Local flow getting boring? Want to branch out and explore some new water? We’ve all been there, and trying to locate some new productive water is really a fun game within the game. In fact, I spent about three years of my life exploring every single river, creek, ditch and trickle that held shoal bass. I struck out many many times when searching for them, but when I hit pay dirt and caught a shoalie in a new place, there was no better feeling. That has to be one of my favorite chapters of my life, because it reminded me of my childhood days where I used to explore the creek behind my house. The only difference was that this time I was exploring drainage’s that spanned hundreds of miles and three states. Exploring new water is what brings that kid out in all of us and keeps the sport of river kayak fishing new and fresh each time. I know I will never get bored of this pastime because there is always something new to see and explore. It was during those three years of exploratory shoal bass trips that I started to figure out the similarities in the good stretches of water, and conversely what the bad sections shared. To this day I can now take a look over any bridge and, just with a simple general knowledge of the river and land upstream, I can tell if that section is likely to be productive or not. There many clues that river bassers can use to determine whether a section is fertile. Here is my list of top 5 things to look for when scouting new water.
1. Number one is actually not something you want to see, but something you hope not to see – silt! There are exceptions to every rule and the exception to this rule is any coastal plain river because they will naturally have sand. So, if you are exploring a coastal plain river this may not apply, although excess sand in those rivers is still a big negative. You would hope to see more cypress stumps and plant life in those rivers and sand only on the inside bends of the river. Back to the typical piedmont or mountain rivers, silt is very suffocating to the plant life because it buries all the rock and wood and other substantial objects that plant life (microscopic and visible) can grow on. Sand, which is basically all silt is, has no substantial nutrient value so when it covers up the bottom of the river it can put a stop to photosynthesis.
When photosynthesis is halted, alga and plant life growth stopped and the smaller organisms lack something to feed on and will die. Without the smallest form of animal life alive, there is a gap in the food chain. If the small fish and crustaceans have nothing to feed on then their population will be low, which means the food supply for the bigger fish will be low. If this occurs it is very unlikely the river will have high numbers of bass and the probability of bigger fish also decreases. Silt can come from various sources including farms, construction and general urban runoff from impermeable surfaces.
2. Dams, yes dams, are a positive for many rivers. I know most of us river runners are usually negative in our thoughts towards dams, and we often despise them and how much beautiful free flowing water they have buried in H2o. However, they are the most effective silt stopper we have. And, based on how much construction is increasing our country we have the dams to actually thank for at least sparing some very good water. Of course, some smaller impoundments would have done the same thing for the rivers but then we wouldn’t have water, power and recreation for our citizens and yada yada I digress. The point is that the river below a dam will likely not have much silt for many many river miles downstream and that may be a good thing for fishing.
There are several types of dams but it really doesn’t matter what kind of dam it is because they will all hold back silt and keep the river in a healthier state (even though power generation dams may make it difficult for plant life to grow for many miles downstream due to the fluctuation in water releases – but better that then have a silt filled river). However, just because there is not a dam does not mean there is silt in a river. Many free flowing rivers do not have dams and have little silt and very big fish. It all depends on the terrain in the river drainage and how that land is being cultivated. If there is no construction or it is not being farmed, then the river system should be just fine as far as silt goes. Likewise, just because there is a dam does not mean the following 50 miles of a river will be good, but if you find several other of the factors listed in this article, then it might very well be a gem.
3. Freshwater clams and mussels are something you may want to keep an eye out for in a river. These mollusks are interesting creatures because what they do is actually filter the water making it cleaner and clearer, helping sunlight penetrate deeper beneath the surface which spurs on the very important photosynthesis process. In many of our nation’s rivers silt will bury and also suffocate these natural freshwater filters. They are typically found in the swifter sections of rivers living amongst a mixture of cobble, gravel and sand. Unfortunately many of the hundreds of species of mussels and clams are endangered or extinct due to the impact humans have had on rivers. We have dredged their prime habitat. We have polluted their water with various chemicals and pollutants that have killed them. Man has not been able to control the amount of silt that flows into our rivers and that has suffocated these mollusks and their preferred habitat. Mussels and clams are not like fish who can always swim to a location with better habitat. In fact, the only way they move is when they are juveniles, where they attach to fish. They are born with a substance that adheres to fish and other aquatic animals. Then, they grab onto a host and eventually a cyst is formed and the mussel falls off into its new habitat. Keep a lookout on the banks or rocks in the middle of the river where you may just see piled up remains of mussel shells, when a river otter forgets to clean up after his meal! Just the site of these magnificent creatures is yet another clue to anglers that the river section is currently healthy and likely to have decent fishing.
5. Other animals besides fish! The best fishing locations I have ever been to have had numerous other species of animals, both carnivorous and herbivores. Some of my favorite rivers to fish have had the best angler in the animal kingdom soaring above the landscape – the bald eagle. Bald eagles predominately feed on fish and it is usually a good sign if you see them in the area. Aside from bald eagles there are numerous other animals that, when spotted, can mean you are on a potentially good stretch of river. Otters, beavers, muskrats, raccoons, snakes, turtles, alligators, frogs, hawks, heron and other fish eating birds are all very positive signs. Of course, there will likely be many of these creatures on most stretches of river but the key is to compare the density of them to each section.
Most all of these indicators tie into one another, but the key is to be able to spot sections of river that have at least three or four of them. So, look up and around occasionally and observe the entire habitat of the river you are in and you may learn something about the river that can help you make an informed decision on whether or not you’ll be back again. I have a pretty good feeling that if you find a section of river that has many of these factors, you’ll be catching some fish, and hopefully some that have shoulders!