Sometimes when people see all the pictures of big bass on RiverBassin.com, they think that river bassin’ is easy and better fishing than their local reservoir, small community lake or farm pond. Truth is, sometimes it can be, and sometimes it is brutally tough, but either way the effort it takes to do it can be physically demanding. The work involved is never mentioned or spoke of through all the nice pictures and it deserves to be. River bassin’ has a lot to do with what suits your personality, because the truth about river bassin’ is that it can be very time consuming and exhausting. Hooking a bass boat to the truck and driving it to the launch is easy. Cranking up the outboard and driving to wherever you want to go on a lake is physically easy. There isn’t too much physical labor involved in traditional boat fishing. River fishing, if done from a boat ramp and traditional boat or jon boat can be similar. However, if you are fishing via a paddle-powered watercraft and putting in at bridges, power line roads, and places where you have to carry your kayak over 1/4 of a mile then you know that this sport is no joke on the human body.
Each person must make a mental choice, is the river bassin’ experience worth the physical effort? To most people it is not, but to a rare sick breed (including me) it is worth it and there is nowhere else we would rather be. To catch fish like the ones I have been blessed with, the work does not begin or end at the put in. Nope, the work is mostly done on the river while paddling for proper boat position non-stop. You’ll hear Bassmaster pros talking about boat positioning a lot. Bringing their lure across a certain strike zone from the proper angle is crucial. They simply put their foot on a trolling motor and place their boat in that perfect position. If they ever get out of position due to wind or slight currents, they just put the foot back down and they’re back in no time. For paddle powered river fisherman it is a non-stop physical paddling experience – if you want to be in the best possible position for each cast. You certainly don’t have to work that hard and can just sort of float along and paddle only when you must, but to have the best chance at catching more fish and bigger fish it’s going to take some work. So, are you willing to put in the work and effort? If not, is simply floating and casting, and then accessing rivers at easy locations worth the effort for you? It may be and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it is just a choice that has to be made by each of us at some point. Certainly our ages, physical condition, family, time commitments and watercraft all play factors on what we are able to do on the river.
It isn’t often you hear people talk about the work, effort and especially the danger involved in this sport. I have friends that have nearly died on the river from not being prepared. They didn’t properly scout out the section of river and it had several class II and a major class III rapid on it. They tried to run the rapid in a canoe at a high water level, and the canoe became swamped with water and they turned over. Oh, and did I mention it was February and the water was in the low 50’s? Having your 98.6 degree body suddenly thrown into 50 degree water can cause you to go into shock. Your muscles will tighten up and you will begin struggling to breathe and can drown. Fortunately for my friend they made it to an island and hiked out of the river, leaving their canoe and belongings to the river gods. At least they had their lives and barely made it back to their car alive before hypothermia set in.
One of the first river trips I planned was an absolute nightmare. I was very ignorant and had no idea or respect of what rivers can do. I didn’t even have a kayak yet but figured my little BassHunter boat could go anywhere with a trolling motor and a couple guys with paddles. I simply looked at a map and saw a bridge and then downstream saw another bridge and thought, “this looks good.” I never measured the distance or bother to research what was in between the two bridges either. I simply saw a beautiful, calm river at one bridge and a similar scene at the other. Let me tell you something, I didn’t get where I am today by just reading message boards and learning how to do this stuff the proper way from other people. I learned the hard way many times and have been fortunate to get through every tough situation I put myself and river partners in. It has made me tougher and more confident that I can take on a number of situations to find those unpressured river bass, but still I never underestimate the power of the river.
Getting back to the story, what lied between the two bridges on that trip was a long class III rapid about a half mile below the bridge, followed by a river that split up into numerous little creeks that were barely as wide as the BassHunter. After lowering the boat down the rapid we thought we were in the clear until the river began splitting up. Floating down creeks a little wider than your boat is no problem if it is like one of those lazy rivers at a water theme park, but this is the real wilderness where there are fallen trees across the creek every several yards. After a couple hours of dragging the boat over trees and seemingly no end in sight to this maze, my buddy began to discuss the possibilities of spending the night out in the swamp. We hadn’t brought much food or water and didn’t even put in the river until 1pm or so. Light was fading and this was not looking good. I just kept dragging that boat over log after log determined to get out and not spend the night in the woods, wet and cold. The more I think about this trip, the more I realize we did every single thing wrong. The river was very muddy and we should never have put in to begin with because it was too muddy to realistically catch any fish, even though I did catch one little redeye on my first cast, which made us think it was going to be a good day. All we could do was pray to God that He help us make it out of this situation and keep positive, so that’s what we did. Finally, just before dark we met up with some of the other river channels and could get back in the boat and run the trolling motor wide open down the river. It was almost dark and we came around a bend to finally see our take out. Needless to say, we were relieved. But, the adventure did not end there. I contacted my parents and they happened to have the only few pictures I thought to take on that trip. Here is Dale standing in one of these little creeks we had to drag our boat through. I wish I would have taken some pictures of the real bad areas.
In pulling our truck up to load the boat my friend, Dale, decides to go through the big mud hole instead of around it. Well, what may seem like a shallow mud hole may just be a 3ft deep mud hole. Yes, we got stuck, even with 4wd. We began to walk down the gravel road to find some help. It was a ways until we started to see a few small trailors and houses, some of which were smothered with no trespassing and beware of dog signs. Combine that with the overkill over rebel flags and for a couple young guys it was a little intimidating to go knock on someone’s door. We just kept walking until we saw a house that looked inviting but our options were few. At one point one of these dogs that the sign had warned us to “beware of” came running out and began sizing us up. We just stayed calm and attempted to keep the same walking pace as we passed by. I suppose the size of the large black dog and being startled when it erupted in barking made me react by taking off in dead sprint. You see, I knew I was just faster than my friend and with a head start, he would be the caught by the dog first…hehehe. Sure enough, I ran, the dog started to run, and you better believe I have never seen my buddy Dale take off and run as fast as he did! Fortunately the dog gave up after we got out of his territory. We now were standing in front of a house where a man came out and confronted us about why we were there. He understood our situation and offered to tow us out of the mudhole that has apparently claimed several other visitors to that area. Finally, after dark, we were on our way back home. That trip taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons.
- Research the section of river besides just looking at a road map. Check river terrain and how many miles you are going. Try to not tackle more than 6 or 7 in one day.
- Make sure you then have the proper watercraft to handle it.
- Check river gauges to see how high or low the river is
- Put in the river before noon.
- Pack a simple first aid kit, extra clothes, food and something to start a fire with.
- Bring the cell phone on the river in a waterproof container in case you do need to use it.
- Go around the big mud hole when possible.
- When it says beware of dog, seriously beware of dog and put on your PF Flyers if you are going to try and outrun it.
The truth about river fishing is that it is a lot of work, unpredictable and somewhat dangerous because you are at the mercy of a powerful force – the river. All you can do is be as prepared as possible if this is something that you are into doing or are looking to get into. When all things work out correctly, it can be a unique fishing experience that is a lot of fun for all.
Be safe out there guys,