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Where do SM position themselves in rivers?


papajoe222

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I'm not a river fisherperson, but would love to do battle with smallmouth that grow strong fighting a river's current.

 

Specifically, if there is a large rock, or boulder, do smallmouth position themselves in front of, or behind it?  I've read different opinions about this and I'm guessing water depth above the obstruction, how fast, or slow the current is and even the activity level of the fish would influence their position.

Would you treat bridge pilings the same as debris usually collects in front of them?

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BE SAFE rivers are very dangerous and unforgiving. Errors get magnified by current. Floating debris, rocks, suprise sandbar/ gravel bed moves. Running a river by memory can get you in trouble.  Always read what it’s giving you and never be worried to back off and look at a situation first.
 

Glenn’s video has a lot of great information. It’s great basic general knowledge of river fishing. 
 

what I can add to this is every river fishes differently at different current levels. Find a gauge for the river height like this https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?gage=harp1&wfo=ctp Learn what these levels mean and how they effect your fishing.  
 

in colder months don’t hesitate to cast down stream with a crank bait and let the current create the action for you. Do not even reel at times just let it sit there.

 

bottom bouncing rivers is never a bad idea. Tube, ned, Mr twister etc. under 4” plastic does seem to be the ticket here. I prefer moving baits in the summer when my river is lower and the fish spread out. That time of year becomes a covering water game.

 

The other thing I may add which isn’t a golden rule but, tends to be more true than it isn’t. Smallies school up by size. If you are into 3-4lbers that’s mainly what you will be catching out of that pool. You could go back 3 days later and 1-2lbers are now there and all the 3-4 are gone. I’m not saying you won’t have a unicorn bigger or smaller one in these schools but, don’t expect them. 
 

If you are fishing a pool and crushing them with moving baits then it dies switch up to a bottom bouncing lure. you may be able to pick up half a dozen more fish.

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Textbook knowledge would say fish will position on the downstream side of a current break. In practice I think you should make a number of presentations both upstream and downstream of a defined break, including casts angled both cross current and down current. One time I was with an older river fisherman in his boat. He pulled a nice striper off a bridge pilling in swift current, but it was off the side of the bridge facing direct current. This catch was kind of impactful for me to see, the fish will use that immediate upstream break as a feeding ambush point. They might not hold there all the time, but will fight the current and hold there to feed.

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1 hour ago, MassBass said:

Textbook knowledge would say fish will position on the downstream side of a current break. In practice I think you should make a number of presentations both upstream and downstream of a defined break, including casts angled both cross current and down current. One time I was with an older river fisherman in his boat. He pulled a nice striper off a bridge pilling in swift current, but it was off the side of the bridge facing direct current. This catch was kind of impactful for me to see, the fish will use that immediate upstream break as a feeding ambush point. They might not hold there all the time, but will fight the current and hold there to feed.

I agree with MASSBASS. Fishing rivers/ current is about angles. And dont be fooled by what the current looks like on the surface. Especially in mid sizes rivers and bigger that current you think is pushing in 1 direction when in reality it is moving a different direct or maybe multiple directions. There is so much in play from general river flow direction to structure underneath, bank shape, depth and depth changes, multiple currents converging. There are a couple eddy’s I fish (spots where some sort of structure/obstruction forces part of the river to reverse course) that while the current is pushing back upstream the mass of the current is also pushing into the bank, so when I cast out and let my jig fall, even though it looks like the current should take it back upstream, it actually pushes it up to the bank or even downstream some.

The fish will sit on the bottom waiting for current to trap baitfish and push them down to them.

that said, if you want to play percentages and find active fish a great place to start is where the current break starts, particularly if the bank is causing the break. Hit that spot from a few different angles and you will probably pick something up. I will say, i focus more on how my lure acts than specifically what way i think the fish are facing. Things like jigs have better action and look more natural/ give you better control when you are pulling them with the current. Moving baits typically work better with the current as well but there are times when working against the current makes sense.

sorry this was long winded. Its just my take.

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21 hours ago, papajoe222 said:

Specifically, if there is a large rock, or boulder, do smallmouth position themselves in front of, or behind it?  

