Get bit on Summer Rivers

Fishing on a natural lake or reservoir in summer can be lots of fun but also frustrating. Just when you think you have figured out a pattern, the bite hits a bulkhead. A wind shift, overzealous pleasure boaters, a mile high sky or a cold front can shut down the fishing for an undetermined period of time. Even worse, smallmouth can suddenly develop lockjaw under ideal conditions.

Being a full time professional fishing guide, I have to put the odds in favor of my clients and that is why most of the summer I can be found fishing for river smallmouths. While there is never a sure thing, fishing for summer river smallmouth is as good as it gets. Summer smallmouth bass action on a river can be simultaneously exhilarating, predictable and a real pleasure for any fishing guide.

Along with finding active smallmouth for my clients, I need to make the catching as basic and effective as possible. My expertise and experience makes me recommend the Wacky Worm for consistent catches of summer river smallmouth. The Wacky Worm has revolutionized the way I fish. In the old days prior to the Wacky Worm, I would fish a variety of different techniques and usually find the best presentation for the day through trial and error. This often would take a considerable amount of time and affect the day’s productivity. Now on my guide trips I usually start out at least one of my clients with a Case Magic Stik rigged wacky, while the other will throw a topwater bait or Case Sinking Minnow or Sinking Shad. On a typical day, it doesn’t take very long for everyone in the boat to be throwing a Case Magic Stik rigged wacky style unless there is a good topwater bite.

One advantage to using a Wacky Worm is that it will catch river smallmouth in a variety of structures, while other presentations might only work around one type of structure. I like to start out in the mornings fishing grass edges and will have my client cast tight to the grass. If the smallmouth are holding in the grass then I will switch to the same stick bait, but I will rig it Texas style. After we catch the smallmouth holding in the grass, we usually cast Wacky Worms tight to shoreline cover. If smallmouth are holding tight to cover, I will have my clients tie on a weedless Wacky Worm hook. Many times by letting the Wacky

Worm sink, it will drop into the deeper wood, which will hold the big smallmouth.

Most of the rivers I fish contain stained water. Watermelon red, green pumpkin/gold flake and watermelon/gold flake Magic Sticks are my most productive colors. On some days, smallmouth will prefer minnow imitation colors and that is why I also bring along some white and pearl hologram.

I also fish a lot of mid-river structure in summer that is perfect for the Wacky Worm. This mid-river structure contains a mix of rock, logs, grass, and most of all, foraging smallmouth. Smallmouth can be sitting at different levels in the water column. Topwater baits can be hot at times but there are many days when they just will not rise to hit a bait on the surface. My records show that about 80 percent of the time I can catch smallmouth with a Wacky Worm, so it is definitely my go-to bait. The reason the Wacky Worm is so effective is its ability to drop to all levels in the water column. So at whatever depth the smallmouth are holding, if they won’t rise to strike a bait, the Wacky Worm will find them.

I will position my MirroCraft boat so I can drift slowly downstream with the head of my 24-volt Minn Kota trolling motor pointed to the rear of the boat. This enables me to control the speed of the drift or hold the boat in place if need be. Most of the time a smallmouth will hammer the bait and set the hook on its own. If no strike is detected and the Magic Stik drops to the bottom, I tell them to raise the rod and again let the stick bait sink. When river smallmouth are aggressive, there is no presentation that can come close to this for sheer numbers. My personal favorite was a day when two clients and I boated 122 smallmouth with this method in one day.

River smallmouth will hit a variety of presentations, but given the choice, I prefer to fish them on top. I have yet to meet an angler who does not like to catch smallmouth bass on topwater baits. With the exception of muskies, a big smallmouth hitting a topwater bait may be the ultimate thrill in freshwater. After you catch a few smallmouth on top, it is hard to switch to another bait. Some anglers would rather catch one or two smallmouth on top than several fish with other presentations.

The best topwater action will occur under stable weather conditions. Simply put, if you have a hot summer with few weather changes, the topwater bite can be awesome. However, when we experience a cool summer with continuous cold fronts, the topwater bite can be unpredictable and even non-existent. During an average summer in the Northwoods, we see a good topwater bite from late May through mid-September, but it peaks during mid to late summer.

By using a combination of soft plastics and topwater lures, you should be able to be on active fish throughout the summer. Of course, it helps if you are fishing a world-class smallmouth bass fishery like the Menominee River.