Red Man Tournament Preview: Tips for Bass Fishing Natural Rivers - Major League Fishing

Red Man Tournament Preview: Tips for Bass Fishing Natural Rivers

August 31, 1998 • Neil Ward • Archives

This year, the Red Man Tournament Trail will host 132 regular season tournaments from California to New York. On that schedule, there are 32 tournaments held on rivers.

The 1999 Red Man All-American will be held on the Mississippi River for the second straight year. The tournament will mark the ninth time that the prestigious championship has been fished on a river.

While America is blessed with numerous man-made impoundments that provide excellent bass fishing opportunities, it is obvious that rivers, this nation’s natural highways, are still an important resource to anglers. In fact, thanks to a number of anti-pollution laws passed since the 1970s, many rivers provide better bass fishing today than they did 30 years ago. In this article, we will discuss catching bass from non-tidal rivers. Tidal rivers will be discussed in the fifth part of this six-part series on how to bass fish America’s waters.

Curtis Samo of Creston, Illinois, had qualified for four consecutive Red Man All-Americans. Only a few have qualified for more, like David Fritts with five consecutive appearances. As a regular competitor in the Great Lakes Division, Samo has spent plenty of time learning how to fish the Mississippi River, where he has won three regular Red Man events. He has also won a Red Man tournament on the Ohio River.

At the 1995 All-American held on the Ohio River at Huntington, West Virginia, Samo finished 9th under extremely difficult fishing conditions. In 1997 on the Arkansas River at Pine Bluff, he finished fourth. During the most recent All-American on the Mississippi River, Samo scored a highly-respectable third-place finish. It is obvious that his river-fishing methods work on a variety of rivers.

When fishing rivers, Samo always fishes shallow, and he always looks for current. Once he finds moving water, he seeks out “current breaks.” A current break can be anything from a log to a washing machine. Any object may attract a bass if it deflects the current.

It is basic physics that when moving water strikes a stationary object, it slows the flow down until it sweeps around the object. Above and below the object, an eddy is created. Smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, will be located in the slower flow of water created by an eddy. For years, anglers have theorized that bass position themselves near the current because it washes food downstream.

While this may be true on small streams, in a major river system, the current doesn’t carry much food for bass. Instead, bass use a current break as a home. A bass does not have any trouble swimming through current in order to capture a minnow or crayfish. But when a bass is not roaming around foraging, it rests in a current break.

Samo has discovered that in a slow to moderate current, the majority of bass prefer the upstream side of a current break. In heavy current, he catches most of his bass on the downstream side.

To catch bass from an eddy, Samo likes to pitch a one-eighth-ounce jig and Gambler Crawdaddy tied to 20-pound-test monofilament. He lets the jig drift through the potential bass’ lair and watches his line for subtle strikes. On the Mississippi River, it is not unusual to catch a limit of bass out of one log jam strategically situated in the current.

When Samo is fishing a river and a cold front passes through, he will ignore any bass fishing patterns that he may have developed in the backwater areas and concentrate exclusively on bass situated in the current. He has discovered that bass in slack water will be more negatively affected by the high pressure system than bass in moving water.

“If I can find bass in a current situation, I can always get a few to bite,” Samo said. “I especially like to fish current in the summertime, because the bass are more predictable.”

Rising or falling water is a constant variable when fishing rivers. Just when you think you have the bass figured out, the water level changes.

The general rule is when the water rises, the bass move shallower. However on a major river system, when the water rises, it can flood hundreds, even thousands, of acres of potential bass-holding cover. Samo has developed an approach to make the search more successful.

“When bass move into flooded areas, they are difficult to pinpoint. Once I locate good water quality, I look for hard banks,” Samo said.

A “hard bank” is the actual shoreline. When a river rises, a slough may flood for miles back into the trees and bushes. The bass will move back into those areas, but they can be difficult to locate and, in some cases, impossible to reach.

Samo concentrates his fishing efforts on the steeper banks that prevent the water from spilling over into acres and acres of shallow cover. He believes that the hard banks give bass a sense of security as the water rises and falls. A bass on a steep bank simply has to move a short distance vertically when the water level fluctuates in order to stay in the shallow-water zone.

To locate good water quality when heavy rains dump a lot of new water into a river, Samo searches for horseshoe-shaped islands that point downstream or dead-end lakes that have an entrance angling directly downstream. Because, when muddy water flows downriver, the inside of a horseshoe-shaped island pointing downstream will be protected from most of the muddy influx. Likewise, a dead-end lake will not have muddy water flowing into the headwaters and if the entrance to the river is on a downstream angle, the current will push the majority of the muddy water downriver and not allow the mud to back up into the lake.

