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Tips for River Smallmouth Fishing Without a Boat

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Matt is a painter and part-time writer who loves fishing and metal detecting. Matt writes about various topics.

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Wade Fishing for River Smallies

Wade fishing for smallmouth bass in clear, rocky rivers, is my favorite way to fish. Not only is wade fishing great exercise, but being in the water on a hot summer day is more enjoyable for me than sitting in a boat.

Narrow rivers, a little wider than a creek, are easier to wade fish and can hold a lot of bass in deeper holes and whirlpools, and because you're fishing a smaller body of water, the fish are concentrated and easier to catch than fishing a huge river.

Smallmouth thrive in rivers with clear water, a rocky bottom, and a plentiful food source of minnows and bluegills. You can catch them in the current, but tossing your line into deeper holes in calm water are the best places to find the big ones. River bass are easy to catch with the right bait.

River Fishing Gear for Bass

I use monofilament fishing line and a medium action rod of 6 1/2 feet in length when I fish in rivers. A longer rod makes it easier to cast farther with more accuracy. For bass, using 6 to 8-pound line is good. I've used 8-pound line for a long time.

Slip Bobber Fishing with Live Minnows

The bait I've had the most success with for river smallmouth fishing are live minnows, particularly fathead minnows. Bass can't resist them. The best way to river fish with minnows, without snagging the bottom, is using a simple slip bobber set up.

The slip bobber rig is awesome for river fishing because you can cover more water with less effort. With a slip bobber, you can cast upstream from the bank and let your bait drift back downstream. You can precisely adjust the depth so the minnow hovers right above the river bottom as it drifts in the current under the bobber.

The best fishing line for the slip bobber rig is monofilament because the bobber slides up and down a lot better than braided line. The rig consists of a bobber stop at the top, the slip bobber, split shot sinker, and a small hook. To adjust the depth, the bobber stop is pulled either up and down the fishing line.

When fishing with live minnows while wading in the water, I keep them in a minnow bucket with an attached rope tied around my waist so the bucket floats next to me. This makes baiting the hook a lot easier, not having to walk back to the shore every time.

Topwater Lures

In the summer, when bass are actively feeding, topwater lures are killer baits for bass in rivers. No doubt, watching a bobber disappear underwater is exciting, but nothing beats the sudden strike on the surface. Topwater is, by far, one of my favorite ways to fish for bass in rivers and lakes.

The topwater bait I've used successfully for many years is the Rebel Pop-R. Cast this lure into calm water outside of the current and watch a bass come up and smash it. With the right technique, this is an awesome lure for smallmouth bass.

Since these lures float, you can cast them into tricky areas that would otherwise be difficult to fish underwater without getting snagged. These lures work the best in the early morning, or right before dark. For river bass, cast them into shady areas with calm water and deep holes near the current.

Plastic frogs are another good topwater bait to use along the weedy shoreline of a river. When wading, cast the frog parallel with the shoreline and retrieve it slowly, jerking the bait through the weeds with pauses.

Mepps Aglia Spinning Lure

When I go fishing in rivers, I like using versatile baits that catch different species of fish, and Mepps lures are one of those baits. Mepps are the best river smallmouth lures I've used to catch not only bass, but also channel catfish, northern pike, largemouth, and panfish.

The Mepps lure I've had the most success with is the Aglia (size #2 and #3). The larger size #3 is a little bigger and easier to cast farther with the added weight. With Mepps, you can fish both shallow and deeper water, allowing the lure to sink closer to the bottom before reeling it in.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Matt G.