Smallmouth summers in shallow rivers
During the transition from late summer to fall, many anglers begin to switch from fishing to football as the fishing season begins to wind down. This is often due to the slow motion of the lakes during the hottest days of the year. Although lakes can be challenging during this time, rivers with fast-moving waters can be a great place to get off the beaten track and catch plenty of fish.
One of my favorite places to hunt these river fish is in some of our local rivers here in Knoxville, Tennessee. These rivers are full of smallmouth and can be an absolute blast for fishing when the main lake is slow. Although there are plenty of fish in these bodies of water, getting them can be difficult without a basic understanding of where to fish, reading the water level, and choosing the right bait.
Where do you fish?
Understanding where to fish is arguably the most important part of a successful day on the water. This is especially true of the Smallmouth River. There are often days when you only get bitten in certain areas during certain times, so it’s important to understand when those biting windows open. At first, I like to hunt in rivers with shallow water, running water and lots of cover. This is the general recipe for a river with a ton of bass.
I also like to look for river systems that historically have high quality bass. When exploring a new river system, I like to do some research before it goes unseen. Once you locate a river system with quality fish, you must then understand when and where they like to feed. This is where understanding the water level becomes critical.
Understanding when the fish are feeding based on the water level is crucial to having a productive day in these types of river systems. This is especially true of our local smallmouth rivers. I’ve had many days where fish only eat at a certain water level. Water levels can fluctuate every minute depending on which river you are in, especially if it is controlled by a dam. Dams often release generation schedules showing when and how much water they will release on any given day. This is a great way to plan your trip based on productive water levels.
In my local small fishery, it seems that the fish tend to bite better as the water level changes. This causes the fish to reposition on the lid due to the change in water level. This can often set the fish up to feed resulting in more bites. This applies to the rise and fall of the water level. Once you set your preferred water level, you can drift with the current and maintain the same water level all day long. Marking the water level is a great way to always keep fish out, who are only feeding during windows.
What do you catch?
Once you understand what fish prefer in the water level, you can then begin to identify the types of areas they prefer. The three main areas found in my local rivers are shoals, bluff walls, and flats. These are all high rate sites when looking for a big smallmouth bite.
One of my favorite types of cover for fishing in these rivers is the shoal. Shallow waters are great for holding plenty of fish no matter the conditions. It is important to cast your bait into the river from the shallows and let it wash the rocks naturally with the current. My favorite time to fish this type of area is during low water. Low water often forces the fish off the bank and out into the shallows.
Another great area for fishing is a fool’s wall. These are the areas where the current hits hardest. This positions the fish to feed in the fast moving waters. I start on the field by flipping the jig. It is important to flip the jig over the bluff wall and let it wash the rocks with the stream. Fool walls are often better during a change or drop in the water level.
Finally, casters are always a great option for catching small trophies during changing water conditions. This type of cover is great during high or changing waters when the majority of the cover is in the water. During low water conditions most of this cover is on dry land, but during high water the fish are able to push up and hold on to cover which they were not able to before.
Choose the right baits
You can fish for a smallmouth on slews or other baits in rivers, however, a few that have always been fruitful for me are the Ned’s rig, jigs, and slip baits. The most persistent lure of these three is by far Ned’s platform. This bait will catch fish no matter the conditions while still producing some quality bites. This is a great option when fishing during still water conditions or when fish are more reluctant to bite. The Duo Realis Wriggle ND Slim has been a great choice for me lately in the majority of Ned rig applications.
I also prefer to boogie on these types of rivers. The jig provides versatility for different types of body and cover. It also does a great job of staying weed-free when doping through cover in heavy stream. Flipping the jig in shallow seams or along tricky walls is a great way to catch a small trophy when the water is moving. The go-to tool for river fishing is the D&L 1/2 oz. casting tool.
Finally, one of my all-time favorite baits to cast in shallow water areas is the slip bait. This is the most fun bait to cast in these locations, and can often result in some crazy bites. This can be a great option when hunting with the naked eye or targeting any type of shallow cover. In my local river, fish tend to react very positively to slip bait, which leads to a lot of visual following and eating. This is the perfect bait for targeting aggressive bass in shallow water.
How do I enter
Fishing in these rivers can be an absolute joy, especially since you often have it on your own. This is mainly due to the presence of giant rocky shoals which prevent the majority of boats from navigating the river. Besides the dangerous rock formations, many of these rivers have limited boat ramps. This can make these rivers more difficult to access. The three best ways I’ve found to fish these types of rivers are with a jet boat, kayak, or wading. A jet boat is ideal because it allows you to quickly move from one shallow water to another, yet properly fish these rivers regardless of your vessel.
Kayaking is a great way to fish in these rivers because it allows you to fish throughout the bodies of water without the need for a motorized vessel. By launching off a ramp upriver and floating to another location further downriver, you’ll be able to fish a large section of the river without ever starting the engine. Wading is also a very interesting way to catch fish in these river systems. Deepwater fishing allows you to slowly pick out a particular area in a river, often bringing up a few fish that others might have passed too quickly.
Fishing for small fish in shallow rivers provides an ideal way to catch some quality fish during the summer heat. Once you understand the changing water levels, what they eat and when they feed, hunting these river fish can be a very interesting and productive time out on the water. If you’re looking for a new and fun way to catch some smaller, larger fish, shallow river fishing is a great place to start.