 

Both. I refer to the front of the large rock/boulder/island/root ball/bridge pilings as "push" water. The current just before it's redirected around the obstruction creates a seam or a slack water area from the water hitting the object and pushing or stopping the current briefly that smallies will hold in. Probably one the most overlooked productive areas for fishing current.

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The water just downstream of obstructions --like a rock, log, or bridge piling-- especially on a seam where slack- or slower-water areas immediately border faster current, is well-known to most river anglers and gets a lot of attention. 

 

But also do not ignore the water right in front of an obstruction.  There will be a small area -- a "cushion" of slack water on the upstream side that is a prime lie for fish to intercept food flowing with the current.   Even a small log or rock can create an upstream cushion large enough to hold a good-sized fish, and very often a big fish will claim this spot.

1 hour ago, heavyduty said:

 

Both. I refer to the front of the large rock/boulder/island/root ball/bridge pilings as "push" water. The current just before it's redirected around the obstruction creates a seam or a slack water area from the water hitting the object and pushing or stopping the current briefly that smallies will hold in. Probably one the most overlooked productive areas for fishing current.

^^^Yes.

 

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Depends on how fast the river is going compared to normal. I catch them in the dead center middle of the river near absolutely nothing during the low/slow times. Then when it’s raging and swift they tuck in near banks bridges and barge ties 

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  • 1 month later...
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The river I target them in is a small, relatively shallow river and the average depth is a foot or less at times.  It is no place for a boat and can only be accessed by wading or in a small craft like a jon boat, canoe, or kayak.

 

In this river I slowly drift with the current and cast towards the bank.  Physical targets include over hanging branches, logs, undercut banks, and slack water eddies.  Isolated boulders are also targets whether they're near shore or not.  Accuracy is critical.  The target is about the size of a dinner plate.  If you cast too far, you get hung up.  If you cast short, you don't get bit.  I use a one-two punch of presentations: a faster lure like a topwater or shallow crank/wake bait, and a follow up plastic like a tube, wacky, or ned.  I only use the plastic when a fish strikes and misses, which does happen frequently.  The very same fish that misses regularly takes the follow up plastic.

 

July and August are by far the two most productive months for me here.  The water is bath tub warm and the fish are extremely aggressive.  Once cooler nights of September show up, the bite is done.

 

The one factor that is required to hold fish is current.  When water is this warm, there needs to be current to create oxygen.  Slow moving water or stagnant water are dead zones.  Unfortunately, severe drought over the past several years has prevented me from fishing this river.  Its ankle deep in some areas.

 

 

7-9-22 smallmouth.jpg

7-24-19 b.jpg

8-2-19 b.jpg

smallmouth lures.jpg

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17 minutes ago, Susky River Rat said:

The G3 drafts 8” that gives us room to spare!

 

Is that a 6th sense crush 50x?

You aren’t running that thing in this river. There are areas that are an inch in the summer. My Jon boat drafts in 2 inches and will scrap bottom sometimes. We get out and push. There’s also no place to launch either.

 

The crank is an XPS super shallow crankbait in orange craw.

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2 hours ago, Susky River Rat said:

The G3 drafts 8” that gives us room to spare!

 

Is that a 6th sense crush 50x?

Those midwestern rivers are flat and don’t seem to flood even after heavy rain (seems sand helps at least in Michigan). Therefore there are sandbars in the middle that you have to walk across. My rivers are all rocks and I’m guessing the susky is similar 

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@TnRiver46 there is more rock showing than water at times. It’s all not just a rock here or there it’s shelves and shutes. It’s a boat eater.
 

@gimruis challenge accepted just kidding. 

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@Susky River Rat, this is the kind of stuff we floated in MI, zig zagging back and forth the whole time . Some of the turns were sharp for a canoe haha . Vastly different than what I’m used to but loaded with fish 

 

IMG-4143.jpg

 

there were a couple other rivers where I saw people using jets but its crazy just riding the flow between natural lakes. I’m used to millions of gallons of water gushing out of a dam 

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@TnRiver46We have air planes to dodge too That’s the middle of the susky by the air port and those guys are in waste deep water. The other picture is just how it is around 4’- 4.5’on the one gauge. IMG_6676.jpeg.b173d150d944c15cb22a55f89faf8311.jpegIMG_6675.jpeg.b2c6677555ec2abd59948fa8c08d1702.jpeg

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3 hours ago, TnRiver46 said:

this is the kind of stuff we floated in MI

The river I fish looks nothing like that.  No sand.  All rocks and gravel.  Some boulders the size of a bathtub.

