By Marc Rogers
Bass Fishing in Moving Water
Anglers that regularly fish in bodies of water lacking in current often struggle when fishing in rivers and creeks. Rivers and creeks have constant current flow and create a continuously changing environment for the fish that inhabit them. Seasonal rains raise the water level and the rising water washes in new cover while moving existing cover. In addition, high water levels cause channels to change often filling in deep-water areas with gravel and mud while creating new deep-water areas behind recently added cover like boulders and downed trees.
Most often the bigger fish in rivers and creeks will reside in the deep holes. However, at times the larger bass will frequent shallow areas to feed. Most often fish hold near the beginning of the deeper areas where water leaving the shallow areas supply them with an abundance of food. Baitfish and crayfish will be washed into the deeper water and become easy prey for feeding bass. Another advantage for feeding bass holding in these transition areas is they do not have to fight the faster current in the shallow water.
Turns in the streams produce two types of areas in close proximity to each other. The inside of a turn generally form shallow water areas while the outside turn will create an area of deeper water. The water flowing against the outside stream bank washes out the bottom composition and deposits trees and root wads. Outside turns are ideal for bass to take up residence because of the addition of cover they have to hide in create current breaks. Boulders also act as current breaks in the deep water areas and allow bass to position behind them staying out of the current and within easy striking distance of prey being washed past their position. The shallow areas located on the inside turns is where the food sources originate.
Current breaks can be found throughout rivers and creeks. Any large object will cause an eddy current to form on the back side of it. Eddy currents are small areas where the water travels over the top of an object and actually flows upstream after passing over the top of these objects. Even in shallow water bass can be found positioned on the backside of objects that form eddy currents.
Larger rivers often have sloughs and backwater areas that hold fish as long as water depths are sustained by the river. Most often largemouth bass prefer these areas but smallmouth bass do reside in both sloughs and backwater environments. Many times anglers not comfortable with fishing in current will choose these areas of non-moving water because the waters are similar to reservoirs. At times the non-current areas can be productive but anglers are missing a great opportunity if they ignore the main channels of rivers and creeks.
When streams narrow they form chutes which cause water to flow faster. Chutes generally form directly downstream from slower moving, deep-water, and end in another deep-water area. Chutes concentrate prey entering the next deep-water area and are prime feeding spots for bass. Baitfish and crayfish that venture to close to the end of a deep pool are often washed through the chute.
Bass spend most of their lives facing upstream for two reasons. First, it makes holding in one position possible while fighting the current. Second, they are in position to catch prey as it flow past them. Most of the time prey is brought to the bass with the current. Bass seldom chase prey in a river or creek unless they reside in the slower moving areas like sloughs and backwater. They learn quickly to use the current to their advantage instead of spending a lifetime fighting it.
When fishing rivers and creeks the most successful anglers use lures that match the available food sources. Small crayfish colored crankbaits are ideal because they dig into the gravel on the bottom imitating a crayfish. Small spinnerbaits in shad colors are good at matching the look and movement of baitfish. Grubs also match the swimming action of baitfish. Soft-plastic crayfish imitators are productive when presented in the slower moving water or allowed to wash into the deeper holes on a semi-tight line. Little action needs to be added by anglers because the current moves the bait in a more natural fashion the trying to add action using rod movement.
Topwater action is best early and late in the day. However, many streams are not extremely deep and many do not have water of ten-feet deep. Always consider topwater lures because there is nothing like a stream smallmouth bass exploding through the surface in pursuit of a lure.
Regardless of the lures chosen anglers are advised to downsize lures. Rivers and creeks have an abundance of smaller bass that prefer a smaller lure. In addition, most of the available prey is smaller than the shad and crayfish that live in reservoirs.
Anglers choosing to use live bait are far better off obtaining it from the stream they are going to fish. The bass are already accustomed to the bait. Bait taken from the stream also has a fear of being eaten and is livelier on a hook. In addition, bait that escapes can breed causing an issue of introducing non-native species into the stream.
Rivers and creeks can be a challenge for anglers who spend most of their fishing time in reservoirs, lakes and ponds. However, simply paying attention to what the current is telling about the environment below the surface will pay big dividends to anglers willing to learn.