COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill
January 25, 2016
January 25, 2016

Catching Largemouth in a Current

Not all Texas bass are caught in reservoirs.

In fact, not even all major bass tournaments are held on reservoirs as evidenced by two very successful Bassmater Elite Series events in Orange on the Sabine River. Many anglers fish the rivers, yet there seems to be little information on how to successfully fish these areas.

That’s changing here right now.

Pro angler Alton Jones says current tends to concentrate bass into more predictable areas.

Many bass anglers avoid a current, but flowing water could help them find fish that few other anglers tempt. In a current, bass typically stay in eddies behind obstructions, but the most aggressive fish usually face upstream, waiting to ambush anything flowing toward them.

“Current tends to concentrate fish and put them into more predictable areas,” said Alton Jones, a former Bassmaster Classic champion from Waco. “Once an angler understands where fish want to be, current becomes the angler’s friend. A bass likes to sit just out of the current, but keeps its nose right against it. When I’m fishing a current, I have to figure out exactly where to present the bait so it flows right in front of the fish.”

Most current fishing occurs in rivers. Good river fishermen learn to “read” water by watching how it reacts to obstructions so they can target honey holes. A “vee” shaped wake indicates a snag or other obstruction. Choppy, whitish water could identify a shallow riffle or shoal. Deeper water generally turns darker. Long stretches of shoreline may hold nothing, while a sweet spot with the right combination of current relief; plentiful oxygen and food could harbor several fish. 

“As a rule of thumb, the more current flowing in a river, the more shallow bass get,” explained Zell Rowland, a bass pro from Austin. “Not all river shorelines are alike. Many factors determine why certain banks hold more fish than other banks. It could be the structure along that shoreline, the way currents wash in certain directions, or a million other reasons.”

Snags protruding from the surface make obvious eddies, but submerged objects may create unseen pockets. Although bass usually hide behind current breaks, eddies can form upstream.

Water smashing against an object “mushrooms” like a bullet hitting steel. That backwash may create an opposite current. Rarely fished, some upstream sweet spots hold lunkers that seldom see lures. Probe all around obstructions with jigs or Texas-rigged plastics.

“If I could only bring one bait to fish rivers, it would be a half-ounce jig, but a Texas-rigged tube is another good choice,” Jones explained. “Current hits the upstream side of an obstruction and goes straight down. Underwater, it switches directions. A fish near the bottom may face upstream, but be looking toward the stump or rock.”

Drop jigs, Texas-rigged worms, creature baits or tubes vertically, tight to snags. Some river fishermen say, “Put the bait between the bark and the tree.”

Fish completely around cover in a current. Not wanting to move far from its slack lair, a bass may slurp an easy enticement, but not chase a bait. Don’t just drop a bait; pay attention to the line as it descends to detect subtle bites. Bass often bite on the fall. Use just enough weight to control the fall.

“The swifter the current, the heavier the bait I use,” Rowland advised. “I tend to throw downstream and pull it back against the current to give me more control of the bait. At times, fish prefer it moving in the same direction as the current. If I catch a bass out of a laydown going downstream at half-a-mile an hour, I turn around and fish every little branch in that tree.”

Like putting a thumb over a water hose, current breaks constricting flow can also scour holes. Fish drop into these holes as water washes over their heads. They look up to snatch whatever flows over them.

Moreover, water moves faster around an outside bend, often digging deep holes. Logs and other debris may fall into these holes, creating more bass-attracting cover. Fish these holes with jigs, Texas-rigged worms or Carolina rigs.

Boat traffic and water control structures can also create divergent currents. When locks open, water flows either in or out, disrupting “normal” conditions. On large commercial rivers, ships or barge traffic can push water in front of them, creating bulges of rising water. 

In coastal areas, anglers must learn how to deal with tidal currents that can change directions every few hours. During an incoming tide, bass may stay on one side of an object. As the tide falls, it may reposition itself to face the opposite direction.

“Since tide might run one way in the morning and in another direction a few hours later, fish change positions,” said Denny Brauer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion who now resides in Texas near Lake Amistad. “It takes a little experience to learn how to fish in a current, but once one learns how to do it, it’s the easiest fishing around. It’s very visual and obvious where fish should be.”

Most people think of inland lakes as placid water bodies, but stiff winds can also generate current. Winds may push water to one shoreline, causing a “high tide” on the windward side and “low tide” on the leeward side. Water flowing through the dam can also generate currents in reservoirs and stimulate fish. The windward shoreline or areas with current near a dam frequently offer the best bass action.

“Often, bass feed best when the wind blows,” said Mark Davis, former Classic champion and multiple time Angler of the Year. 

“When I fish points or other structure, I always fish the windy side first. Wind creates current. Fish usually position themselves facing into the wind or current. They look for bait coming toward them.”

However generated, a little current can affect fishing by positioning bass, moving more bait around or helping oxygenate water. Knowing how those currents work could put more lunkers in the livewell.


—story by John N. Felsher


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