The truth of the matter is that dink bass can be caught virtually anywhere on a river. If you are fishing for dinks, you can stop reading now. For those that seek the power and drama that a big bass provides, read on. If you are specifically targeting big fish there are certain sections you’ll need to spend most of your time fishing. Likewise, there are other sections that you’ll need to paddle straight through in order to spend the majority of your time in the productive big fish water. The more promising sections I am referring to all have one thing in common – deeper water.
Deeper may be relative depending on which river, stream or creek you may be fishing. In a small creek deep could mean two and a half to three feet. In a larger river it may be four feet or deeper. The point is that deep water holds the biggest fish in that particular flow. If you can add into the mix “current” and quick access to shallow water with baitfish, then you have an equation for a big bass.
So, Drew, where on the river do I find this deeper water? Well, most of the time you will see the deeper water just above a set of shoals/rapids because rapids are basically just a natural dam built up of rock. You’ll also see deeper water right below the shoals, because the power of the current does a good job at flushing out the debris that is able to settle in other areas, keeping the hole deep. Lastly, deeper water is usually on the outside bend of the river where the water is able to, over time, undercut the bank. Below is a diagram showing these likely deep areas of a river.
The diagram shows a typical piedmont river with shoals on it. Notice where the deeper holes are located and where the kayaks are positioned in relation to them. The kayaks are in the best possible locations to fish the deeper water without disturbing the prime big bass locations. It is very important when targeting big fish that you fish the area and then float over it. More often than not you can catch smaller fish by casting back upstream after floating over an area, but the bigger fish will wait until things settle back down to feed.
In the second diagram you will see why many of the kayaks are placed in positions that are very close to the river banks. Even though it is not always best to bring your bait upstream in the river (because fish are usually facing upstream looking for things to flow downstream to them), in some slower areas of the river it is a very productive tactic. Likewise, in the slower water fish are not always facing upstream as much, but are rather just tucked in tight to the structure they are holding on and facing out where they can see potential meals. Will your lure be one of those meals? Let’s hope so.
Some people are surprised I break the conventional rule of casting downstream cross-stream but I feel it is more important to keep my lure in the most productive and likely strike area as long as possible. You see, positioning the kayak in the middle of the river, casting to the bank, and then retrieving the lure straight back only pulls the lure out away from the primmest big fish strike zones. My philosophy to river bass fishing is very similar to hunting, in the fact that I am hunting down the prime areas of the river and then working them extensively with several different types of lures. Of course, if you don’t know what to look for you will be lost and spend more of your time fishing unproductive water. Do your homework and learn from every fish you catch. Take note of where it was caught and observe why it was there. Then, try and duplicate those areas by finding similar looking spots. Over time I am sure you too will begin to read the matrix of the river and figure out where those big bass haunts are!
One situation where working your lure upstream parallel to the bank is not going to work is when you come to a blowdown, which typically lay at a downstream 45 degree angle downstream. To work a jig or soft plastic bait through the tree where it will be most effective, and least likely to get hung up, you will need to have your boat positioned on the end of it and off of the bank, as shown in the diagram below.
Like every tips and tactics article I write, there are no 100% hard and fast rules for river bass. That is what makes them so challenging, elusive and a joy to pursue. However, there are some rules that our finned friends tend to live by 90% of the time and if we can grasp those we will see results on the river. The deep water rule is one of these rules to big fish. As far as those 10% of exceptions go, they are listed below.
Big bass will be in shallow water in any of the following circumstances:
1. It is either dawn or dusk and they are very shallow using the low light conditions to stay camouflaged from their prey.
2. There is a large piece of structure that has a big, well shaded area for the big fish to hide under and use as an ambush point. Usually this is a severely undercut rock, big log or thick grass such as hydrilla or even lilly pads.
3. There is very swift whitewater and the big bass are using the turbulence and chaos underwater as their camouflage.
Aside from those three rules, it is almost a certainty that you will find the bigger fish in the deeper water. Even when you do catch them in the shallower water they most always come from the deeper water to get it. Make sure and have a good pair of polarized glasses so that you can spot the deeper water areas a little easier. I wear mine even when it is not sunny just so I can stand and see the deep holes. Standing is also another very big advantage to seeking out the deeper holes. If you can learn to stand and fish out of your river craft you should try and do so in order to gain this advantage on the big bass. Often times I find myself on the river with fishing partners and witness their casts going into three inches of water, with no deep water or structure in sight. The better you get at spotting the likely big fish locations, the more you will paddle through the unproductive water and hopefully spend the majority of your time casting into prime hawg holes! And, if all goes to plan, you’ll be catching some superpigbeasts real soon and more often!
Tight lines and I hope you get towed by a big one!