River Fishing Tips & Tricks

July 18, 2022

Mountaineer News

The Outdoor Specialists

Rivers require a few different techniques and tactics in order to be successful. Today we're sharing several tips & tricks that are mainly geared toward smaller rivers (like here in Buckhannon), but are applicable to larger rivers as well.

1) Understanding current river conditions is crucial to river fishing success

River conditions change constantly. A rain shower many miles away may have the river high, dirty, and fast a few days later in another location. These changing conditions will affect fish locations and behavior. There are a few rules that apply to most river fishing situations. Understanding these conditions is first on the list of 11 effective river fishing tips and techniques.

When the water is low and clear, fish will be found in the deeper sections of rivers. These spots will be the coolest while offering safety from predators. Small lures and light lines will usually be needed. Conversely, when the water is high, fast, and dirty, fish will try and find seams out of the main current. This is often a poor, and even dangerous, time to fish. Maybe best to fish elsewhere under these conditions.

2) Match the tackle to species and river conditions

Many anglers make the mistake of fishing with tackle that is too heavy, especially in smaller rivers. River fish are often of modest size. They also live in clear, shallow water. In most cases, light or even ultralight tackle will drastically increase success. A 6′ to 7′ fast action rod with 1000 series reel is a good choice. Capt Jim likes 4 lb monofilament line in most cases.

3) Outside bends are prime river fishing spots

If there is one consistent in river fishing, it is that outside bends are often the best spots. It is third on the list of 11 effective river fishing tips and techniques. The current will gouge out a deep hole, often creating an undercut bank. Also, these areas often collect debris and other fish-holding cover. This is especially true when water levels are down and fish congregate in the deeper areas.

Anchoring up-current and floating a bait back to the cover is an effective presentation. Anglers who prefer to fish with lures will do well with a jig and soft plastic body. Snags will occur, it is part of the game. Concentrating on these high percentage spots will pay off. Rivers that wind will have more of these spots than rivers with long, straight stretches.

4) River fish prefer edges

River fish will often be found on “edges”. These can be current breaks, rocky ledges, eddies behind rocks and fallen trees, water color changes, and steep drop offs. Since current is the main factor in river fishing, predator fish will hold on these edges as they ambush prey. Any change or piece of structure that offers fish a chance to feed while expending as little energy as possible may hold fish.

5) Safety first when river fishing

Safety first is next on the list of 11 river fishing tips. Rivers can be dangerous! Water levels can increase drastically, especially on tailwater rivers where dame can open. The same applies to heavy rains up-river, the water can rise surprisingly quickly. Anglers in boats need to be very careful when running and anchoring in fast current. Wading anglers need to be very careful as well. Wearing a PFD is a good idea in larger rivers.

6) Lures and baits should be worked across the current

In most cases, anglers fishing artificial lures (and flies) will do best by casting straight across the river and work it back in as it moves downstream. Takes often occur as the line gets tight and “swings” with the current. This is a very effective presentation. Spinners and spoons are particularly effective taking this approach. A slow, steady retrieve is usually best.

7) Wading anglers should move upstream

Anglers wading in rivers, particularly smaller rivers, should move upstream as they fish. Normal walking in the water will stir up the bottom, causing this churned up water to move downstream. It is better to wade and fish in the cleaner water upstream. Also, most often, fish are facing into the current, especially trout. Wading upstream is not only more stealthy, it results in a better presentation.

8) Smaller lures are better for river fishing

In most cases, anglers river fishing will do best with tackle that is on the lighter side. This applies to lures as well. The same lures that produce bass and other species will do fine in rivers, but in scaled-down versions. 1/8 ounce jigs, spoons, and spinners are a good all round size. Plugs around 3” are effective as well. These lighter lures will hang up less often as well.

9) Tailwaters are excellent places to fish

Tailwaters are perhaps the best river fishing spots anywhere! A tailwater in the section of river below a dam. The dam controls the flow and often the temperature of the water.

By controlling these factors, the conditions can be kept as optimum as possible. This is especially true for trout, which are fussier when it comes to conditions. Some of the best trout fisheries in the country are tailwaters. However, other species including catfish, striped bass, smallmouth bass, and more will be found in these areas.

10) Different species will hold in different river locations

Another river fishing tip to share is that different species will hold in different river locations. This is important to understand, depending on the quarry. Trout species will be found in the faster moving water in riffles and at the heads and tails of pools. Smallmouth bass like a little current, but not as much as trout. Catfish will usually prefer the deeper, slower moving pools.

11) Do not overlook small rivers

Anglers often overlook smaller rivers. It is last on the list of 11 effective river fishing tips and techniques. Smaller rivers usually get less fishing pressure, are safer to fish, can be easily accessed, and fish are easier to locate. They fish can be smaller, but the occasional lunker can certainly be found. Light tackle is best. Floating a small river in a canoe or kayak is very relaxing as well.

Next week we'll be exploring where different species of fish hold in different river locations. Stay tuned...