Smaller rivers and large creeks often harbor excellent smallmouth bass populations. Because these places require extra effort to get to, these populations often see fairly light fishing pressure. Such places are the home of the angler with a shallow water jet boat, kayak or waders, depending on the size of the water in question.
Chances are there's some good summertime smallmouth bass fishing in a flowing water near you. Here are some ways of catching those bronze batters during the summer and early fall.
During those clear, stable-weather nights of mid-summer river valleys often fill in with fog, a cloak that during the morning hours temporarily shields the water from the burning rays of the sun. Coupled with the action provided by the natural feeding activity of the morning hours, it pays to be on the water at the crack of dawn. Get up early, as dawn cracks pretty early this time of year.
Naturally, safety if the first consideration, particularly if you are fishing from a boat. In the river stretches that I typically fish there are quality areas near boat access areas, places that can be fished without even firing up the outboard. It's just a matter of launching the boat, dropping the trolling motor, and then drifting with the current while firing casts to likely spots. Wait to navigate under power until later in the morning, when it's safe to do so.
Though there's not always that hot, early- to mid-morning "fog bite," the majority of the time there is. Just be prepared to have things slow down appreciably when the fog burns off. Often it's like having a switch thrown to the off position. The bass aggressively feed during the low-light period of early morning — conditions that give them an advantage over their prey — and the light-dampening effect of the fog extends that period.
Happily, this shut-down period usually only lasts for a couple of hours. The water is warm, bass metabolism is high, so they must feed. During a typical sunny summertime day the fish get more active by early afternoon.
Rainy Day (Not So) Blues
Some of the most productive summertime river bass fishing happens during those rainy, summertime days, the ones where it never really pours, but the rain gear stays on all day. It's the kind of day many folks shy away from, waiting instead for "better" weather. As with the fog pattern, the lower light intensity of such conditions seems to allow bass to feed more efficiently.
One area that consistently produces bass for me during rainy summertime days — during ones where the water is still low and clear — is the tail-out section of a major river hole. The tail-out is the transition zone, where the pool shallows up before it spills into a riffle area, and it's a classic feeding spot. Depths run from one to three feet; the best tail-out areas feature a combination of rocks and aquatic grass, places that provide ambush points. Bass use tail-outs during twilight feeding periods. During rainy days often they stay there all day long.
Do the Jerk
In summer's warm water, river bass are accustomed to chasing down their meals. Anglers reap the benefit of being able to catch them using a moving lure, as opposed to fishing one that must be worked more slowly along the bottom. Often the most effective moving lures are ones that are fished in a jerky spot-and-go manner.
Jerkbaits exist in both hard and soft versions. Though each has a place in summertime river bass fishing, I've found the hard jerkbait to be the go-to choice most of the time.
Hard jerkbaits like Rapala's X-Rap and Lucky Craft's Pointer have the ability to attract the bass's attention, but not give them so good a look that they turn away. The secret in working a jerkbait in the summer is to really work it. Impart aggressive, hard jerks, and stop the bait for just an instant. I don't know if you can actually annoy bass, but that's the human emotion you're going for here; kind of like playing keep-way with a cat and a ball of string.
Go with the soft jerkbait - like the Zoom Fluke or Yum Houdini Shad — when weeds are present, and come close to the surface. The aforementioned tail-out situation is a perfect example.
You can't work the soft jerkbait as aggressively — it will just skip across the surface — but that's not necessary. Bass hiding in weed depressions are often actively feeding and don't need to be teased into biting; they simply rise up and intercept the lure as it comes by.
Go With the Flow
River fish differ from their lake-dwelling counterparts by having to adapt to changing flow levels. To be a successful summertime smallmouth angler you must adjust as well.
Take for instance summertime rain/thunderstorms that elevate and cloud the water. While I don't want to fish in a raging flow the color of chocolate milk, I savor the chance to fish cloudy water during the summer, when the river comes up a foot or two, spills into shoreline grass, but still has a 6 inches to a foot of clarity. That's when the spinnerbaits, soft swimbait and rattlebaits come out. Expect bass to be right on shore and on the feed. Show them something big, something noisy/flashy, and expect to catch a bunch of big smallies.
Conversely, when the water is low, clear and warm, river bass will be off the banks, particularly during the non-peak feeding times of midday. Bass have the run of the river during such conditions. They needn't hug the bank to escape strong current. I've caught bass over mid-river runs that are over five feet deep, fish that have taken a hard jerkbait fished well over their heads. They can see a long way when the water's clear, and are acclimated to doing so.
When things are really slow - fish are willing to move for a bait — you can often scratch up a few by bringing a lure down to them. Bucktail jigs hopped along the bottom can conjure up bites, particularly later in the fall as the water cools. Crawfish imitating soft plastics — like Zoom's Speed Craw and Yum's Craw Papi — tipped on a skirted jig or Texas-rigged on a wide gap hook, are fairly snag resistant, and often trigger bites from bass when they get a case of summertime laziness.