to be, and most days at least some of them will be willing to bite.

Optimum spots, though...smooth current, not strong enough to make the water riffle, but enough to make it roil and bulge slightly, depth 2-5 feet, and cover, either rocks, logs, or even chunks of mud that have fallen off clay banks.  Current breaks--the eddies alongside fast water, if more than a couple feet deep.  Drop-offs at the bottom of riffles, where a submerged bar that's only a foot or two deep drops off abruptly into 3 or more feet of water.

With apologies to Carp, live bait isn't magic.  You still have to know where to put it and how to approach that spot.  In fact, I will bet that I can catch more fish most days fishing the way I do with lures than the average minnow drowner can.  I haven't fished live bait since I was a teenager.  What convinced me that it wasn't magic was a single experience I had.  Back then I fished a certain spot with live crawdads that I caught by hand on the river just before fishing that spot.  I fished it probably 30 or more times one summer, riding my bike down to the river and catching the crawdads and heading to that one perfect spot, a deep pocket around a huge log at the bottom of a fast riffle.  I almost never failed to catch several nice smallmouth out of that spot.  One day, just as I approached the spot to start fishing, an old guy (seemed old to me then, probably younger than I am now) came paddling through the riffle in a cedar and canvas canoe, and asked me if he could make a cast or two to that spot before I started fishing.  I was a kid, and taught to respect my elders, so I told him sure, I didn't mind.  He made one cast, with an old Shannon Twin Spin, and pulled out a 4 3/4th pound smallmouth...the biggest I'd caught fishing that spot all summer was maybe 2 pounds!

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Good Luck Mark! 

You will get better the more often you can get out there, but it’s relatively easy.

light or medium light spinning. Medium action bait caster.

A few smallie sized lures and you’re good to go. No need to bring all you own.

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