Finding And Catching River Smallmouths During Spring

During spring, river smallmouths have always posed something of a mystery. Fishing seasons in some states are closed when bass begin prespawn activity, so few anglers have a chance to study smallmouth behavior. Migratory patterns are easier to observe in southern waters lacking ice cover, where warmer temperatures and open seasons allow fishermen to follow smallmouths all year. Even so, much of their cold water and prespawn activity ranks among the great unknowns of bass fishing.

Subsurface baits usually work best for river smallmouths during spring. Shallow crankbaits in crayfish patterns, 1/8- or 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits, and #2 straight-shaft spinners are fine options.


Rod: 6 1/2- to 7-foot medium-power casting rod.

Reel: medium-capacity baitcasting reel.

Line: 10-pound-test mono.


Water level usually is higher and dirtier in spring than during the rest of the year, producing stronger current, less visibility, and more submerged cover. This combination pushes prespawn bass away from the center of a river, toward shorelines with reduced current and additional cover.

Smallmouths often select nesting areas of mixed sand, gravel, and small rocks, out of current flow and generally in water less than three feet deep. Pure sand is undesirable unless fish can sweep away a top layer, exposing a gravel base below. Proper spawning bottom with a thin coating of darker silt reduces visibility.

Large slack areas may draw huge numbers of prespawn bass. They may spread out across the slack area at low water, then tuck tighter to the bank if water levels rise, forcing them toward and along the downstream shoreline. Smaller slackwater areas like those on the back sides of wing dams may only attract a few fish.


Early spring presentations for river bass should be geared to cover water fairly quickly, since determining location is the biggest key to success. Yet lures must not be so large and loud as to spook bass from biting. Think "subtle quickness" for scouting, with the option to switch to "subtle secondary" once key locations are determined.

Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are ideal for quickly scouting potential stretches of riverbank, island tailouts, large shallow eddies, and flooded cover. In general, cranks work best for open water where cover is limited to boulders, stumps, or scattered timber. Spinnerbaits are better choices for penetrating abundant cover like brush, weeds, or fallen trees.

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