How to Catch River
A spinnerbait did the trick on this lunker
during the early part of summer.
Largemouth bass are the most pursued gamefish
in North America, and in Georgia no other species approaches the bucketmouth in
popularity. Largemouth bass are can be found just about anywhere fresh water
exists, and they are willing biters, yet still challenging to find and catch.
The largemouth's trademarks are ferocious strikes, furious fighting ability, and
a penchant for going airborne. These are the primary reasons our reservoirs are
filled with bass boats, and the bass themselves have grown more wary and
difficult to catch over the years.
Rather than fish in crowded water for
educated bass, I prefer fishing in unpressured water for dumb bass. If you've
ever fished a major Georgia reservoir on a spring or summer weekend, you know
what it's like waiting in line at the boat ramp for the privilege of dodging
other bass boats and pleasure boats all day. I've yet to encounter a water skier
on a river, and rarely see another fisherman on most river trips. Many river
bass have never seen a fishing lure, while many reservoir bass can tell you what
was on sale this week at Bass Pro Shops. During most seasons, river bass are
easier to find than bass in reservoirs, and the fish are almost always on the
banks- no need to drag a Carolina-rig in twenty feet of water. Most bass
fishermen enjoy being in a wilderness setting, and the wildlife one encounters
on a float trip is markedly different than the wildlife seen on Lake Lanier on
any given Saturday, though I'm not sure which is wilder! Besides, my old canoe
cost at least $20,000 less than a new bass boat.
In many respects, largemouths that live in
moving water are a different species than reservoir or lake fish. River bass are
extremely opportunistic feeders, largely relying on the current to sweep them
food. They must make snap decisions or lose their chance at a meal, making them
more aggressive than reservoir bass. River largemouths look different from lake
bass- they are leaner and in much better shape from spending their lives in
current. The superior athleticism of river bass will become obvious the first
time you hook one. Pound for pound, river fish fight harder and jump higher than
the ones most of us are used to catching. Except in south Georgia, river bass
rarely reach trophy proportions because their environment prohibits them from
growing overly fat.
Yet this is still micropterus salmoides we
are chasing, and stream largemouths have the same basic habitat requirements as
their lake-bound brethren- food, cover, and nearby deep water. These
requirements are exactly the reason river largemouths are easier to locate than
lake fish. Much of the water in any river will be too shallow or not hold
suitable cover for old mossyback. This is almost always evident to the naked
eye, and the ability to immediately eliminate unproductive water is a distinct
advantage for the river bass fisherman.
The same lures that work in reservoirs or
ponds will catch river bass. Topwater lures, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, worms,
and jigs will all catch river bass in the appropriate conditions. Whatever you
catch them on in Lake Oconee will work in any other river in the state. Rivers
and creeks in the northern third of the state will generally yield fewer
bigmouths than in middle or south Georgia, since spotted bass dominate many of
those waters. Wherever you fish for largemouth bass, use the following
suggestions to catch them in any season of the year.
Springtime is widely regarded as the best time of year to catch most species of
fish. Bass and crappie move to the banks in reservoirs and whites, hybrids, and
stripers make their annual upstream spawning runs. Yet spring can be one of the
most difficult times of the year to catch river largemouths. The biggest
obstacle to catching springtime river bass is usually high, muddy water. The
state of Georgia receives most of it's rainfall from February through April,
raising river levels and increasing turbity. Water in most rivers warms more
slowly than in lakes, and the bass can be inactive in rivers while action is hot
in nearby lakes.
In high water conditions,
boat control really becomes difficult, making it tough to work likely spots.
High, stained, and cool water can make for tough fishing. The fish are there,
however, and spring is perhaps the best season in which to catch really big
river largemouths. Bass will move into spawning areas once water temperatures
rise into the low 60's, which can be as early as March in south Georgia or as
late as May further north. Largemouths prefer to spawn on hard bottoms in one to
three feet of water. Look for eddies and other places where trees or boulders
block the current. Creek mouths are also a good bet. Largemouths also prefer to
have deep water nearby, so don't expect to catch them in areas where all the
water is a foot deep. In south Georgia, many rivers connect to sloughs and oxbow
lakes during the spring, and these areas can produce the hottest action and the
biggest bass of the year.
fall fishing can be fantastic. This bass came up for a jointed Rapala on the
low, clear Alcovy River.
Prior to and during
the spawn, anglers need to think slooow. Suspending jerkbaits, slow-rolled
spinnerbaits, plastic lizards, and jig-n-pigs work well this time of year.
Sometimes spawning bass will only hit lures that crawl into their beds, and bass
beds can be tough to find in muddy water. Once water temperatures have reached
the upper 60's and stayed there for a week or two, most bass will have completed
spawning. If you ever have a day when you catch a lot of small bass in shallow
water, but no big ones, it probably means the females have laid their eggs and
retreated to deeper water. You are catching the males that are guarding the
A week or two after the spawn is
when things really pick up. Water levels have normally dropped and streams are
running clearer and warmer, and the bass are through procreating and turn to the
business of eating. This is spinnerbait season, and it normally occurs anywhere
from April through June depending on the weather and latitude. I prefer to fish
a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce white/chartreuse tandem spinnerbait during the post-spawn,
using a medium retrieve and running it by as much woody cover as possible.
