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River Fishing Vs. Lake Fishing


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Hello everyone, I have been fishing since I could hold a rod and reel. I have fished lakes all over from Tablerock, Lake of the Ozarks, Mark Twain, etc. However, this past year, I have become increasingly interested in river fishing. I have a few rivers near me- Huzzah, Big river, Meremac, and the Black river. I was wondering if anyone is knowledgeable about river fishing and could tell me the difference between it and lake fishing and how to be successful on the river.

Thanks! All help is appreciated!

If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles. ~Doug Larson

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River fishing is a bit easier IMO...the water isnt as deep so finding fish is allot easier...Figure out how the fish are relating to current, structure, and depth..then cover the water column top to bottom and you will find fish. Current seems and eddies are usually good, transition zones from shallow to deep, or deep to shallow, are good...or anything that offers cover or shade....Might take a couple riffle pool complexes to pattern them up, but its far from rocket science. Cheers.

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River fishing is a bit easier IMO...the water isnt as deep so finding fish is allot easier...Figure out how the fish are relating to current, structure, and depth..then cover the water column top to bottom and you will find fish. Current seems and eddies are usually good, transition zones from shallow to deep, or deep to shallow, are good...or anything that offers cover or shade....Might take a couple riffle pool complexes to pattern them up, but its far from rocket science. Cheers.

Great information. Thanks! One question though- I've never heard the term "riffle pool complex". Can you define it for me?

If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles. ~Doug Larson

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Rivers follow the pattern of "riffle, run, pool." Riffle is the shallow, fast, broken water, run is the transition zone with slightly deeper water, but still moving water, and the pool is the deeper, slower water. A complex can take 50 yards (smaller water, steeper gradient), or a half mile (Bourbeuse). If canoeing, try getting through the riffle, but beach it on a gravel bar to fish the run, then hop back in to fish the holes.

Different fish hang in different spots and relate to different structure. Smallies like the more oxygenated water just below a riffle (with current) and rock cover, as do most minnows and crayfish. Largemouth like slower water with wood cover, as do spotted bass (big logs) and crappie (tree tops). Goggle eye prefer current and brush in slightly deeper water, and green sunnies like rocks, water willows, and brush in pretty much anywhere in the river. Doesn't mean you won't find them in other places, but I hope this helps.

Rob

WARNING!! Comments to be interpreted at own risk.

Time spent fishing is never wasted.

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Kayser and Gavin have it covered pretty well. River fishing often is a lot easier than lake fishing (not always though!), and in my opinion for a variety of reasons it can be most enjoyable. If you are fishing for trout, smallmouth bass, or any other species that relates heavily to current, often the best place to fish in the above described riffle pool complex is right where the riffle comes to the head of the pool. In that "sweet spot" the fish have current to bring them food and oxygen as well as depth to give them protection from predators and some protection from the sun. If there is some cover in that area it makes it even better. Another very good place to look for smallmouth or trout is in the riffle itself. If there is a boulder, fallen tree, drop-off, or anything else that gives protection from the heavy current, you can bet there are some fish relating to it. If you are river fishing for largemouth bass, catfish, or sunfish, it really isn't a lot different from lake fishing. These species tend to hold in the slower water of the pools and related to weeds, rocks, fallen trees, and other cover much like their lake-residing cousins.

One final thought: river fish that reside in heavy current areas generally relate to the bottom more than lake fish. The bottom is where the current is slowest, so that is where the fish like to hold. Therefore when fishing riffles or other fast current areas it usually pays to have your lure, bait, or fly near the bottom. There are exceptions to this of course, particularly when the fish are feeding actively in the mornings and evenings,but it is still something worth remembering. This isn't true to nearly the same extent in slow water areas of the river where fish don't need the protection from the current that the bottom of the stream provides. Topwaters and other lures that ride high in the water column can often work well in these areas.

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There is something about the current that draws me to fish rivers over lakes. Fighting a fish in the current is another thing that distinguishes the two - even small fish can put up a challenge in strong current.

One thing I've wondered about in relation to topwater fishing in rivers is where you guys apply it - I would guess that topwater baits work in the pools (like like they do on a lake), but do they work in faster water too?