 

Next time I'm out there I'll take a photo.  Assuming we don't have another annual drought.

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@Susky River Rat, that’s funny I live right next to an airport for small planes. They take off and land all day everyday, I think there are some lessons too. It’s on an island and every now and then a plane ends up in the water 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 12/29/2023 at 9:31 AM, gimruis said:

The river I target them in is a small, relatively shallow river and the average depth is a foot or less at times.  It is no place for a boat and can only be accessed by wading or in a small craft like a jon boat, canoe, or kayak.

 

In this river I slowly drift with the current and cast towards the bank.  Physical targets include over hanging branches, logs, undercut banks, and slack water eddies.  Isolated boulders are also targets whether they're near shore or not.  Accuracy is critical.  The target is about the size of a dinner plate.  If you cast too far, you get hung up.  If you cast short, you don't get bit.  I use a one-two punch of presentations: a faster lure like a topwater or shallow crank/wake bait, and a follow up plastic like a tube, wacky, or ned.  I only use the plastic when a fish strikes and misses, which does happen frequently.  The very same fish that misses regularly takes the follow up plastic.

 

July and August are by far the two most productive months for me here.  The water is bath tub warm and the fish are extremely aggressive.  Once cooler nights of September show up, the bite is done.

 

The one factor that is required to hold fish is current.  When water is this warm, there needs to be current to create oxygen.  Slow moving water or stagnant water are dead zones.  Unfortunately, severe drought over the past several years has prevented me from fishing this river.  Its ankle deep in some areas.

 

 

7-9-22 smallmouth.jpg

7-24-19 b.jpg

8-2-19 b.jpg

smallmouth lures.jpg

 

 

Northern Indiana and my river fishing is much the same. My favorite fishing is mid summer, hot, sunny and straight up noon (ish)...fast water in the middle of the river and the three pounders tear up my left (rod holding) arm.

 

Nobody in this thread is "wrong" regarding current breaks and what not but there is lots of structure that you can't see. I fish a certain section that's really more of a run with kind of a sandy bottom. The depth is a shade deeper that surrounding water. I passed this spot up for years. It just doesn't look good and when I drift through in the boat I have time for a cast or two and didn't usually get much. Now it's one of my favorite wading areas because I catch lots of big bass in there.

 

when I said fast water in the middle of the river above it refers to rocky areas with maybe a couple feet of water. There are current breaks (rocks) everyplace and there could be a bass hanging on any one of them. It's also mid summer. There's O2 in that fast riffled water.

 

Don't overlook the upstream side of obvious current breaks. Active fish often hunt there.

 

Regarding baits I've posed tons on my favorites but I think you have to be flexible here. My favorites kill them year in and year out for me here but I talk to other guys in other areas that have a completely different line up. I don't know if my stuff would work there but I sometimes try some real classics that just don't produce as well as my favorites. I also disagree with those who say that it doesn't matter what you throw at active smallmouth. It matters.  

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Usually it is in current or not, deep or shallow or in the middle.  Honestly it all depends. 

 

First thing I am doing is looking for the current breaks and any structure that is present and I am going to work the area pretty thoroughly in all the various locations.  Sometimes they are much further downstream than you think base on the current break and other times they are up close.  Gotta work all the areas and then hit other spots that have similar set up characteristics.

 

Then of course there are other days I am just stripping streamers and going for the active bite and they are all over the place but my favorite and probably most successful is topwater no matter the time of day or if they are active.  Dead drifting poppers through likely spots gets me a ton of action, especially if it is an isolated boulder on an otherwise featureless stretch of river.  There are a few spots like this on a section of river I fish and they will produce a hit nearly every time.

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