Locating Smallmouth Bass in Rivers


One of the hardest things to do is locating smallmouth bass in rivers if you aren’t familiar with their favorite locations.  When you begin reading about where bass like to feed, hold, winter and spawn, the terms can get confusing.  What is a riffle, a seam, back eddy, etc.  I hope this article helps you understand these things better.

Reading a river

Much of this video is filmed by a salmon fisherman but the basics of reading a river are excellent.

Locating smallmouth bass in rivers

Some definitions:

Riffle:  A Riffle is a short, relatively shallow and coarse-bedded length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and higher turbulence than it normally does in comparison to a pool.  As a result of the increased velocity and heightened turbulence, small ripples are frequently found. Riffles are usually caused by an increase in a stream bed’s slope or an obstruction in the water. From Wikipedia

Eddy: A place in a river or tidal water where the current rotates back in the upstream direction. This is usually caused by a large rock or point of land. Eddy’s can be as large as a big room or as small as a basketball (in the case of small rocks).

Current Seam: The line where a current with little velocity meets up with a current of high velocity. This is generally found in the same area as eddies. Fish stay in the low velocity current and go into the high velocity current when food drifts past. Original source

So now you know a few basics.  When the river is high and is rising, smallmouth bass tend to hug the bank. As the water dissipates, they move to certain areas or they can spread out and roam, seeking fun and food.

The riffle entering the pool is typical of many smallmouth streams. The uppermost part of it is made up of a fairly even distribution of grapefruit-size stones from bank to bank. The water here is only about two feet deep in normal mid-season conditions, although about sixty feet downstream we find a number of pockets three feet deep. This is what I call nursery water; it contains many small bass all the time, but larger bass will normally move into the lower portions to feed only early in the morning and late in the evening.

This is easy water to fish; the fast current prevents us from scaring the bass and the little ones are not really very easy to spook anyway. Staying off to one side and systematically covering

 the pockets with a streamer using a down-and-across presentation will take a lot of fish.

As the riffle drops into the main part of the pool we find a number of boulders which are two to three feet in diameter. The water here is from three to four feet deep. The boulders are not as evenly distributed as the smaller stones were upstream; this, coupled with a few deeper cuts that floodwaters have gouged out over the years, produces a number of different current rates and directions.

…against the bank, is a back eddy about thirty feet in diameter. This is now a big, slow-moving back water but it looks more like a forceful whirlpool in the spring, when the river floods and cuts out its soft stream
bottom. This one is about five feet deep in the middle so we have to approach it from the river side in order to fish it. The most productive parts of these back eddies are right where they join the main stream flow, and sometimes right against the bank.

Smallmouth don’t seem to like the dead water in the middle of these big back eddies, but often, if they are only five to ten feet across, I’ll nail a good fish in the middle.

My favorite way to fish back eddies, and I can’t seem to pass one up, is to approach them from the main stream side rather than the bank side and cast a streamer right into the closest part of the dead water and slowly swim it out into the current. The strike usually comes right at the slow water-fast water junction.

If these back eddies are not over five feet deep you can expect some surface action—especially late in the evening. Remember, this water is moving very slowly and the bass are quite willing to come up and feed on the top.  Full post here

I hope this article helps you understand the river better.  At some point, the more you fish, you will instinctively know, “there’s a smallmouth there”.  Locating smallmouth bass in rivers is something that must be learned over time through trial and error.

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