Outdoors column: The ups and downs of small rivers

It’s been an up and down year for river fisherman, mostly up. Just about the time the rivers have neared normal levels we’ve been hit with torrents of rain and it’s back up again, to the point of being unfishable. But not now; now it’s good and the timing couldn’t be better.

The author found this big smallie where most anglers never go.
The author found this big smallie where most anglers never go. 

August is the perfect time for chasing smallmouth bass, big ones. Catching smallies of any size is still fun, but it’s those pushing into the three-pound and beyond range that really get the heart rate up.

Rivers like the Rum, Snake, Upper Mississippi and the St. Croix are loaded with smallmouth and some of them are supersized. They do get some pressure, especially stretches like on the St. Croix near Grantsburg, Wis., where there is a well-organized group that seem to be on the river daily.

Even so, there are stretches that are plenty good and hardly get hit. And where they do see a lot of baits most of the fish are still released to live and fight another day.

Regardless of the size of the river one of the keys to the best action is rocks, and the more the merrier.

The best stretches have big boulders on the shorelines, out in the mainstream and rocky flats that are submerged. All of it can hold fish.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that most of that organized angling pressure that was previously mentioned is directed to the shorelines. No doubt they are successful and there are plenty of fish shallow but those deeper main stream smallies are largely overlooked.

Working the middle without anything specific to cast to takes some courage but there are fish out there and they are just as catchable as the bank runners.

Instead of concentrating on a current break you might have to make a cast across the great unknown and work your bait all the way back to the boat.

Topwater lures are a perfect choice for covering lots of water when looking for active fish and includes stick baits, buzz baits and popper style lures.

My favorite is Skitterpop that can be easily cast and makes a lot of commotion with the right retrieve. Cast it out, lower the rod tip and then snap the rod tip down towards the water and then reel up the slack and do it again and again.

What you want is a nice pop, pop, pop, which throws a tantalizing little spray of water and has to duplicate a bait fish trying to escape capture. And there’s no wrong time to throw it, even during the middle of the day.

If you’re beating the banks be sure to take the time and work what’s directly behind you as you could be missing out on some big time fun.

See you on the river.

Ron Anlauf is a regular contributor to the Outdoors page.

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