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Summer Smallmouths In Moving Water

Summer Smallmouths In Moving Water Wading wet on a hot summer day and having spunky smallmouths put a big bend in the long rod is about as much summer fun as you can have with two feet on the ground.

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Dan Donarski lips a summer smallmouth caught on a nymph and a fly rod.

Dan Donarski lips a summer smallmouth caught on a nymph and a fly rod.

River fishing is tough for some species in August. Take trout for example. Flows are low and clear, major hatches have ended; the water has warmed so cold-water loving trout are lethargic. Catching river trout in August can be difficult, but not so with smallmouth bass. 

   Summer is the perfect time to chase river smallmouth bass. With lower flows, bass are concentrated in rivers and streams during the summer. That makes finding them much easier. Where warm water might make a trout languid, tepid water super charges smallies. Their metabolism is in high gear; they’re feeding with reckless abandon and the weather is delightful. What more could a river angler want?

Crayfish are a major food source for river bass.

Crayfish are a major food source for river bass.

   Without a doubt the number one item on a river smallmouth's menu are crawfish. Crawfish thrive in the same kinds of rivers and streams where smallmouth do well. Rivers that have rocks, boulders, gravel, ledges and the occasional log, stump or downed tree and some current provide idea habitat for bass and crawdads. But crawdads are not the only thing river smallies feast on. There are plenty of aquatic insects in these clear, free-flowing streams, and smallmouth gorge on both the larval stages and the adults when they're available. You'll find mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies and big, juicy, ugly hellgrammites, which are the larva of a dobsonfly, to be very common in most any smallmouth river. 

   Streams and rivers are home to an array of minnow species, too. There are a wide assortment of minnows, dace, darters, shiners, chubs and sculpins that smallies feast on. Most minnow species are darker in color, which you should keep in mind when selecting lures or flies. With so many food sources to choose from, a myriad of lures and flies will tempt river bass. That's one reason impressionistic lures and flies, like tubes, twister tails, Wooly Buggers and Muddlers, do yeoman's work on brown bass in moving water. They have the potential in imitate a lot of things that smallmouths eat. Smallmouth will even eat things like frogs, mice and moths if given the chance.

   One of the attractions of summer smallmouth is the simplicity. You really don't need a bunch of fancy gear to be successful. You can wade or float in a canoe or kayak and fish from the watercraft or get out at prime locations. The water is usually warm enough in the summer you don't really even need waders, but a pair of old sneakers are a good idea. A medium-light spinning outfit is perfect for those wanting to fish with spinning tackle. Reels spooled with 4- to 8-pound test line are fine, but you might want to add a barrel swivel and a short length of heavier fluorocarbon for a leader. Rocks and the sandpaper-like mouths of bass can quickly chafe lighter line.

Greg Ellison caught this river smallmouth on a floating Rapala.

Greg Ellison caught this river smallmouth on a floating Rapala.

   You don't really need a huge selection of lures for river smallmouth. In fact, there are a half dozen that will meet 99% of your needs. Tube jigs do a great job of imitating a good cross section of things that bass eat. Tubes can imitate minnows, crayfish and other prey. A 3- to 4-inch tube in a darker color is about right to mimic smallmouth forage. Opt for a jig head the can be inserted into the tube to allow the bait to slide over bottom and obstructions without getting snagged. Select a jig head between 1/16- and 1/4 ounce that allows the lure to slip and slide along the bottom without becoming lodged. Tubes are great because you can swim them, hop them, and bounce them all with good results in everything from pocket water, behind boulders, along seams, in riffles or dredge deeper pools.

   Twister tails can be fished in much the same way as tubes if the chances for snags are less. Twisters are fish on a classic jig head, which increases the chances of getting wedged between rocks or boulders, but the slithering tail produces arm-jarring strikes. Twisters, like tubes, can imitate a variety of things that smallmouths eat or nothing at all. It doesn't seem to mater to the bass. Colors run the gambit from dark brown, motor oil, black and purple to white or silver to imitate minnows. Twister tails can be especially hot when added to a safety pin-type spinner.

   Friend and smallmouth bass expert Darl Black is a big fan of stick worms for river smallies. "For river fishing, I use a weightless stick worm as drift-bait, relying on the lure’s own slow-sink design to meander to the bottom in the downstream flow," said Black. "In strong current situations, smallmouth typically set up an ambush point in a slack-water pocket waiting for a dislodged crayfish, hellgrammite or disoriented minnow to drift by. It’s the best way to secure a meal while conserving energy. I rig a 4-inch Dinger (my favorite of the many stick worms on the market) exposed on a 2/0 Mustad Mega Lite Hook. I fish a stick worm on a spinning outfit spooled with 10-pound Power Pro Braid and a 3-foot leader of 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon. The braid helps to float the worm while also acting as a visible bite indicator, even when slack forms during the drift."

Dan Donarski with a river smallmouth caught during summer.

Dan Donarski with a river smallmouth caught during summer.

   Your river arsenal should also include a few crankbaits and minnow baits.  Summer thunderstorms that cause rivers to rise and discolor means it’s the perfect time to try crankbaits. The vibration caused by a wiggling crankbait help smallies zero in on the bait. They also have a much more animated action to trigger smallmouths that might be semi-active. A variety of colors will work from crawdad tones to more silvery finishes that might imitate minnows and bright colors that are more visible when waters are cloudy. Square-lipped cranks that can bounce off rocks and boulders excel and it’s good to have a couple with longer lips to probe the deepest holes.

   Minnow or stick baits, like the classic floating Rapala, are a must-have lure when fishing rivers for smallmouths. Gold/black and silver/black are usually all that you need. Cast them out and make a couple quick reels to cause them to dive and then work them back with a seductive twitch and hold on.

   Summer is a great time for fly fishers to ply their trade for smallmouth bass. An 8-1/2 to 9-foot, 6-weight fly outfit is perfect for river bass. You can usually get away with a full floating line and cover the entire river. River bass will jump all over Wooly Buggers, buggy-looking, rubber-legged nymphs and even large Elk Hair Caddis and deer-hair bodied Irresistibles when bugs are hatching. Wading wet on a hot summer day and having spunky smallmouths put a big bend in the long rod is about as much summer fun as you can have with two feet on the ground.

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