Deeper water near prime spawning areas will hold hungry bass as long as the
current isn't too strong and cover is adequate. South Georgia river fishermen
can have success with spinnerbaits and minnow-imitating jerkbaits in the cuts
that connect sloughs to the main channel. While springtime fishing can be tough
early on, the month following the spawn can be the easiest time of the year to
catch river bass.
The summer months are the easiest time of the year to locate river bass. River
levels have normally dropped by now, and the water will be warm and clear (a
relative term- some of our rivers never get all that clear). In south Georgia,
most bass move from the backwaters to the main river channel once the spawn is
complete and water levels begin falling. During the summer, bass will hold in
deep water with plenty of cover. Largemouths will not tolerate much
current, so eddies, pools, and deep outside river bends are all prime summer
haunts. Summer conditions make finding largemouths easy this time of year
because most of the water will be too shallow, lack cover, or have too much
current. Eliminating unproductive water is easy during the dog days of
Now that you know where the bass
are, you simply have to catch them. It ought to be easy, since largemouth bass
(being cold-blooded) must eat more during the summer than at any other time of
the year. During the summer, however, there is more prey available for bass to
eat than at any other time of the year. Rivers literally abound with life during
the summer, and bass can afford to be a little picky about when and what they
Virtually any lure can work
during the summer months, but Texas-rigged plastic worms are probably the surest
bet on most bodies of water simply because bass will eat them even if they're
not hungry. The Rapala broken-back is tough to beat also, as even inactive bass
often can't resist that seductive twist and wiggle. Buzzbaits tend to work well
also, often drawing reflex strikes even in the middle of the hottest days.
Another beautiful thing about river fishing is that the bass often will hit
topwater lures all day long, rather than just early and late. River bass are
rarely located in over six feet of water, normally have plenty of shade, and the
water temperatures never get oppressively hot. Yes, there are days when you have
to methodically work deep tangles to draw a strike, but there are just as many
days in which just about anything works.
Around October, the nights start getting cooler and so do the rivers. Georgia's
rivers and streams are normally still low and relatively clear this time of
year, and bass tend to stay in their summertime haunts until morning frosts
become consistent, which is normally in November to December. While largemouths
tend to stay in the same areas, their feeding patterns change a good deal as the
water cools. As their metabolisms slow, bass eat less and are often unwilling to
chase fast-moving lures.
fall, bass anglers need to slow down again, reverting to suspending jerkbaits,
spinnerbaits fished near the bottom, plastic worms, and jigs. Some river
fishermen use oversize lures in the fall, since the forage fish have grown a bit
larger since the summer, but I generally use the same lure sizes or even
downsize a bit, since the bass may not be as hungry and the water visibility is
normally quite good. On especially warm fall days, largemouths will bust surface
baits, and topwater lures can be especially effective during the warmest part of
the day. Overall, the fall is an excellent time to catch river bass because,
like summer, we know where to find them. The bass are simply not quite as
active, and thus a little harder to catch.
When water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, river bass become extremely hard
to catch. They retreat to the deepest, slowest holes in the river and rarely
eat. Many rivers and streams in Georgia have small dams on them. These dams back
up the water, forming small lakes with deep water and almost no current. On some
rivers, large shoals have the same effect. A lot of river bass spend the winter
in these areas. They are tough to catch, but a few can be had on small soft
plastics, jig-n-pigs, and curlytail grubs crawled along the bottom.
Every winter, it seems, we have at least one extended warm spell where
temperatures reach the 60's for three or four straight days. During these times,
it is possible to load the boat with river largemouths. While a warm spell may
only move water temperatures a few degrees, it gets the bass moving, and they
will leave the depths and come to the banks. The strikes are still light, but
bass will hit slow-rolled spinnerbaits and small soft plastics like crazy.
Normally, I try to avoid the flat, slow, deep sections like this because the
fish could be anywhere, but during warm winter afternoons, this is where the
Just because a body of water is too small to float fish does not mean there are
no largemouths worth catching. Just about every freshwater creek in the state
has largemouth bass in it somewhere. Some of my most rewarding days on the water
have been spent wading creeks for bass. The fish behave seasonally exactly as
bass do on rivers, except everything is on a smaller scale. The deep holes won't
usually be as deep and the bass are rarely all that big. I normally downsize my
lures and tackle, but fish exactly the same way. There is a creek near my house
that you can spit across, and bass regularly come out of it weighing close to
two pounds. I bet there is a similar spot in your neighborhood!
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
important skill any river bass fisherman needs is the ability to put a lure
where he or she wants it to go. Bad casts are rarely rewarded on the river. I
prefer medium spinning gear (it enables the angler to skip lures under trees),
but if you are better with a baitcaster, use it. Strong line is also a must.
Don't expect to land many bass over a pound if you insist on using 4 pound test
line. River bass almost always live in places where they can get you in trouble!
For boat fishermen, boat control is paramount. Being able to paddle a canoe with
one hand can really come in handy, and sometimes it's best to tie up to a tree,
anchor, or even use a drag chain. Don't be afraid to get wet, either. Wading is
by far the most effective way of thoroughly working cover, and on tough days,
thoroughly working every good hole can mean the difference between a good day
and getting skunked!