Small River Smallmouths Can Rattle Your Thumb
They’ll shake your hand loose from the rod handle if you don’t hold on. If you haven’t tried little rivers some anglers drive over while trailering their boats, you may be amazed at the size of the big bass, clapping their gills to celebrate leaps. Rare enough to dream about more than attain, lunkers don’t symbolize an impossible Holy Grail, not if you care to catch one and do the footwork. In between the lordly females and the little bass eager to slam soft plastic offerings, good-size bronzebacks anywhere from a pound-and-a-half to three pounds can represent milestones along the way.
A river is like a living example of philosophy. All it asks is appreciation for what offered, perhaps not bass as big as lurking in the depths of a favorite reservoir, yet unmistakably, stream bass fit an environment of boulders and eddies, fast water leading into slow stretches and 10-foot holes. Smallmouths should be released to remain wild. I caught one over four pounds in a stream I can cast clear across at a 45-degree angle by a flick of the wrist, and I’m convinced bigger exist, because my son spotted one. Besides, he caught another bass almost as large as mine on the same afternoon.
Stories take some time to grow into as your own. If you want to catch big stream smallmouths, you should get acquainted not only with one river, but a number of them in your region. Less find certain spots, than learn how to catch the feeling of where flow leads. Become familiar with rivers, easier then to locate fish not because you know where to look, but because your senses attune to the rivers’ lead.
Go with basics. Soft plastics known as the popular lure for stream bass, this shows for good reason. Floater/divers such as Rapalas and Rebels will catch some fish, but I never use these hard-bodied plugs from late May until September, because I’ve given them a try and have found them more effective from mid-September through October when bass’s diets shift from an opportunistic summer smorgasbord to soft-rayed forage fish. And in-line spinners shimmer more than produce during the summer months when most of the stream smallmouth fishing happens. Second to soft plastics, streamer flies and nymph patterns prove very productive with a fly rod.
Tube plastics without lead jigheads to get caught between rock crevices—just a size 1 plain shank hook—can catch bass sun-up to sunset. Mid-afternoons on hot days come alive with average steam bass. To catch a mid-day lunker may require stimulating weather, since these old-timers choose movements selectively, making appearances early and late, but bass of a half-pound to a pound or more, fiercely pugnacious, don’t shy of conditions that largemouths in lakes and ponds respond to a lot slower.
Before the invention of tubes, my favorite three-inch Mr. Twisters caught scores. The trick? To position a size 2 plain shank hook just right so the lure rode straight on steady retrieve. Naturally, light-power spinning rods accompanied, six-pound test monofilament limp and lean. In recent years, my favoritism shifted to Senko-type worms, and rather than cast the smaller three or four-inch selections, I go with full-sized five-inch worms that cast a mile. Even small bass strike eagerly.
Especially with low water during drought conditions, long casts from a lure make important marks. Slow stretches hold bass shooting 20 feet to grab a worm, but if you get too close before the presentation sails in to alert fish first, they’ll dash in the opposite direction.
Preferring slow stretches to the many other stream features, some favorites are no more than four feet deep and productive in two to three-foot rocky ranges of flat shale, under which bass stalk if not actively on the prowl. Don’t get stuck on sight fishing. Cast among rocks and bass dart out, take the plastic and dash back for cover. Give the fish no more than a few seconds before hook setting. Don’t gut-hook and complicate release. Deep holes may hold the largest bass, but not always. The biggest my son caught came from a pocket between rocks and riffles about three feet deep, this spot’s diameter not larger than a car hood.
This bass’s residence? Evidence from many sources, including the snorkeling of my son and me, suggests that stream bass migrate between various spots on a small river or stream. We swam several holes repeatedly, which held many bass one day, none the next. This doesn’t prove anything but stands as some evidence. A particular lair may have more value to an angler’s sentiment than catch rate, although certain places on a river tend to be better than others. We have favorites, but don’t let complacency undercut faith in the big picture.