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Hi All,

 

So I have always had a little trouble finding Smallmouth in my river when the water is still cold. Mainly in the early spring. I know the obvios locations to start: Slow water, deeper water, "winter holes", etc. Oddly enough, it really seems like there aren't any of those types of spots in miles and miles of river. At least not on a scale more than small laydown eddies or single rock eddies. All the usual current breaks that I fish with success are either shallow, or tend to be flooded out early on.

My question is where else would you guys be looking? I have a distinct disadvantage of not having a boat or kayak to help me get to and those good isolated pools unfortunately. I do have an Old Town canoe, but alone on the river in high water... not as safe.

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That sounds like a tough place to find them early. At some point they will be moving from the deep holes to somewhere warm and shallow to make a nest. does this river have a dam upstream of where you fish? Maybe try to find a rock face that will catch some sunshine and warm up quickly or large rock/log to hide in

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There is a dam, but there's also a small dropoff that spans the entire river, like a mini waterfall, so i'm not sure if the fish head up river. Maybe they move way further down river than I've assumed and i'm just looking to close by? One thing that has made it tough is there are next to no river maps that show contour. I get that its ever changing in rivers, but there must be some consistencies.

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Kind of have a similar stretch of river by me too... easier to figure out if you have a boat/kayak. Wonder if you could try a drop-shot or live bait in certain areas you guess hold fish.  Maybe let them come to you?  Had a friend with a long 10 foot steelhead rod, maybe something like that if your bank Fishing to get out a ways from shore?  Might have to try several spots but maybe eventually find some deeper holes or cover? 

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Current breaks come in many forms. Logs, big rocks, points, islands and sandbars just under the water can all create current breaks and "dead water". Dead water is the area just behind one of these current breaks where the water swirls back and creates an area where the current can get to. Its easy to find these places when the thing causing the current break can easily be seen like a log that's partly on the shore. Just look for things like leaves or foam that is caught in a place and doesn't move. That's dead water. The tough part is finding dead water when a rock or other object is under water and you can't see it. That's when you have to be able to feel the bait and the effects the current has on the bait so you will know when you get out of that current. Dead water is where you want to be fishing. 

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The very cold water bite is tough at best. You maybe fishing where they are but they don't feed as often when the water is cold. Do you take the water temperature where you are fishing? When the water is less than 45, you can fish all day and even the best fishermen may only get a couple of bites. Your best chances come if the weather is improving and the air temps are on the rise, a few fish will become active.  

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Try to find holes and use a float and fly or a hair jig slow.Down size your jigs,In cold water there not n a mood to chase.When you find the depth there at  a float and fly will keep the jig right in front of there nose.

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@Scott F hit the nail on the head.  in very cold water, smallies can be extremely difficult to coax into biting, even when you do find them. Generally, anywhere you can find very slow current, you have a chance at finding tons of them stacked up.  They want a place that is going to be stable, have enough depth to provide protection from birds, and that will be stable even when snow melts and the river levels rise.  I generally don't get out a whole lot this time of year (the ice jams on the Susquehanna and Delaware have been terrifying), but when I do, I key on areas like oxbows, points, tails of islands, etc.  Even better if those locations also provide close access to shallow rock where fish can feed/sun themselves on warmer, bright days.  As for bait, small and subtle is generally the way to go.  It's not uncommon for sub 40 degree smallmouth to feed largely on stonefly/caddis/mayfly nymphs.  In streams where fish like shad or alwifes are present, a shock in temperature can kill them off in bulk and can be a great pattern in the days after a cold snap.  

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It was interesting to me when fishing smallies back home on the river on how shallow they would be in the winter.  (less than 6 ft.)  Water was an off color.  Current was a factor and the less the better.  Small black football jigs moved extremely slow with Smelly Jelly saved the day usually.  Felt good with one or two fish sometimes.  Also it didn't seem to matter whether it was sunny or not....but the sun sure made me feel better!

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Any slow current with relatively deep water. When I say deep, I've caught them in mid December with water temps at 35 behind islands in 4' of water. You also have to remember, these fish need to eat and a sun filled day will warm shallows up, especially where the water is still. With high water even winter hole smallmouth will go to the bank in order to feed, again, this will be better on sunny days but it holds true most of the time. What you want to do is  scan the river flow from shore, look for areas in the middle of the current that look like oil slicks, you can spot them if you take your time, they may only be a few feet wide and maybe 5' or 6' long but they are key. Those spots show where there is an underwater current break with slightly deeper water, it will look as if the current is flowing around a small patch. When you see a spot like that look for the nearest eddy or dead fall that has slow or still moving water, I guarantee that you will find a few fish, not all end up in wintering holes. The thing about those small patches is very few anglers fish them so the fish aren't pressured and since the areas aren't big enough to hold schools they typically only hold 1 to 3 fish most of the time but they tend to be giants. You may even want to walk the bank without any tackle and just scout the water, there are more of those spots that I like to call "mid river patches" than you know of and most will hold fish.

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Thanks for the replies guys. I really need to get better at taking the temp early on in the year and just being aware.

As for finding spots... I need me a kayak to get on the water safely. I've got a lot of experience going small and slow but just don't seem to be in the right spots early in the spring.

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5 hours ago, smalljaw67 said:

 What you want to do is  scan the river flow from shore, look for areas in the middle of the current that look like oil slicks, you can spot them if you take your time, they may only be a few feet wide and maybe 5' or 6' long but they are key. Those spots show where there is an underwater current break with slightly deeper water, it will look as if the current is flowing around a small patch. When you see a spot like that look for the nearest eddy or dead fall that has slow or still moving water, I guarantee that you will find a few fish, not all end up in wintering holes. The thing about those small patches is very few anglers fish them so the fish aren't pressured and since the areas aren't big enough to hold schools they typically only hold 1 to 3 fish most of the time but they tend to be giants. You may even want to walk the bank without any tackle and just scout the water, there are more of those spots that I like to call "mid river patches" than you know of and most will hold fish.

Great info! Never realized this but makes perfect sense. Learning to read the water is key. Thanks for sharing!!!

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On ‎1‎/‎23‎/‎2018 at 3:03 PM, WI_Angler1989 said:

Thanks for the replies guys. I really need to get better at taking the temp early on in the year and just being aware.

As for finding spots... I need me a kayak to get on the water safely. I've got a lot of experience going small and slow but just don't seem to be in the right spots early in the spring.

Yeah! I was so excited to go and catch fish when it got into the 60's, luckily I bought a small thermometer from Cabela's and the water temp was still 40-42 degrees! even though outside temp had been super nice for a week or two the water temp barely came up.

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Killer post @smalljaw67  I need to hit you up the next time I haul my kayak over your way.

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