I don't know whether the river smallmouth was the second generation or not. I don't care! For our purposes, it's not all that important. They must represent a different adaptation of smallmouth bass from those in the lakes. They look and feel the same, and they eat many of the same things when available, but there are actual physical differences. On average, here in Maine, our river smallie is slightly lighter for a given length, a little more compact, slightly leaner looking, and I believe more aggressive than most of our lake fish.
I think they strike more readily, fight harder, jump more when the temperature is correct, and have never learned the meaning of giving up! I love them. I also believe that they are more predictable and easier to catch, will fight longer and harder, and do things that will surprise you more often than lake fish will. I love them even more, which is why I prefer to fish for them.
There is a penalty for this. There are many two-pound fish in the rivers where I fish, quite a few three's, an occasional honest four, but only very rarely a five. In twelve years spent fishing Maine Rivers, I have only seen one six-pound fish come over the side of the boat, and that one came in the boat eight or nine years ago!
Somehow, as born out in the discussions on the BassResource, river smallie, and bronzeback forums, these fish seem to shrink in weight when put on a set of accurate scales. From my point of view, any smallmouth kind enough to get on the lure we are using has done us enough honor to be worthy of my respect! We have caught five-inch smallmouth on six-inch Gary Yamamoto Senko lures in my boat. These smaller fish are both the indicators of a healthy fishery and a promise of a fun-filled fishing future for my grandkids! I love them!
OK, now let's see just how we locate these fish in strange, flowing waters. The physical aspects of the particular body of water will, at least to some degree, affect what you can do. If it is too rocky with too much current to take a boat into safely, and these kinds of water do exist, I'm not going! At my age, with my experience, forget it. I'm willing to work and work pretty hard to catch fish! I'm not into working hard to find them!
That being said, if you can operate a boat with safety, what should you be looking for? One of my prime targets is gravel banks, and one of the excellent ways of finding them quickly is to look for gravel in the bank. Often you can see it in the clay, mud, whatever, of the riverbank itself. It is probably in the river if you can see it on the bank! Fish it! Gravel, by itself, anywhere in the river, is worth five points!
The next thing I look for is what I call wind shadow. This is probably a new term for what you have always called a lee shore for a lot of you. We call it something different on the river because the wind swirls around and is less predictable on a given shore. Sometimes a patch of wind shadow won't be any larger than my boat. I will still be aware of it. Sometimes, hopefully, you can find a patch the size of a house. Wind shadow has minimal effect on the fish. It does significantly affect the guide and what lures are desirable to use.
Wind shadow is worth from zero to ten points. Zero points if there are no fish there or if the bottom structure isn't good for the fish, and up to ten points if there are many fish and the wind is howling! Usually, it would be worth five points on a mellow day with some fish present.
Another thing to look for is shade. Shade ties in with season and temperature. Early and late in the season, shade may very well be something to steer clear of (zero points). Midsummer, high-temperature days it is something to look hard for. I had had days on the river, midsummer when the BEST shade available on the entire river was right under the boat! We had had times under these conditions when we caught six or eight fish, from right under the boat! Shade can be worth from zero to ten points.
Current/flow are something to always be aware of on the river, and they are NOT the same thing! Flow is the volume of water moving past a given point in the river. It is measured in cubic feet per second or per minute. Current is the speed at which the water moves past a given point and is measured in miles per hour or feet (linear) per second. Both the width and the depth of the river influence the speed at any given location, while in a situation such as mine, where there are dams both above and below where we fish, the dams control the flow. I can even show you places where the current reverses! The flow is always downstream.
I can't put a numerical value on flow/current variations. You have to develop a "feel" for them. There is a value there. I am not smart enough to be able to quantify it.
Islands are another factor. In addition to their current effect, both upstream and downstream. These are often spawning as well as feeding areas. Always deserving of extra attention on both ends during all seasons. Island ends are five-pointers. The sides are treated just like the other riverbanks.
You've probably picked up the fact that I'm putting numerical values on many of the structural elements of river habitat. As we go along this route, I'll tie this all together to give you my book on river fishing. It will help you to find your shortcuts.
Eddies are something I always keep an eye out for—especially those with "dust" on them. The "dust" may be blown dirt, pollen, leaves, or most any other light material that lives in the surface film. Cap'n Chuck LOVES dusty water. The dust itself is nothing more or less than an indication of an area of calm water where insects get trapped in the surface film, baitfish come to get the insects, and Smallmouth comes to get the baitfish. These are worth five points.
Now let's look at a possible situation that frequently occurs on the river. Midsummer, water temperature about seventy-six degrees, bright sunny day, just below a rock ledge sticking out into the reasonably fast current. Dust on the water in the eddy pocket below the ledge, with a broken-off tree into the eddy with the entire tip underwater. All of this is split right down the middle by the shade line from the trees on the bank. Don't even think about casting into the dust unless you want to get your string stretched! This one is a little on the obvious side, but I set it up that way to show you how combinations of the individual elements have much higher values than just the sum of their values.
Our next little story will take you even farther into the realm of the RIVER SMALLIE!