River Tricks and Tactics Tips

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What's the best way to use a trotline?

Trotlines for Big Cats

Trotlines with one end attached to the shoreline allow the baits to rest at differing depths. When a channel cat takes one of the doughballs, note the depth and start concentrating baits where the channels are feeding. Lines are particularly effective where streams flow into the lake.

Tuning up a lure that's tracking to the side. If your crankbait isn't tracking straight, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers and carefully make this adjustment. If the lure is tracking to the left, gently bend the tow point or lure eye to the right. If it tracks to the right, bend it to the left. Then cast it out to see what happens. It may take a few tries but you'll get it right back on track and will get the most wiggle and vibration out of the lure. Its interesting to note that at times, you may actually want the bait to track off-center a little. This can allow you to retrieve right up under a log rather than next to it and give a wary fish a sight it isn't used to seeing.

A trotline can be an excellent way to catch a snapping turtle. You may get a nice surprise when you check your line to see if any catfish have decided to take the bait.

Where can I find trophy blue catfish?

Blue Catfish on the Ledge

Blue catfish have been known to top 100 pounds and regularly exceed 50 or 60 pounds. These lunkers prefer large rivers and can be tough to locate.

In the daylight hours look for these fish in the deepest water available along steep drop-offs with shallow shelves on top. The cats drop over the edge during the light and then move up to feed on the shelves in from six to twelve feet of water at night, depending on the available habitat. They can be taken on live bait tossed over the edge of the drop-offs in the daytime and on the adjacent shelves after dark.

Rivers seldom have large populations of blues but these fish will be the largest fish in the fishery, capable of eating nearly everything else that swims. Blues are also the fish of legend that lie beneath dams and have scared off divers due to their mammoth sizes.

Are the tailraces really that good?

Tailrace Fishing

Large rivers with numerous dams travel for hundreds of miles. The old truism that 90 percent of the fish are caught in 10 percent of the water certainly holds true on these waters. The tailraces below the dams hold the largest concentrations of fish of all species due to the water being well-oxygenated and abundant food. These favorable conditions can extend as far as two or three river miles below the dam.

Fishing other stretches of the river can be productive but you need to be selective. Riverine backwaters can hold bass, muskies, pike, catfish and panfish that find more lake-like conditions than the main river channel offers. Current can be nearly nonexistent which allows for lush underwater vegetation and fallen shoreline trees. Fish preferring the faster current will include stripers, smallmouth bass and some catfish, though most of these will be concentrated in the tailraces.

How do I use the current to my advantage?

The Current is Your Friend

Fish in smaller rivers and creeks rely on the current to bring food to them. Trout lying in a deep hole, catfish below an undercut and even a bluegill or crappie on the edge of rip-rap are all waiting for insects, fish and water-borne scents to drift their way. Take advantage of fish using the current by dropping your bait upstream of holes and laydowns and letting it drift naturally down into the cover. You don't need to control the drift. Fish are very aware of where the bait will be riding the current and know ahead of time where it will connect with the cover.

How do rainstorms affect river fishing?

Don't Give Up on that Fishing Hole

Many anglers make the mistake of trying a river spot that looks promising and then abandoning it when it fails to produce. What they don't know is that what may have been a dead section of river can tomorrow be a hotspot.

Smaller river fishing intensely affected by rainfall and far more dependent on the flows and water levels than are lakes. A rainstorm will raise a river as much as a few feet and completely change the nature of a given stretch of river overnight. What that means to the wise angler is that he needs to treat it like a new spot.

A particular hole may hold a couple of carp and a bullhead for weeks with little sign of anything else. A gully-washer that nearly overflows the banks can go through with the result that this same hole in the riverbottom is now filled with scrappy smallmouth bass, rock bass and big sunfish. Another gully washer in a week or so can move these fish downstream and bring in the catfish.

Where can I find the really big catfish?

