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wasabi_VA

Smallie bite change when the river level rises due to heavy rain?

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I have kayak fished a small stream several times this spring. It averages around 100 cfs discharge (+/- 20) to give you a sense of size of the river. The first 2 trips I did great even though it was a little high due to spring rains.

 

The other day it was higher than I've ever fished it, around 280 cfs, due to heavy rain a few days prior. There were still nice eddies/pools/current breaks to fish yet the fish were not active at all. There seemed to be more current in places where previously there may have been slack water which made me think the fish might readjust location to endure the higher flow...?

 

Do they head downstream to find deep water and hang deep to avoid flow? Or maybe they just hang tighter to available current breaks and stay in the same area? Any suggestions to deal with higher water? It wasn't just the smallies - all the other fun bycatch shut down too like lgmouth and fallfish.

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In the normally clear rivers I fish, smallies tend to be sight feeders. when the rivers rise and get muddy, they don't seem to feed. The places they will move to in high water are out of the current. Often holding very tight to the shorelines in very small eddies. Along undercut banks, tree roots, logs, anywhere the current is blocked. If there is good shoreline access, it's a good time to bank fish. No casting needed, just cautiously, slowly, without making too much noise, walk the shorline and drop a small jig & twister right along the bank in those little no current spots. Fast, high flowing rivers are dangerous to wade or float anyway. 

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So those areas you mentioned are the areas I fished. I guess the reduced visibility worked against me. I did switch to brighter colors to see if that would help, maybe it did a little.

 

I think I need to get better at recognizing the water levels where this impacts the fishing and just not go. I have notes from prior trips on the water level and my better days came when the water level was lower. I was probably pushing it to go so close to the recent rains. It was murkier but not chocolate milk.

 

Part of me wondered if I needed to switch up my tactics to adjust based upon their adjustments. I did try deeper by using a slightly heavier jig head, also switched to brighter colors.

 

I was looking for spawning beds too...wondering if that was why he bite was off...but the water was too stained to see if any beds were anywhere. With as much flow as I saw I was wondering how the fish could even maintain a bed and stay on it, and what that means when there is so much rain in the spring when they are supposed to spawn. Maybe they just have a bad spawn if there happens to be a lot of rain some years?

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What Scott said along with; It's been my experience that the fish tend to feed as the water is rising so they may be content for a day or so depending on water temp etc.. Also they'll use different parts of the eddy/stream bed at different flows so where you think they might be is completely different from where they actually are.

 

 

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I have found to wait until the water level peaks, wait 2-3 days for the fish to re-position and try again.  Until that happens I think they are scattered in more isolated spots.  

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When the water rises and gets dirty, the fish do go into a funk for a bit, but let me assure you, they still feed. The rivers I fish are generally clear but if I had the choice I’d rather fish them high and dirty.....hands down. Why? You can power fish and the high water puts fish in very predictable locations. Behind ANYTHING that breaks the current causing a current break or downstream eddy. As far as bait selection goes, smallmouth are generally sight feeders in clear water, but throw that out the window in dirty water. You need to fish things that move water. Bladed jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, wide wobbling crankbaits, are my top 4. Target the current breaks and eddys. Just about all of my largest river smallmouth and heaviest tourney stringers have come from high and dirty water. The pics are of my last 2 events, both during high water periods, and both of which we won doing exactly what I’ve described. Hope this helps and good luck! 

2C84BCDA-EED3-4D9F-883D-E9ECDE3E1AC6.jpeg

0EA9D9AF-F83A-4055-9564-F115411B1BB1.jpeg

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I agree with Scott. I won’t fish the river under fast treacherous conditions. I’ll switch gears and lake fish. But when levels are up and stained I prefer to fish shoreline cover. They seem to relate to wood cover. Dark crankbaits and Rat-L-Traps seem to have always work will. Black, olive and purple cranks. 

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On 4/21/2019 at 3:52 AM, bassnleo said:

When the water rises and gets dirty, the fish do go into a funk for a bit, but let me assure you, they still feed. The rivers I fish are generally clear but if I had the choice I’d rather fish them high and dirty.....hands down. Why? You can power fish and the high water puts fish in very predictable locations. Behind ANYTHING that breaks the current causing a current break or downstream eddy. As far as bait selection goes, smallmouth are generally sight feeders in clear water, but throw that out the window in dirty water. You need to fish things that move water. Bladed jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, wide wobbling crankbaits, are my top 4. Target the current breaks and eddys. Just about all of my largest river smallmouth and heaviest tourney stringers have come from high and dirty water. The pics are of my last 2 events, both during high water periods, and both of which we won doing exactly what I’ve described. Hope this helps and good luck! 

2C84BCDA-EED3-4D9F-883D-E9ECDE3E1AC6.jpeg

0EA9D9AF-F83A-4055-9564-F115411B1BB1.jpeg

 

Great fish and spot on advice.  

 

Water levels and water clarity are going to be two of the biggest consistent influencers of fish behavior in a river that effect fishing year round.  If you can catch a river rising, it's a great time to fish.  @bassnleo is spot on.  I would recommend beginning with high or flooded areas that offer protection from current.  Find things like current breaks, foam trails, etc.  Do you remember that boulder towards the side of the stream that was only partially submerged last week?  It's probably holding fish this week.   

 

As for baits, I like stuff that creates a lot of commotion like spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, lipless crankbaits, prop baits, etc.  The water is going to have less visibility and the current means faster feeding windows for fish.  Reaction baits are the way to go.  Also, when you find them, odds are good you'll find them stacked up.

 

Good luck!

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