By Allen Hamrick
It’s officially summer time, if you haven’t already noticed, and if you’re a river angler looking for lunker bass, the bites are as hard to get as an Uber ride in the Antarctic. In the lakes, bass become slow to bite and finesse fishing is the go to technique but not the rule. The bass go deep, follow their food and look for cooler temperatures to survive. However, on a river this is not necessarily so because river bass act a lot different due to their environment.
It’s a fact that as people we need oxygen to survive, and bass are no different. In the rivers, moving water provides that oxygen and tends to be cooler than still water. Bass are easier to find on rivers because, unlike the lake, the bass do not go great distances or run for Davey Jones’ locker. The water current will determine where you will find them. If you put this knowledge to use, along with proper dinner presentations of your bait, you too can get the most out of your day and not be left with empty tales of the one that got away.
There are a few places you can key in on when out on your boat or kayak that will yield good results. The first one is an outside bend in a river where the water seems to be the strongest. These bends sometime have drop offs and eroded tree roots that are especially a favorite of big small mouths. The fact is the current brings the waiting bass food, kind of like the drive through at McDonalds for humans. The outside bend with a fallen tree is one of the best situations for catching bass, and if it has big rocks, that’s all the better. It is a set up for winning the bass lottery on a river; the perfect storm so to speak. If the cover is here and there, a crank bait or spinner bait is a good go to, but if it is a thick tree top, then go upstream and let a jig or a worm dangle just outside the top and get the bass to come out.
The second situation is a creek that empties into the river. You can’t overlook these spots especially if it drops off into deeper water real quick. Small mouth bass love going up into the creeks to feed on chubs and their favorite meal, a crawdad. Sometimes, when the river is down, they will stay outside the creek waiting to go back in to feed or simply wait for the food to come to them. It is a good idea to fish down the bank from a feeder creek because bass are predators and lay in wait. Once again, they are creatures of habit and don’t veer too far away from those habits on a river.
The third place on a river that sometimes gets overlooked is manmade cover. In the Elk, this would include docks and drain pipes or culverts where the water drains on a drop. The reason for this is that when bugs and critters that bass love to feast on flow out of the pipe, they get confused and can’t get their bearings right and the bass sometimes stir into a feeding frenzy. It is a perfect place for throwing bait like a worm, jig or a top water popper. In the middle of most rivers, there are formations called bars and the bass love to belly up. A bar is basically a hump or a high ridge that drops off into deeper water. When bass are not feeding they may go and hang out on the lower side of the bar and catch stray food. When they start feeding, they move up to the top of the bar to feed, and it can become a frenzy. It is important to note that the bigger bass stay farther down the bar to catch the leftovers. A crank bait or top water lure is effective here, but when the action slows down, a worm is the go to on a Carolina rig. On the Elk River there are more than enough opportunities for big small mouths, and these are just some of the points to remember when going for the big bass or bucket mouths. There are a host of lures to choose from, but on the river, there are still just a few that will work on a daily basis.
On the surface, small mouths feed on mayflies, grasshoppers, and other types of baitfish, so fishing top water baits like the Heddon tiny torpedo, as well as other types of poppers, are a good choice. The food of choice for big small mouths are crawdads and big worms; cast these when they are in the deeper eddies, undercut banks and on deep cover. Don’t overlook all the debris in the Elk, especially big tires, as bass love to adapt to them.
Remember, if you’re looking to hook a lunker smallmouth, reading the river is the key to getting them hooked. If you want a break away from the rat race, a weekend on the Elk River fishing for smallmouth where the traffic is at a minimum is a good place to start. So, get out and cast a line.