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Early Season River Bass

I’d be the first to admit, and I don’t have all the answers when it comes to bass fishing. I’ve had my share of great days on the water, but I have also had some less than stellar days. I tend to approach river bass fishing a bit different than my approach to bass fishing in lakes. For starters, if you are river fishing, you are most likely looking at smallmouth bass, while most lake fishing is more likely going to involve largemouth bass. I realize that is not always the case since there are some lakes even here in Pennsylvania where you can take either species of bass. On the other hand, I have taken a few largemouth bass in the Susquehanna River over the years, but that is definitely an exception at least in our part of the river.

While there are many similarities in the way largemouth and smallmouth bass feed and the habitat they use, there are also some significant differences. Obviously, our Susquehanna River is better suited to smallmouth, so when I hit the river, I choose tactics and lures that are better suited to that species. I often start my river smallmouth fishing, especially in the early season, with a “search type lure”, or in other words, a lure that covers a lot of water in a relatively short time. Late spring and early summer is a transitional period for bass, so knowing exactly where they are may be difficult — thus the “cover a lot of water approach” will get you headed in the right direction.

I’ve been on the river several times this year, and my first choice is often a spinnerbait; it has a lot of flash and vibration, and I can cover different depths and a lot of water in a short period. My first time out this year it produced several bass, as well as a few hits and a couple hooked and lost. This year, thus far, the river has been on the higher side with frequent rains and the water a bit discolored, but the spinnerbait is well suited to this kind of situation. Over the years the spinnerbait has been one of my early season top producers; however, it may not always be the answer.

One day last week I had a few hours to spend on the river. I started my river trip with the usual spinnerbait — not a strike in at least an hour — boy was I surprised. I switched to another lure that also covers a lot of area, but its action is much different than the spinnerbait, and that was a stickbait or minnow type lure. One of the originals of this lure type is the Rapala, but there are a number of companies that make similar minnow-type lures with similar action when retrieved. Some float and some sink but the small lip creates an enticing wobble as the lure is retrieved. The four-inch Smithwick minnow lure saved that day with three smallmouths in the 15-16 inch range and a couple hooked and lost.

Another great choice for river smallmouths is a jig and grub or tube. If I want to slow down a bit and I think I have a pretty good idea where the smallmouths are hanging out I’ll go to the jig. I like the round head jig, about an eighth once with a soft plastic grub attached; usually in white or maybe brown. Another favorite is a tube placed on the jig, or you can rig it with the jig jammed into the hollow tube. I suspect these jig-type lures mimic crayfish, but whatever they look like to the bass they definitely can be great producers.

These are just a few of my early river favorites; other choices may work equally well and if time permits I will be out there trying to see which ones produce the best results.

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