One of the biggest concepts that anglers have trouble understanding is the idea of current in a system. Rivers can be some of the most phenomenal fisheries across the country, but they take a different type of understanding than that of a normal lake or pond.
Rivers take the challenges that anglers already face and they add more elements to that long list.
Don’t get turned away though when you have the opportunity to fish a new river, you may just be surprised at what is hiding out in that swift water. River fish live and die in that current, this makes their muscles that much stronger from constantly fighting the movement of the water. This current also changes how you look at different structures.
The biggest mistake people do is cast right where they want their bait to go. With current, you now have to cast above where you want your bait to go to account for the drifting water. This current also changes how the fish position on the different structures we have learned to fish.
Now, you have to figure out what fish are holding on, and where on this cover/structure they are holding. This could mean on the upstream side, the meat of the structure, or on the downstream side. To break this down further, the most active fish will be sitting on the upstream side of most of the structure/cover that you are fishing. To sit directly in the current, they have to be feeding to maintain their energy level.
While the most active fish are sitting in the current, the biggest fish will most always be in areas that have substantially less current. In essence, big fish are lazy. They do not want to expend unnecessary energy unless they absolutely have to. So, when you first look at a river, the areas to focus on are areas with current breaks.
The next thing to look for is what is known as seams. A seam is where the current is pushed around obstacles in the river. These seams create feeding lanes where free floating objects, including baitfish, crayfish, insects, etc. will get washed downstream. This means fish will stack up in these seams to take advantage of the relief in current and the river acting like a conveyor belt to bring food to them.
A common thing new anglers run into is confusion on what to throw when they first show up to a river. That is an easy question, the same things you throw in any other body of water. You just need to ask yourself the same question, what are you trying to imitate. It depends on what river you are fishing as to what the fish will be feeding on, but a crayfish imitation is never a bad idea. There will always be some species of baitfish and some species of crayfish in these rivers.
So, to effectively fish a river, it’s less about what you fish and more about how you fish it.
Newer anglers often start off throwing baits downstream and bringing them up against the current. You need to put yourself in the fish’s shoes and think about what they see every second of every day. They see bait and other objects drifting past them. So the against the current presentation is a major red flag.
The only place to throw baits up current are in areas where the current is effectively dead. Zero. These are areas where the bait can move around freely. But in rivers, this isn’t the case very often. Most things the fish are eating are drifting past them.
This means you have to emulate that with the baits you are throwing. Focus on throwing your baits at a 45 degree angle, give or take, upstream and bring it slightly downstream but still across the current. This gives the fish a good look at the bait, while not going past the fish too fast.
So, the major concepts to think about when fishing a river system are:
- How to fish your baits
- Where to concentrate your efforts