Dealing With High River Water

News & Tips: Dealing With High River Water

When it comes to river fishing, there's one thing you can pretty much count on: change. In my April 10 blog I described my first productive river smallmouth bass trip of the year — one brought on by a nice stint of warm weather and the resulting increase in water temperature.

DealingWithHighWater blog
A smallmouth caught on a pink Zoom Super Fluke.

The water level was a bit low for this time of year and quite clear. Two days since those words were typed the Allegheny River rose, according to the USGS gauge I watch, over 6 feet within 24 hours. The cold front that spelled the end of the warm weather spawned thunderstorms and rain that drenched northwestern Pennsylvania, as well as much of the surrounding region.

So when not rearranging upcoming trips — a chore that's common during the spring — I got to thinking of how high water affects the fishing.

First off, when a spring deluge produces a striking rise in river level, my first adjustment is to switch to a lake. A gradual rise in river level can be a good thing — it can really activate species like smallmouth bass. But this is not the case when the increase in flow triples overnight.

When river levels drop, however, the bite can be terrific. The time to get back out is when river characteristics become evident again, when you can recognize protected eddies (they are no longer completely washed over), and calmer spots in and around creek mouths. Incoming streams drop and clear much quicker than the main river, so areas around feeder are always worth checking out under this circumstance.

In general, smallmouth bass will be pushed up closer to the bank, in many cases right next to it. The water will still be cloudy, so an easy to locate bait is often the best choice. My first pick is 3/8 or 1/2 ounce single blade spinnerbait with a dark skirt, one of either black or blue/purple. The dark color contrasts well in the stained water. A Colorado blade provides lots of thump, another positive feature.

Second choice goes to a Lake Fork Tackle Live Magic Shad swimbait, either 3.5 or 4.5 inch. For river smallmouth I fish the swimbait on an open jighead, which tends to produce more hookups that a traditional belly-weighted swimbait hook. Smalljaws just doesn't have the mouth as its bigmouth cousin, for which the big hook works so well.

A third excellent dirty water option is a Zoom Super Fluke in the bubblegum color. This pink color can work in clear water, but is especially deadly in dirty water.
With all three baits fire casts right up next to shore, even in flooded grass where present; expect the hits to be within the first few feet of the retrieve.