How to Fish For a Smallmouth Bass in Rivers

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Smallmouth bass fishing in rivers is a popular activity among anglers, particularly during the summer. However, water in motion can be hostile, and strong currents can be a problem. This article will illustrate the most effective methods for fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers.

How to Fish For Smallmouth Bass in Rivers

Fishing for smallmouths in rivers is interestingly similar to fishing for trout; the overall strategy is identical to trout fishing, and both species are attracted to similar baits. As an angler, when targeting smallmouth in rivers, you have to pay attention to two primary factors:

  • Currents
  • River Surface
A Smallmouth bass fish in a river bed


Typically, currents in the ocean and rivers control temperature balance and manage oxygen flow for aquatic creatures. However, they also play a critical role in determining fish routes and knowing the location of fish, including this species.

The current can also influence a fish’s behavior or setup. During the spawning season in late winter and late spring, for instance, bass, walleye, and salmon typically swim against the current to breed their eggs. In addition, currents in a river or ocean provide food for all fish species.

Therefore, when fishing in rivers, it is essential to cast upstream and retrieve your bait with the current. You can take advantage of how smallmouth utilizes current by allowing the current and current breaks to deliver your bait naturally to them.

River Surface

River Surfaces tend to be ignored by the majority of anglers. However, they reveal a surprising amount of what lies below rivers. It’s important to pay attention to rocks, isolated ripples, ledges, eddies, and areas where there’s a major obstruction in the main current.

These areas, including bends, have the highest potential rates for smallmouth bass engagement. A deep creek flowing into or out of a river is also an excellent location and a significant factor in smallmouth bass potential rate.

Tactics for Fishing Smallmouth Bass in Rivers 

From a fishing perspective, most smallmouth bass anglers are into catch-and-release sequences of fishing. Regardless, catching smallmouth in rivers can get a bit tricky. They tend to get aggressive and even more challenging to catch, especially during spawning season.

The shift from late winter spawning to summer or other seasons of smallmouth hunting can be somewhat tricky for both anglers and the species. However, with these strategies, you will undoubtedly score multiple hits.

Employ an Aggressive Approach

The first strategy is to target aggressive smallmouth fish in rivers. If you’re fishing in the winter months or late spring, for example, you’ll most likely end up with fewer strikes than desired, and during spawn season, they tend to be hard-fighting fishes, aggressive, and acrobatic.

You can catch early spawners in rivers whose feeding instincts are starting to reactivate. Target places where smallmouth can most likely be found, especially areas with crayfish, and minnows, among other fish bait.

An image of a Smallmouth bass

Use the Current

Using the currents to your advantage when fishing for smallmouths in rivers can’t be overemphasized. Despite the fact that currents can be difficult — frequently blowing away and drifting baits — they can be equally rewarding. Since currents can help determine where smallmouths feed and live, it is a no-brainer to cast your baits into the current.

One of the many reasons why fishes stick to currents is because of the structures that break the current. Smallmouths prefer to congregate near current breaks and structures such as woods, rock, or eddies. By remaining in these areas, the current will continue to bring food their way, and they will be able to remain in these areas without exhausting too much energy.

Therefore, fish upstream by aligning your bait with the currents of the river. If you decide to fish against the current, there’s less chance that you’ll get a strike, and your bait will be swept away from the fish.

Use the Right Baits

River fishing for smallmouth bass requires a good tackle selection. You require lightweight baits or lures that can swim to the bottom and move upstream. Similar to trout fishing, you can use live baits and artificial lures for hunting smallmouths; they are opportunistic feeders.

Go-to live baits for this species are:

  • Crayfish
  • Minnows
  • Nightcrawlers, and 
  • Leeches.

Creek chubs and redtail chubs are also highly effective live baits that catch a ton of smallmouths. Artificial lures also have a great catchability rate for smallmouths in rivers. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and jerkbaits are amongst the best lures that attract bass.

You must ensure that your lures have a realistic appearance and can withstand strong currents. Also, choose a lightweight lure that is neither too fast nor too slow so that it maintains a natural presentation similar to that of other river fish. If your target fish doesn’t strike, change your lure till you hit a score.

Pay Attention to Bird Activity 

If you’re looking to fish more smallmouths, look for where birds are. Many bird species, such as:

  • Pelicans
  • Kingfishers
  • Ospreys, and 
  • Herons and focusing on where they are hovering over can be the key to making your hunt productive.

When birds hover around a river, there’s a huge chance that a school of smallmouth is around the area. So, don’t hesitate to move closer to their location and take advantage of the area where this species is concentrated.

What to Avoid When Fishing For Smallmouth Bass in Rivers

Now that you know the essentials and what to pay attention to when river fishing for smallmouths, it’s also important to know what to avoid so you can increase your chances of striking multiple scores.

A person showing how to fish for Smallmouth bass in rivers

Don’t Stick to the Slack Tide

Rivers have tides, and tides can be predictable. The slack tide is typically the weakest current compared to flood and ebb, which are rising and outgoing, respectively. Newbies and even professional anglers often stick to the slack tide chiefly because it’s the weakest.

Furthermore, most anglers believe that the slack tide attracts more bass and produces more bites. However, because these areas are home to inactive and resting bass, enticing them with your bait or lure will be difficult and almost impossible.

Don’t Stop 

When lake fishing for trout, walleyes, or batfish, you may be inclined to give up for the day because you didn’t strike a score. However, river fishing is entirely different, and it requires a lot of patience. Smallmouths can also stay out of the current and away from their natural habitat. So, instead of panicking, simply paddle to other parts of the river.

You can inspect cracks, rocks, and other areas where you might expect a low strike zone. Change your lures as well; if you’ve been using spinnerbaits, switch to plastic minnows or plugs and run them through the same area several times. I recommend using crankbaits in deeper waters and rivers as they allow you to fish deeper cracks and pockets compared to other lures.

Related Question

When Is the Best Time for Smallmouth Bass River Fishing? 

The daytime is when this species is most active, and the early morning hours, from dawn until about midmorning, are particularly productive for catching these fish. It is also possible to hunt them in the late afternoon, beginning three hours before sunrise and continuing until dusk.

You should also aim to fish smallmouth during the early months in spring when the water temperature rises above 50 degrees. This is their preferred temperature, and they tend to move to spawn areas during this time.


Smallmouth river fishing requires patience and accuracy. Ensure that the dos and don’ts are applied in every situation. You should also study the fish’s behavior patterns and feeding habits to make hunting them easier.