There are hundreds of techniques, baits, and presentations you can use to catch bass. However, when you go to your river spot you’ll quickly find how few of these techniques actually work. Strong current, limited throwing area, and shallow depths create numerous issues for throwing things like crankbaits. And if your rivers are rocky like mine, you’ll be out of weights and hooks from getting stuck in no time with a texas rig.
To better fish rivers from the bank – you need to focus on baits that are both natural to the forage available and easy to fish in moving, shallow, often rocky terrain. Try out the baits and styles below and you’ll be hooking up with some river bass in no time!
Poppers for river bank bass
The number one bait that I have tied on any time I’m river fishing from the bank is a popper. This bait is extremely versatile, easy to use, and flat out catches fish in numbers. By focusing on topwater, you remove the rocky, tumultuous river bottom and don’t have to worry about getting hung in rocks and debris.
Simply twitch your rod to create a small water bubble in front of the lure and let the fish come up and get it. Color is less important than action here, but even the cheaper Rebel Pop-R has been a producer of river bass for me. You might even get a few large panfish ready for a meal.
If you have a very strong current or are facing a windy day, a popper can be replaced by something that makes a little more disturbance and is more noticeable on the top of the water. Buzzbaits are a great alternative – my favorite is available here.
Grubs for river bank bass
If I can’t get a bite on topwater, I’m switching to a grub. If I’m lake fishing or pond hopping, grubs are almost never in my bag. But if I’m hitting a river from the bank, it will be on one of my poles.
Use a ⅛ oz ball jig head like a Gamakatsu Round Jig Head and thread the grub on so that the hook is exposed from it’s back and the grub is in line with the shaft of the hook. You won’t be getting close to the bottom of the river, so don’t worry about the exposed hook getting hung up. That exposed hook is going to greatly enhance the chance you have of hooking up.
I use the Zoom Fat Albert grubs and tend to stick to green pumpkin, watermelon red flake, and junebug in clearer conditions. If your river is extremely muddy, try fishing a chartreuse grub and you may be surprised at the results. For a two tailed grub presentation, you can also try the Strike King Rage Tail Menace.
Simply throw the grub out and wind it slowly back in, so that tail does it’s magic. The ⅛ oz head is going to help it stay up off the bottom so you can have a slower retrieve. If you start feeling the bottom, just reel a little faster or lift up your rod tip. The perfect space is just a few inches from the bottom if you can manage it. Try to cast into the current and pull just slightly against it so that it helps you do the work of giving the tail action. Just don’t come completely against current. Have you seen a small fish strong enough to swim upstream?
Inline Spinners for riverbank bass
For years the only thing I threw when my dad and I went to the river and fished from the bank was a little rooster tail, better known as an inline spinner. This is perhaps one of the most versatile baits in any fisherman’s arsenal, as I use it to catch crappie, trout, panfish, and yes of course, bass.
If you find your spinner isn’t spinning when you test it in the water (and yes, always test to make sure the spinner is working), then use your pliers to very lightly bend the metal spinner and test again until it spins easily.
Colors are again not as important, as the shimmer that blade makes is really what is attracting the fish. I’ve bought the variety packs and can’t say one color has outproduced others in a noticeable way. So I stick with white and black when possible and prefer a “shiny” rather than painted blade to give any extra glimmer from the sunlight as possible.
You’ll fish this very similarly to the grub – though feel free to get high and low in the water column. You are mimicking small little minnows and bait fish, which tend to be all over the top and bottom of water. So experiment and when you get a bite, try to be mindful of your depth and stay in that area. One fish is a coincidence, two is a pattern. Just remember with a treble hook exposes, you are very likely to hang up on the bottom of the river.
Much like the grub, find the sweet spot of having the current do the work of making the spinner spin without throwing completely against current. A little baitfish couldn’t naturally swim against the current like your bait does. Bass are smart enough to know the difference!
If you have to use a bottom bait
If you’ve tried the above and had no luck, you may have to switch to a bottom bait such as a jig, texas rig, etc. This is how I’ve caught my best river bass, but comes with the unfortunate reality that you WILL get stuck and lose tackle.
So with that in mind, when river fishing from the bank, don’t buy the most expensive tungsten weights and extra sharp brand name hooks. You will lose them, and they aren’t necessary for river fishing in my opinion. Also, don’t use a jig if you’re worried about cost. A texas rig can accomplish most everything a jig will and be much less expensive.
If I am going to fish the bottom for river bass, I’m putting on a texas rig and making it completely weedless. This means the hook will be completely concealed inside the body of the bait. I’ll be focusing on as light of a weight as I can get away with too, trying not to get stuck deep under rocks in the riverbed. Usually I can fish a ⅛ oz easily but depending on your depth and current you may have to go heavier, or could get away with even lighter. The lighter your go, the more likely the river current will run away with your bait and you’ll never hit the bottom where you think you are.
Luckily you do have a variety of choices for baits in a river. My go to is always a crawdad imitation, like the Strike King Rage Craw or Zoom Ultra Vibe Speedcraw. Again, green pumpkin or watermelon will be my first option. If the water is muddy, I will switch to black/blue or junebug. A variety of other creature baits will work with effectiveness as well so experiment to find what works best for your fishery. I love throwing a Zoom Baby Brush Hog when the crawdad bite isn’t working. Generally staying in the greens/browns/blacks is a good baseline and you can experiment from there.
Where should I cast from the river bank?
Now that we have discussed your bait options, it is important to discuss what areas to focus your casts in? A river is often different than most lakes in that if you are bank fishing, your access is likely limited. So casting wherever you are able to get to is likely how you will have to go about fishing – and believe me just throwing everywhere will catch fish.
But if you are lucky enough to have a variety of river access available to you – try to find the areas with “moving” water. As the name implies, this is anywhere where the current is more noticeable. For my home river, there are many rock outcroppings every several hundred yards. This naturally creates rapids behind them where bass feed. And it doesn’t have to be major, class 3 rapids. Even the slightest moving water can attract bass.
Fish don’t normally sit in “moving” water as it unnecessarily tires them out to swim against it. However, when bass are feeding they often move to just outside of these areas to find whatever the river may push in front of their faces. Little fish swimming helplessly in current, bugs, crayfish, etc. Bass may not spend most of their time in these areas – but when they are there – they’re hungry.
Other areas like fallen trees, stumps, large rocks underwater, etc. will also hold fish. But the easiest way to locate hungry bass is to find the moving water and fish just outside where it’s moving the fastest. There are likely bass sitting there waiting for an easy meal.
River fishing from the shore does present challenges as you can’t easily move towards your bait to unhang yourself. You have the current constantly pushing your bait it’s own direction. It can make for a frustrating day. Set yourself up for success with the baits above and you could be in for a great day. For my money, nothing beats the feel of a bass fighting you along with the current of the river pulling even harder. So don’t give up and know when you do get a bite to hold on tight!