Skip to main content

Tactics For Summer River Smallmouth

Tactics For Summer River Smallmouth

In flowing water, summertime river smallmouth pull out all the stops. A 2-pound, current-pumped smallie makes you think you've tagged a 4-pounder. And their aerial acrobatics leave me shaking my head, even after catching them for 30-some years.

The focus here is on small to midsized rivers and free-flowing portions of larger rivers that feature hard bottom, good gradient, and lots of skinny water that can only be fished by wading, paddling, or jet-boating. During a typical summer, flow is moderately low and rivers run clear. Much of the smallmouth population relates to faster-moving water at this time, and fish use all sorts of current breaks to rest or ambush prey.

Early on, I pursued smallmouth by casting classic river baits like the Original Floating Rapala, Mepps Spinner, and Heddon's Tiny Torpedo. Over the years, however, my approach has changed dramatically. While old favorites still catch fish, I now rely on an array of newer lures for specific situations.

Buzz Up a Reaction Strike


Buzzbaits are the ultimate river reaction bait for smallmouth. That's a lesson I learned from Kevin Turner, owner of River Pro Boats, a fine line of jet boats. Until meeting Turner a few years ago, I rarely used a buzzer on the river.


Turner fishes a buzzbait all summer on the upper Mississippi River, where he fishes frequently. He instructs anglers to make long casts, "peel" the lure back at 90 degrees to the river's flow, and use 40-pound braided line to ensure positive hook-ups in strong currents. Bouncing his bait off a craggy shore, he drags it into the water, churning it past protruding rocks in fast water, and burns it across swirling current seams. This high-speed, unorthodox approach attracts crushing strikes in just inches of water.

A buzzbait is now my first choice for rushing water when there's only time for one quick cast to a current break before the boat is swept past. Smallmouths, however, have even less time to decide whether or not to strike the passing bait. Hungry or not, they react!

Casting distance with a buzzbait can be increased substantially by removing the silicone skirt and replacing it with an aerodynamic soft plastic body, such as a YUM Houdini Shad or Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad. Or leave the hook bare, as Turner sometimes does.

Go Natural with Drifters


If reaction baits hold down one end of the lure presentation spectrum, drift baits occupy the other. The key is to offer bass an artificial that's natural in both appearance and delivery. Cast a lightly weighted or unweighted subtle softbait upstream of an intended target area so current carries it to fish in a natural drift, like the presentation of a nymph to a trout.

Many river anglers rely on a tube bait with a light insert head. Although a tube is my choice in spring and fall, I've had far better success with a stickworm during summer. Choose your favorite blunt-ended worm and rig it for drifting. YUM Dingers are especially popular on my home water, the Allegheny River, followed by Case Magic Stiks, and Senkos.

For shallow water, I rig a Dinger on an unweighted Mustad Impact or Mega-Lite hook. When more weight is needed for deeper or faster water, I use a 1/16-ounce weighted hook. With the weight centered on the shank, the natural, horizontal position of the bait is maintained. Others add a light bullet sinker or crimp a Water Gremlin Bull Shot several inches in front of the bait.


I don't like to crimp lead, due to the risk of weakening thin line. To add weight in front of a lure, I use a 1/16-ounce Top Brass sinker (harder than lead so it isn't mashed by rock), set 6 inches ahead of the Dinger with a rubber Peg-It.

For a 4-inch stickworm, a 2/0 or 3/0 fits nicely. Dale Black, a river rat buddy (no relation), prefers Mustad's 5/0 Mega-Lite. He argues that the gap on the light-wire Mega-Lite is similar to that of a 3/0 Mega-Bite offset. The big hook surely works, as his stickworm prowess has earned him the nickname "Captain Dinger."

A drop-shot rig also makes an effective drift presentation. Adjust sinker weight so it barely drags on the bottom, with the lure dancing 4 to 6 inches above. This setup is particularly effective in rivers, because it allows you to hold or "check" the rig to fish a key spot more thoroughly. As it drifts, steer the rig into an eddy behind a large rock, deadfall, or bridge piling where the weight settles to the bottom, the bait fluttering until a bass can no longer refuse it. Or let the rig settle into the deep, shadowy section of a run, a washout hole, the slope of a rockbar, the tailout of a pool—anywhere you expect a group of smallmouth to hold.

Where craws are prime prey, hook a 4-inch green pumpkin crayfish imitator like a YUM Craw Papi or Net Bait Paca Craw. Other options include a Case Hellgrammite, Berkley Gulp! Minnow, or any other streamlined softbait that won't twist your line in current.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

VMC Crossover Pliers and Rings

VMC Crossover Pliers and Rings

Quick and easy Neko and whacky rigging; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Pro angler Cody Meyer calls Daiwa's J-Fluoro Samurai the best fluorocarbon he's ever fished. Meyer spoke with In-Fisherman associate publisher Todd Ceisner as part of the 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

New Gloves from Fish Monkey

New Gloves from Fish Monkey

Quick look at Stealth, Half-Fingered & Stubby gloves; 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

Lew

Lew's Pro SP Skipping and Pitching SLP Reel

Bass Pro Tour angler Andy Montgomery shares his insight on the new Lew's Pro SP Skipping and Pitching SLP Reel.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is simply a matter of putting a good bait in the right in front of them. 8 Best Catfish Rigs - When, Where and How to Use Them Catfish

8 Best Catfish Rigs - When, Where and How to Use Them

In-Fisherman

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is...

You're going to love this Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe! These deep-fried walleye strips are tasty and dress up nicely when served in a basket or on a plate with fresh fruit such as grapes and strawberries.Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe Fish Recipes

Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe

In-Fisherman

You're going to love this Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe! These deep-fried walleye strips...

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate explanation from the In-Fisherman biologists. Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart Bass

Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 22, 2017

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

See More Trending Articles

More Bass

Kayaks provide many advantages on the water.The Big Appeal to Kayak Fishing Bass

The Big Appeal to Kayak Fishing

Kristine Fischer - August 13, 2020

Kayaks provide many advantages on the water.

The future of quality bass management depends on several factors.The Evolution of Quality Bass Management Bass

The Evolution of Quality Bass Management

Dr. Hal Schramm - May 08, 2020

The future of quality bass management depends on several factors.

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing Bass

The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing

Steve Quinn - June 22, 2020

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.

Understand the importance of sinkers in this episode of Beyond the Bait Powered by Streamlight.Choose the Right Weight for Bass Fishing

Choose the Right Weight for Bass Fishing

Game & Fish Digital Staff

Understand the importance of sinkers in this episode of Beyond the Bait Powered by Streamlight.

See More Bass

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now