All rivers flow. But here in flat Florida, they don’t always flow at the same rate. When the water speeds up a bit more than normal, you can find yourself in a really good position to catch a lot of bass.
This past weekend, my wife Missy and I were practicing for a tournament on the St. Johns River. We normally do well on the St. Johns, both on size and numbers of bass caught. But this past weekend proved challenging. We caught only one bass in practice, and that had me a little worried about tournament day. But on day one of the tournament, the current had definitely picked up and we managed to run into a lot of bass.
Several factors can influence the flow of water in a river system. In the St. Johns, tides can play a role, as it runs out to the Atlantic Ocean. This is more noticeable the further north on the river you go (the St. Johns flows south to north).
Water levels — in our case, lower water levels due to a lack of rain — will also have an impact on the flow of the river. Areas that used to have deep water under the cover along the bank now had very little water. The challenge was to find depth under or near the cover and stay as close to the main river channel as possible.
On Saturday, we loaded the boat with bass — about 30 throughout the day. We found some cover (lily pads) that were very close to the main river, which was more than 12 feet deep in spots. We sat in a small depression of the pads and threw our baits out into the channel. The bites came as the baits got closer to the drop-off into the main river. As soon as it got to the depth change, they would ambush that bait and get after it.
We fished two baits all day. The first was weedless 5- or 6-inch light purple worm on a drop shot. We used a 3/8-ounce weight under a small 1/0 hook. We’d cast out, wait until it got to the bottom, then started our retrieve. When we retrieve a drop shot rig, we shake the bait as we bring it back. This gives it extra action while it is suspended up off the bottom. I do believe it drives the bass nuts.
The second bait was a Chug Bug — a topwater that is much like a Rebel Pop-R, but longer. When the bass would chase the bait in the corner of that river and push them up to the bank, we would throw that Chug Bug over them and get them to bite. They liked to hit it, but it was tough to keep them on the hook.
However, towards the end of the day, I managed to catch two bass at the same time. A bass close to three pounds and one over two pounds managed to hit the Chug Bug at the same time, and they each got one of the treble hooks latched solidly in the face. That was cool. I haven’t had that happen in years.
Sadly, we broke off or lost three bass that would have made a huge difference in the weight we brought to the scale, but we managed to do OK and were sitting pretty high up the standings after day one.
On day two, the current stopped running like it was on Saturday. That slowed the bite tremendously, and forced those bass back under the pads. I failed to make the adjustment quickly enough and we didn’t put much weight in the well. It happens, but it’s just another lesson learned.
The point here is when fishing a river system, current is everything. Know how fast it flows and what makes it change. Understand the depth changes near cover. This is huge. Anytime you can find deep water close to the cover, especially in a river, you will have located a spot that can turn on in a flash. These are the places that you can benefit from the most.
It also doesn’t hurt to know what’s going on with the local shad spawn. If you see balls of baitfish in certain locations, pay attention to the cover nearby. It could be a key to unlocking a mother-lode of bass.
Rivers can be exceptional for bass fishing. The Kissimmee or St. Johns rivers have been good to us. If you want to try river fishing, I would encourage you to try these two, and check that water flow once you get there. It may take a time or two to get used to reading the current, but when you see that water moving, you may be in for a day like no other.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.