August 13, 2020
By Ken Duke
Smallmouth bass and moving water go together like ham and eggs, like peanut butter and jelly, like … other things that go together really well. And when the dog days of summer arrive, few things are as refreshing, as invigorating or as much fun as catching brown bass in rivers and streams. Not only is it a great way to beat the heat, but it just might be the best bronzeback action of the entire year.
We asked some world-class bass experts how they approach western river smallmouths. Our instructors love targeting moving-water bass and have their own favorite waters for plying that passion. If you’re not near their favored waters, don’t fret. These methods will work on any river or stream that holds smallmouth bass.
WALKIN’ THE POINTS
It doesn’t get more traditional than fishing main-river or stream points for smallmouth bass in the summertime, and there’s a good reason for that: These are the places where bass gather to feed.
When you think of river fishing for smallmouths in the West, every angler worth the salt in his soft plastics thinks of the Columbia River. That’s Ed Chin’s office. He’s guided on the Columbia for smallmouths for more than 15 years.
"Summer is a great time for topwater smallmouths on rivers," Chin says. "The fish are post-spawn and their metabolisms are running high, so it can be a real numbers game."
Chin’s topwater pattern starts on the main-river points with current washing over them. The stronger the current, the larger the concentration of bass he expects to find.
"The fish will hold in the slack water below the point or on the lee side of the point," he says. "I put my boat out of the main current and cast upstream so my bait is coming in the same direction as the flow."
His bait is an Italian walking-style topwater—the Seaspin Pro-Q 90—and he favors colors that resemble shad. He fishes the lure on a medium-heavy 7-foot 6-inch fiberglass casting rod from Edge and a Daiwa Tatula casting reel spooled with 50-pound FINS Original PRT braided line.
A key to Chin’s topwater success is the cadence of his retrieve. Most anglers fish a walking topwater bait with a rapid twitch-twitch-pause, or they keep the lure moving consistently all the way to the boat. Chin maintains that summer smallmouths often require more patience.
"I mix some long pauses into my retrieve," he says. "You have to figure out the cadence they want each day through a little trial and error. I’ll often pause as long as five seconds before breathing life back into the bait with a soft twitch. Sometimes that’s what it takes to trigger the strike."
LONG CASTS FOR LUNKERS
Jay Yelas cut his bass fishing teeth in the West on his way to a Bassmaster Classic championship, a B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title and two FLW AOYs. When he’s not casting for cash on the tournament trail, Yelas likes to fish for moving-water smallmouths out of his drift boat.
"I love drifting rivers for smallmouth bass," Yelas says. "In summer, it can be mostly a numbers game, but the weather and scenery are wonderful, and the bass are often super easy to catch."
His favored bait for this pattern is a 3-inch Single Tail Grub in color #284 (Rootbeer) from Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, and he fishes it rigged on a 3/16-ounce jighead with no weed guard.
"You can get fancy with the grub and hop it down breaks and through cover, but all it usually takes to get bites is a slow, steady retrieve—just cast it out and wind it back," he says.
Of course, you’ll want to cast it to the best spots, which Yelas identifies as current breaks and shady areas. Points, bends and blowdowns will all create eddies, and all deserve a cast or ten, but any shade is also worth a try.
"In the summer, the water can get so clear that the smallmouths will actually come to the shade of your boat and swim along with you for a while," says the pro. "I’ve caught two-pounders that I could see right below me."
Gear-wise, Yelas’ favorite combo is a 6-foot-6-inch medium-action Lew’s Speed Stick spinning rod and Team Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin TLC2000 reel spooled with 6-pound Strike King Tour Grade Fluorocarbon.
While smaller fish might be right under your boat, bigger fish are more wary. For this reason, Yelas advocates longer casts, and boat control is paramount.
"You need to keep your boat far enough away from key targets to make a good presentation," he says. "Too often, anglers will drift right over the spots they should be casting to. You’ll be amazed at how often the best bass of the day will hit at the end of a long cast."
Jared Lintner has a well-deserved reputation as a largemouth bass power fisherman. He makes a living fishing the Bass Pro Tour and often has a flippin’ or frog rod in his hands, but he makes time each year to target river and stream smallies, and he puts his big-water knowhow to work in ways that most moving-water bronzeback chasers never do.
Just like Chin and Yelas, Lintner puts a lot of focus on points and anything that creates a visible current break. But he also dedicates time to his electronics, looking for deep eddies and seams that are hidden from anglers who are only looking at the water’s surface.
"If you think a lot of rivers and streams are relatively unen find places like this on your sonar unit’s mapping software."
While watching his depthfinder for submerged points, humps, large rocks and the like, Lintner usually fishes a Jackall Rhythm Wave 3.8-inch swimbait in Sexy Albino. It’s an extremely versatile lure that he can use to cover the water column—top to bottom—by varying his retrieve speed and the weight of his ball-head jig.
"I’m usually fishing a 3/16- to 3/8-ounce jighead, depending on the depth I’m fishing and the speed of the current," he says. "I usually throw it on 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon and a Daiwa Tatula SV TWS casting reel mounted on a 7-foot 5-inch Ritual Angling Team Lintner Series casting rod."
That’s right: While Yelas and Chin opt for spinning gear, Lintner likes the control he gets from a baitcaster. But like our other experts, Lintner likes to position his boat on the down-current side of his target and cast upstream.
"The key is varying the speed of your retrieve and the weight of your jighead until you contact the fish," he says. "When you do, it’s game on."