By the end of the day, the water color went from a clear olive green to milk chocolate on either bank. There was a lane down the center that was still clear, but closer to brown than green. Many people cringe at the thought of fishing muddy water because smallmouth bass are primarily sight feeders. However, being out there when that transition from clear to muddy occurs means that you are fishing when they are hyperactively looking to feed.
My buddy Jed and I ended the day with impressive numbers for any fishery. We just happened to be on one of the best smallmouth rivers in the world, the Susquehanna. Jed got there earlier than I did and texted me, “Do you want another walleye?” I had caught and kept one the day before, and said I did. The one he kept on his grip for me was a 23.75” fish. He had pulled six others from the same spot on crankbaits.
Jed (l) and Jeff (r) holding up 20+" river smallmouth. The heaviest weighed 4lb 14oz.
Jed Plunkert holding up a 23.75" walleye and a 19.75" smallmouth, both caught on crankbaits in fast water.
Jed tallied eleven smallmouth measuring 19”or longer. He had no idea how many fish he landed that day, but needless to say it was a busy day. I caught two of the three 20+” smallmouth we saw that day, including a 4lb 14oz chunk. My son Sawyer even got into the action, catching a hefty 18.5” fish while wading above a grass bed with us. It was the right day to be out there.
The right location was a major ledge system - one that spanned the entire one mile wide river, and capped a long unbroken pool reaching several miles downstream. The fish were in the fastest water in the plunge pool of that ledge. We would toss a shallow diving crankbait up into the frothy white water, and feel it immediately pulled downward into the hydraulic current. As soon as the crankbait cleared the white water, the bait would stop with a jolt and the hooked smallmouth would catch the current of a chute sideways, pulling drag out like a tuna. It happened over and over again that day.
Jed Plunkert with a nice crankbait-caught smallmouth.
The reason why rising water is the best time to go likely amounts to it being the optimal set of conditions for those wide-bodied smallmouth to get even fatter. Gravel beds, exposed hours before, submerge. Grass on small islands that stood tall in the morning was flattened and submerged by noon. All the crawfish, hellgrammites, darters, and mad toms living in that sort of smallmouth pantry were flushed out.
Each angler has his favorite way to catch a particular species. I absolutely love the feeling of resting a jig on a rocky bottom, then having that hard tension violently interrupted by a smallmouth sucking the bait into its mouth. It never gets old. That type of finesse presentation isn’t always the best idea on a rising river. It will catch big fish, but why not increase your odds and strain more water. The fish aren’t being overly selective, and the more water you show a noisy or flashy bait to, the more fish you are going to catch. The same cannot be said when the river is low and clear. When it’s rising, make a play for fast-moving baits like spinnerbaits and crankbaits. When it’s rising, fish fast water. When it’s rising, stop everything and get out on the river.
Jeff Little is a Regional Pro Staff Director for Wilderness Systems Kayaks and produces instructional videos for his channel TightLineJunkieJournal.pivotshare.com. His DVD series on seasonal river smallmouth patterns is available at ConfidenceBaits.net.