After scanning many miles upriver, we decided to launch at a likely looking sandy beach area and float about six miles. After dropping off a car and setting up the shuttle, we dragged our boats down a rough trail and nosed them into the water to rig up.
I pulled out my swimbait rod, flicked a cast into a boiling shoal near the river’s edge, and was rewarded with a huge blowup. First-cast bites can either be a blessing or a curse, but this one proved to be a good omen as I quickly put a chunky 17” smallie on the board. The fish then began throwing curveballs that truly had me stumped. For the first full hour of the trip, I had huge smallmouth charge out and boil the water under my bait without touching a hook. I have seen this behavior before with spotted bass, but never to this level of frustration. The fish were charging the 5” Bull Shad so hard and fast that they would literally knock the lure out of the water, or push so much water up under the lure that it ran sideways, skipping on the surface. This typically means the fish are very interested, but I need to change bait sizes or colors. I took off the bone-colored 5” bait and began experimenting with other sizes and colors, but could not garner the same attention. After stewing on it for a bit, I decided the best option was to stick it out with the bone-color bait, and hopefully turn some of those swirls into hookups.
This proved to be a solid call. I went on to land six more smallies over 17” as the day wore on and the bite improved. The fishing, despite being as productive as the previous day, was vastly different. The fish were scattered throughout the river with some in shoals, push-water, runs, standing bank cover, and deep holes in slack water. When beating the bank didn’t yield the result I wanted, I hugged my bank and began working the middle section of river. This actually proved to be a huge adjustment, as I pulled many of my fish that day out of the deepest part of the river.
Most paddlers tend to let the flow do the work - sit in the middle of the river and cast to the banks in small flows - but often you are sitting on top of some of the best cover in the river, especially when the water is low and the banks are shallow. I was keyed onto this pattern when I landed several fish right at the boat. Literally, right as I was getting ready to pull up my lure and make another cast, my swimbait would get blasted by a fish that seemingly appeared from nowhere.
We finally hit the concrete takeout pad and I tallied up the totals over the trip. I had a dozen smallmouth over 17”, an 18” largemouth, and the fattest little Kentucky spot I have ever seen. It was such a liberating feeling to simply tie on your favorite lure and fish it daylight to dark with prime results. I decided at the beginning of the year to leave tournament fishing for a year, and only take on fun fishing trips. This decision has paid off big time!
- Sometimes it pays off to stick with a lure you think will pay off, especially if there is no pressure from a tournament perspective.
- Take cues from where the fish strike your lure as to how you should approach the river you are fishing. Beating the banks always yields results, but there are times when that just isn’t as productive
- Jackson Kayak “Kilroy”
- Bending Branches “Angler Pro” paddle
- Rods “795 SBMT”
- Bull Shad swimbaits 5” "Bull Shad"