Big River Cats

Trophy-class flatheads and blue catfish are generally found in large river systems like the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Flatheads in the 40-pound range and blues up to 50 or 60 pounds will barely turn the head of old-timers familiar with the big rivers. Huge blues lie off steep drop-offs near the deepest water while flatheads are going to be holed up in rocky crevices, under logs and in river-bottom holes with rock or wood cover.

The myth that all cats like stinkbaits and doughballs probably has done more to protect these lunker fish than anything else. Channel catfish and bullheads will readily take these baits but flatheads and blues require live bait like a bluegill, shad or skipjack.

Which end of the boat do I anchor from in a river?

Anchoring Safely

Never anchor from the stern, or the rear of the boat, in a river. When the anchor line is attached to the rear of the boat the force of the current pulls the boat against the flowing water and the stern will submerge, causing the boat to sink. Always, always anchor from the bow of the boat. Your bow will keep you above the water level except for in the swiftest water and you'll stay on top of the water where you want to be.

Having an anchor rope for a small fishing boat that is five to seven times longer than the water is deep is about right for safe anchoring. Any less means fast water can pull you dangerously low and you can risk swamping or having your anchor give way. Too long of a rope means you will come to rest hopelessly far from where you tossed the anchor overboard and you'll have to make your way back upstream to reach your fishing spot.

Safety on the river is first. You'll be underwater with the fish if you're not anchoring safely.

How do I tell the difference between a sauger, saugeye and walleye?

Tricky Identification

Identifying a saugeye from a walleye or a sauger is no easy task. Saugers are primarily big-river fish and there won't be too many walleyes and saugeyes crossing paths with it. The real problem lies in distinguishing the saugeye from a walleye. Saugeyes are the hybrid between walleyes and saugers that are commonly stocked into shallow lakes. They grow fast and within three or four years can be 15 inches long or so, and though usually produced under artificial hatchery conditions, the hybridization can occur naturally as well. They're a lot of fun to catch and taste great on the plate.

Saugeyes have markings on their sides that resemble saddles, similar to the sauger, but may have some white pigment on the lower part of their tail in combination with dark bars on the dorsal fin membranes. Walleye don't have the saddle markings on their sides, have white pigment on their tails and sport solid shading on the dorsal fin membranes.

What's a fool-proof way to take rainbow trout?

Rolling a Worm for Rainbows

Fishing for rainbow trout means fishing with finesse. Many anglers specialize in dry or wet flies, spawn sacs and other creative but sometimes expensive methods of catching these beautiful fish. But even with the help of modern fishing technology, there isn't much that beats rolling a worm for rainbows.

Simply thread a small or medium-sized earthworm onto a tiny trout hook on line no thicker than 2- to 5-pound test monofilament line. Line any thicker will spook these wary fish. You won't need any weight except for a tiny sinker a foot or so above the hook.

Toss the worm into current and let it roll down into the dark depths of a hole in the river bottom. The hole should be bordered by an undercut bank, overhanging tree or tree roots, or a drop-off created by the current washing around a rock or a log. Any trout that is in the hole knows how to work the current for food that might be swept into the hole, so let the worm drift freely. A trout that is the least bit interested in a snack will readily take the earthworm with little problem.

Use fresh worms that are lively enough to attract the attention of the trout. You may have to change worms frequently. Make certain that you are silent on the bank, using gentle footsteps that will muffle any vibration. Peeking into the water can kill the bite in a heartbeat as rainbows can be spooked easily.

Are skamania trout good fishing?

Skamania are Making a Name

Steelhead anglers in Indiana and Michigan are pretty much limited to runs upriver starting in May and ending in October. A lot of good angling can be had but its really not the end of the story. The skamania strain steelhead are the exception. The adventuresome among them will begin heading upstream to spawn with the majority following in June. They'll stay upstream in the holes, undercuts and tangled wood clear up through the next spring before drifting back downstream to Lake Michigan. Flies, in-line spinners, spawn and small crankbaits all take these bruisers that can easily top out at 12 pounds, or more.

Skamania are powerful fighters with strong runs, hard hits and thrilling action. This up-and-coming gamefish is definitely worth the drive to tangle with if you live in the midwest.

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Patricia Walters-Fischer
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