This answer to this question is a little more complicated because there are so many different types of rivers, but I will attempt to break each type down and discuss the best river vehicle for each. If you are in the United States you are living in one of four topographical categories – mountain, piedmont, coastal plain and internal plain. Each of these land sections have different types of rivers and to best assist you we must take a close look at each area.
Mountain Rivers are very rocky and have numerous rapids and are best handled with a sit-on-top kayak or canoe. In this article and on this website the use of the word kayak always refers to a sit-on-top style because they are the better of the two styles of kayaks for bass fishing. Sit-inside kayaks are designed more for whitewater kayakers or recreational paddlers. Some people do prefer a float tube or pontoon on the mountain rivers and if those type of craft have any place in river bass fishing it is on these mountain rivers. Float tubes and pontoons are slow and stable, so in order to float a section of river in one you need a river that has some speed to it. The fact that they are stable is also good because rapids can flip a canoe or kayak if you miss your line or don’t know what you are doing in the whitewater. I prefer a kayak on mountain flows because they are easier to paddle through rocky, technical shoals. A kayak can also move fast through any potential slow sections of your float if you need to make up some time or just skip over some bad water, whereas a pontoon or float tube can only move slowly. Lastly, kayaks can potentially fish slower if you need to by adding a drag chain or simply beaching them and doing some wade fishing in the prime areas. Mountain rivers, once they warm to become a warm-water fishery, are more likely to be dominated by smallmouth bass – the pound for pound strongest and quickest of the black bass species. Largemouth, spotted, redeye and in some areas in GA, shoal bass will inhabit these rivers as well. The rule of thumb is to get a shorter kayak (12 ft or less) for any rivers with a lot of rapids and technical turns that need to be made. The longer the boat, the more effort it will take to turn. Some chutes and turns in mountain rivers can’t even be made with a 12 foot kayak, let alone a 14+. Think shorter is better for navigating these streams.
Piedmont Rivers are a mix between mountain and coastal plain rivers. They have sections with rocky shoals and sections of slower water void of rapids or shoals. Some sections of piedmont rivers will seemingly have no shoals at all, but the very next stretch could feel more like you are on a mountain river. They are unpredictable. Due to their varying degree of terrain a kayak or canoe is a good choice. Personally if you are going to buy just one boat, I would buy a sit-on-top kayak in the 10 to 14 foot range. I like a 12 foot kayak or even shorter, but I also weigh 160 lbs. If you are between 200 and 300lbs I would choose a yak more in the 14 foot range because it should have a higher weigh capacity. Jon boats, bass hunters and other boats with motors on them will also work good on certain sections that have no shoals. If you are looking to bring the dog or kids along then a canoe or jon boat is certainly the way to go unless the kids are old enough to paddle kayaks on their own. You’ll enjoy the piedmont rivers because they offer the most by way of variety of black bass. Every species of black bass can be found in certain sections of piedmont rivers, except the Suwannee bass.
Coastal plain rivers are formed when the water falls out of the piedmont and into the coastal plain where the ocean used to submerge the land. Similarly, interior plain rivers are where the land finally flattens out in the center of the nation’s heartland. The flat land was formed differently than the coastal plain, but the rivers are very similar in that there are no rapids of any magnitude, just a few riffles here and there. These rivers are the easiest to decide on which river craft to use because you can basically take your pick. Motorized boats can easily be run in these rivers as long as there is a boat ramp to launch them. Pontoon and float tubes are suitable here, but probably not for an entire float trip due to the slower speed of the river. I would strongly consider a bass hunter with a trolling motor, a jon boat or a kayak for these type rivers. Again, I typically lean towards a kayak because it is easier to get in and out of the river, is a good source of exercise and allows me to handle my own boat positioning. Whenever you are in a canoe or jon boat you are at the mercy of the other angler and since there is only one craft you can only fish one side of the river at a time. Of course, sometimes it is necessary and an enjoyable experience to fish with someone else right there with you, especially if his name is grandpa or dad. You’ll mostly find largemouth bass and smallmouth bass in the plain rivers, but suwannee bass and shoal bass will inhabit some of these rivers in the southeast. Spotted bass can also be found in certain rivers in the plains. If you are a solo paddler and will be doing a lot of trips where you paddle upstream and fish back down in these types of rivers, you may want to consider a kayak in the 13 to 14 foot range that is somewhat narrow so that you can paddle upstream with ease. The shorter and stubbier the boat, the slower it will be in these rivers, that at times can be very swift when there is a large volume of water flowing through them.
Based on what we have gone over in this lesson you should be able to identify what type of rivers are around you and what kind of river craft you’ll need to fish them. Now, you just need to know how to plan a successful river trip and what basic tactics to use and you’ll be set! Check in for more River Bassin’ articles coming soon!