Rising Rivers Spell Smallmouth Bonanza
By Mike Norris
My co-workers think I'm nuts. While they pray for sunshine and warmer temperatures, I beg for rain. There is a method to my madness. Rain may be bad news for golfers, but it spells good news for both Fox and Du Page river smallmouth aficionados. Here's why:
The equation is simple. When rain falls, rivers rise, and smallmouth bass that normally hide out in mid-river locations get pushed to the safety and comfort of shoreline eddies. This places large numbers of smallmouth bass literally at one's feet. No boats necessary here.
It's a shore anglers dream. Shoreline rocks, fallen timber, culverts and other man-made obstructions flood and effectively block and divert current flow. This diversion creates an eddy; an area where the current is reduced and often times reverses its direction. Smallmouth bass love to hang out in eddies, waiting to ambush easy meals that swim by.
Let's look at it another way. Small minnows are no competition to strong current flows. They have no other option but to head towards shoreline structure to wait out the strong currents in rain-swollen rivers. With food and comfort on their mind, smallmouth bass are right behind them. It's a match made in heaven.
Fishing rain-swollen rivers requires nothing more than a medium action spinning rod and reel combo filled with 8-pound monofilament, a bucket full of hearty fathead minnows, a bobber, and a handful of split shot, small jigs and live bait hooks. I like a seven-foot long Berkley Series One rod matched with an Abu-Garcia CD1000 spinning reel. The longer rod allows me to reach out to the edge of the water without spooking shoreline-related bass. The reel provides me the comfort of a smooth drag system so hard-charging smallies don't break my line.
There are basic techniques I utilize for catching what I call "high water" smallies on local rivers. The first technique is a good one for beginners who need to learn how to find and understand eddies.
Attach a float one to two feet up on the monofilament and tie a No. 2 bait hook to the end of the line. Then pinch on a No. 7 split shot four to six inches above the bait hook and thread the hook through the lower and upper jaws of a chunky fathead minnow.
Drop the minnow rig in the water no more than 6-12 inches from shore and watch it float down stream. Adjust the float shallower if the minnow rig hangs up on the bottom.
When the float slows to a crawl or moves upstream opposite the main current flow of the river, you've found an eddy. In high water conditions, it could be only a matter of moments before the float is tugged underwater by a hungry smallie running away with your offering. Set the hook immediately.
Once you've located several promising eddies, try this second technique. It's my favorite: Remove the float and bait up with a fresh minnow. Drop the rig in the water until it reaches bottom. When you've reached bottom your line will go slack. Lift your rod until the line tightens and slowly dabble your offering through the eddy. Hold the line across your index finger. When a smallie grabs your minnow, you'll feel a hard rap. Once again, set the hook immediately.
Switch to casting a split shot and minnow rig when water levels are falling and bass are moving away from shoreline structure.
When utilizing this technique, stand above the eddy and cast the rig back downstream. Let the rig fall to the bottom and slowly sweep the rod back, pulling the minnow through the eddy. Switch to a No. 5 split shot if the rig hangs up often in the rocks. This technique provides some bone jarring hits, so be prepared at all times.
The final technique involves removing the split shot and bait hook and tying on a 16th or 8-ounce jig. Tip the jig with a fathead minnow, cast it out and work it back through an eddy in a fashion similar to working the split shot rig described above.
While smallmouth are my main target, often I find a walleye or two who likes my offerings. Smallmouth can be caught along the entire length of the Fox River, but McHenry, Carpentersville, Dundee, Elgin, Aurora, Montgomery, and Yorkville provide the best opportunities for walleye.
The public access area in Warrenville, The Riverwalk and areas downstream in Naperville provide excellent smallmouth action on the Du Page River.