As I was enjoying the beautiful sunset, I was also getting a free ride down the river. The gigantic smallmouth on the other end of my line was wearing himself out bullying me and my kayak downstream. I guessed his size at about 3 pounds, but I never had a chance to prove it because right as I was trying to land him, my line snapped. Thankful for the fight, I quickly paddled back to the boat launch because I did not want to be caught on the river after dark. Plus, I was exhausted from fishing, and it’s been an amazing night and I certainly didn’t have anything to be disappointed about.
Even though the dog days of summer are here and it is hot, the fish still need to eat and they will gladly still bite well presented lures. One of my favorite things to do is to float down the local river and see how many smallmouth and pike I can catch before dark. River fishing is a really relaxing and fun way to spend an evening. Once the sun starts to fade away from the sky, the temperatures usually drop and things become much more comfortable outside again. Although it is a great experience late summer river fishing is not without its challenges.
Generally speaking the water levels are low and there are snags everywhere. I like to use a shorter, stout rod with thick heavy pound test line. I also make sure there is a lot of line on my spool because once I get into a few snags I consider that line no good anymore. I cut it off and re-tie the lure on. I don’t like losing big fish like that giant smallmouth that I described earlier due to nicks and cuts in my fishing line from debris underwater. Also on the river a long rod is not always necessary because the casting distances are often limited. I also like a shorter rod because it’s easier to keep out of the brush and trees.
When I am river fishing I look for structure… or a lack of it. I like to cast in slackwater, past downed logs, rocks, slow corners, pools, etc…. In the lazy days of summer the fish are pretty unmotivated too and generally hang out in the slow-moving water hoping that some sort of meal will float by in the quicker moving current. I like to cast past the slack water areas and work my lure into them from upstream, or cast my lure upstream let it work down into the slack water and then quickly retrieve it back out.
Generally when river fishing I use one of two lures. I’ll use a weighted jig with a grub or a tube and bounce it off the rocky bottom. I will use a floating Rapala and work it around and over some structure. I like having the ability to control exactly where my lure is going to be at every given moment on the river because if someone is not paying attention, they will quickly get snagged and lose the lure. I’ve also seen fishermen get snagged, try to free the snag, and end up flipping over… losing all of their lures. I just assume stay out of the trees and logs and brush.
The river that I fish it is quite dirty, and I really have good luck with white or chartreuse color lures. I have fished other much cleaner rivers where the water clarity is fantastic. On these cleaner waters I will go with a more realistic looking lure that is painted like a crayfish or a small bait fish for example.
It is also really handy when fishing on the river to have a convenient anchor to throw down. When I hook a big fish that I think may take a while, I’ll quick toss out the anchor to hold me still. This way if the fish gets into the logs or heads upstream, I have one less thing to worry about. It is really hard to fight a fish with one hand while steering and paddling with the other free hand and quite often the effort results in flipped over vessels and lost fish.
It is also important to make sure when river fishing that the lures you choose can handle the current of the river. Some poorly made lures experience a “washout” effect where they will not behave the way they’re supposed to when reeled against or into fast currents.
River fishing is really a lot of fun. The next time you’re tempted to sit inside on the couch with the air conditioning running full blast, force yourself to spend the last hour or so of daylight at a local river. Even wading in the water will cool you down and is good for the soul. Like I said, where I fish I mostly catch pike and smallmouth bass, but rivers are some of the most diverse fisheries in the world, who knows what you’ll catch in yours?