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Hello everyone, I have been fishing since I could hold a rod and reel. I have fished lakes all over from Tablerock, Lake of the Ozarks, Mark Twain, etc. However, this past year, I have become increasingly interested in river fishing. I have a few rivers near me- Huzzah, Big river, Meremac, and the Black river. I was wondering if anyone is knowledgeable about river fishing and could tell me the difference between it and lake fishing and how to be successful on the river.

Thanks! All help is appreciated!

I might point out that the deeper moving water in the outside of a riverbend is also a key fish holding area that doesn't necessarily relate to the usual riffle-run-pool pattern. -SS

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Congrats F. Sam on your new found interest in river fishing. Moving water is so much more interesting than still water. Gavin’s correct that finding fish in moving water might be easier than in lakes but I might add that reading the water in streams can be much more complex than reading still water especially when navigating a boat. Current speed, boat speed and lure speed are in constant flux creating situations where you never can make the same cast twice. Another thing to keep in mind is the scaling down of fish size expectations, just the fact that river fish are constantly swimming against the current bring growth rates way down, maybe half that of lake fish. The trade off of fish that are a bit smaller on average that lake fish is by far offset by the beauty of rivers.Good Luck!

His father touches the Claw in spite of Kevin's warnings and breaks two legs just as a thunderstorm tears the house apart. Kevin runs away with the Claw. He becomes captain of the Greasy Bastard, a small ship carrying rubber goods between England and Burma. Michael Palin, Terry Jones, 1974

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Good advice from everybody so far...as Gavin said, river fishing ain't rocket science. The fish are easier to find than lake fish, and aren't as much affected by cold fronts and other weather conditions. Water conditions, however, can be very important, both in where the fish are located and in whether or not they are active and what kinds of lures will work best.

It would take a book to tell you most everything, but I'll assume you are fishing for bass. I don't know what kind of watercraft you'll be using, or which rivers you'll be fishing the most, and that can make a big difference as well.

But in general...as has been said, smallmouths relate to current more than largemouths, with spotted bass being more like smallies in the rivers you mentioned. Smallies can be anywhere from very strong current areas to areas with barely perceptible current, however, and largemouth can be anywhere from dead water to fairly strong current. It's not like the two species divide the water up between them. In fact, although river largemouth in those streams can be found in dead water, those fish are often not active. Active largemouths will relate to current much like smallies, but will not usually be in or near really strong current.

And on smaller streams, the smallies are often in very slow water, since the fast water may be too shallow for them. So as you can see, the whole current thing is a rule of thumb but not a hard and fast one. So what that means is that it's a good idea to fish those riffle-run-pool complexes thoroughly, with the least amount of effort expended in the slowest water. My general rule is, if the fish can hide from you, it's a potential good place. Logs, rocks, weedbeds, and water just deep enough to obscure the bottom can all hold good fish. Just put yourself in the fish's place...if you were wanting to hold someplace where you didn't have to fight the strongest current and could hide from overhead predators, but could let the current bring food to you, where would you be?

On different days they may be relating to current and cover differently, however. They may be on the upstream or the downstream side of current obstructions. They may be in shade or out roaming in the sun. They may be in strong current or in slow current. So how do you figure it out? As Gavin also said, you should be able to pattern them in just a few riffle-run-pool complexes. What I do is start out with fast-moving lures like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, crankbaits, and topwaters, and fish everything I see in the first couple of complexes. Hopefully the fish will tell you, and then you can concentrate more on where you caught the first few fish. However, sometimes the fish will be wanting stuff slow and deeper, so if you don't pick up a few in the first few complexes, put on a tube or jig and really start fishing the next complex very carefully.

As for lures, just about anything you have confidence in on lakes will work on rivers, except that river lures should usually be a bit smaller. Walk the dog topwaters, poppers, prop baits, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, small to medium size crankbaits, jerkbaits, soft jerkbaits, tubes, creature baits, worms, and jig and pig types all work. The fun is in figuring out which is working well on a given day. But the nice thing is, you know you're putting your lure in front of fish because every riffle-run-pool complex holds fish, and except in a few pools on rivers the size of the Meramec, those fish will be in water shallow enough that no matter where your lure is traveling in the water column, they will know it's there.

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