In a recent podcast for the Indiana Kayak Anglers podcast series I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Young the series director and Josh Chrenko a fellow hardcore river Fisherman. In preparation for an upcoming event on Indiana’s white river we discussed many aspects of river fishing including some tips and techniques that may help someone put more fish in the boat.
In my opinion smallmouth are one of the best fighting and most highly sought after game fish in north America. Their brilliant colors and explosive jumps are more than enough to cause many anglers including myself to obsess over them. Any day of the week you could give me the option to fish a lake or a river and I will choose the river, but for some anglers understanding the behavior of smallmouth and the tendencies of a river can be a little difficult. In this article I will highlight some of the key elements to target these fish in a river environment along with some tips on how to fish from a kayak in moving water.
No matter what species of fish you target there are a few recurring factors that must be taken into consideration. On of these factors and arguably the most important is forage. What the fish are eating will directly influence when or where they will be staging up. Fortunately for the smallmouth most rivers have an abundance of forage. These include everything from benthic macroinvertebrates to the colorful river darters and even the common crawfish. In a river system there will be fish that are always looking for food. On thing that I have noticed is that smallmouth living in different parts of the river may be eating completely different things. For example a fish sitting hugged up behind a rock in some swift water may be looking to snag a few shiners as they move upstream while a hundred yards down river in a large calm gravel flat a smallmouth of the exact same size could be patrolling the bottom of the slow moving section in search of crawfish. What I’m getting at here is that it is difficult to be the most productive by throwing one single bait or targeting one single type of cover. So If an angler floats by and throws a fluke to where both fish are that angler is only likely to get one of said fish. This is why knowing the forage of the river is so important. Different forage species prefer different habitats and therefore depending upon what habitat you are fishing you can predict the forage that lives there and give the most natural bait presentation to increase your productivity. This becomes especially important in a tournament setting when big fish are needed. Those trophy size smallmouth are there for a reason. They earned it which means they have seen a thing or two.
These larger fish are usually the most finicky and tight jawed of them all. Having a bait that closely resembles the size and color of their prey is key when targeting these fish. Its difficult to find “the perfect bait” right of the bat that’s why anglers should not be afraid to make adjustments to their baits or retrieve even if what they are currently doing is producing fish. I’m not talking taking a green pumpkin trick worm and swapping it out for a bright pink one. I’m talking about subtle changes such as moving from a 3.5″ tube to a 4″ one. Or even changing a green pumpkin black flake tube to a green pumpkin red flake tube. Small changes like these can make the difference between a day where you barely put a limit in the boat to where you can’t keep the fish off your line.
Smallmouth are extremely mobile fish and in a river or stream they have the opportunity to move up or down river to look for the easiest food. Because of this anglers must be willing to cover a fairly substantial amount of water. Deciphering fishable water from everything else is key when trying to maximize productivity. This concept is imperative in a tournament setting. I choose to cover over 10 miles of river in a tournament. Don’t get me wrong, there are fish to be caught in all of that area but for me it’s about fishing the high probability areas. The “honey holes” so to speak. These are areas where there are lots of fish stacked up. Usually ones that are hungry. These areas can be anything. A brush pile, section of rip rap, a deep swing in the river or even something less obvious such as a sandbar. These fish follow the food so being observant while on the water can help to locate these areas. The best way to get better at anything is to get out and practice! Fishing rivers is a blast and can result in some truly incredible days of fishing. Getting out and learning how to fish in moving water will also
tremendously increase the versatility you have as an angler.