A slowly dropping water level does not cause anglers many problems. The bass will just gradually move out with the falling water level. In fact, bass in backwater lakes and sloughs will remain there as long as possible, even to the point of being trapped in shallow pools.

A sudden drop in water level, however, can negatively affect the bass fishing. When fishing the backwater, Samo has found that rapidly-falling water can cause bass to move off the banks and relocate to the next deepest available cover, such as stumps or logs on a slightly deeper flat.

“A fast drop can also muddy the water along the banks,” Samo said. “When that happens, you need to move to an area with clearer water, because the bass in the newly muddied water will not bite very well.”

Wal-Mart FLW Tour competitor, Scott Patton of Brooks, Kentucky, has bass fished the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Paducah. He has won a number of tournaments on the river, and during the summer, it is one of his favorite places to fish.

“In the summer, the clear-water lakes in Kentucky are mainly a night-fishing proposition. I don’t like to stay up late, so I spend my days fishing creeks off the Ohio River,” Patton said.

The locks and dams built along the Ohio River raised the water level and caused the original creeks to flood adjacent land. The end result was that the once narrow, winding creeks became mini-reservoirs with resident bass that never venture into the main river.

Most of the creeks have two characteristics in common. They are very shallow, except for the original creek channel, and they are full of stumps and even standing timber.

According to Patton, inexperienced river anglers make a mistake by focusing on lake patterns such as fishing channel banks and deep points when fishing the backwater. While he sometimes fishes a channel edge, Patton spends the majority of his time way up on mud flats fishing isolated lay downs and stumps. He catches most of his creek bass in less than 2 feet of water, even in July and August.

When fishing extremely shallow water, he casts a three-eigth ounce spinnerbait so that he can get maximum distance on his casts. In fact, Patton casts his spinnerbait so shallow that when he occasionally snags the lure, he has to break it off because he cannot get his boat to it. Some days, he loses a half dozen spinnerbaits, but he also catches bass.

“The creeks are heavily silted in. So, when you get out of a channel, the depth instantly jumps up to less than 2 feet,” Patton explained. “Don’t let that discourage you from working your way toward any bassy-looking cover on a flat or even along the shoreline. I don’t know why, but bass in the creeks prefer ankle-deep water even when deeper water is available.”

Patton always concentrates his casts toward the unique cover in a creek. For instance, in a stump-filled bay, he has discovered that he will usually catch a bass when he casts by a laid-down log, a little bush, or even an overhanging tree. Creek bass relate to unique objects in an area.

Patton’s favorite creek lures are a Blue Fox spinnerbait and buzzbait. Both lures allow him to make long casts and fish fast. Most of the creeks have shad and cover in them. So, you have to keep chunking and winding until you find the shad and cover where the bass are congregated.

A spinnerbait retrieve that has proven highly effective on creek bass is a slow crawl. Patton uses a three-eighth ounce spinnerbait with a #2 or #3 Colorado blade on the front and a #4 or #5 Colorado blade, usually copper-colored, on the back. He uses 15- to 20-pound-test line and casts the spinnerbait into only inches of water. Then, he cranks the lure back so that it is kicking up mud as it bumps along the bottom and bounces off any cover in the water. Even when the water is less than 2 feet deep, bass will often ignore the spinnerbait unless you crawl it through the cover. On one occasion, Patton and I used the slow crawl to catch over 50 pounds of bass out of one creek and win two different tournaments in one weekend.

Unlike reservoirs, backwater bass do not always feed best at dawn and dusk. Often, the best bite is in the middle of the day, even when the air temperature is in the 90s. Patton suspects that it is because of the sun’s impact on photosynthesis which creates plankton. Shad feed on plankton. On numerous occasions, Patton has observed shad become very active during the middle of the day, and bass suddenly start biting.

I have personally stayed in one creek all day and caught bass that fed heavily from 10 a.m. to noon. Then, there would be another feeding flurry from 2-4 p.m. So, do not give up on a creek if you fish several hours without a strike. You may catch a limit within the next hour.

Nowadays, Americans are showing more respect and appreciation for their rivers as evidenced by the growing number of river parks being established by towns and cities across the country. Clean-up efforts by caring citizens are helping to restore the natural beauty that can flourish along a healthy river.

For bass anglers, this change in attitude is a welcome one, because they never forgot the value of natural rivers. BF

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