The Smallmouth Game of Hi-Lo

River goes up, river goes down — smallmouth bass adapt … and so must anglers

While the river is still high and dingy colored but just starting to recede, Black switches to a 1/4-ounce shallow-lipped diver, such as an XCalibur Square Lip or similar square-lip diver. “With the water level starting to fall, bass begin pulling away from the bank. A diving crankbait is an effective way to cover ground while searching for smallies which are dropping away from the shoreline.”


With many smallmouth rivers across the U.S. experiencing exceptionally low flows for longer periods of time as the result of ongoing drought conditions, unusually thick aquatic vegetation growth is becoming a significant problem. In many northern flows, river eelgrass is expanding throughout shallow-moving water, taking hold in every nook that is not rock. While anglers are adept at working select baits over and through rooted vegetation, it’s the broken stem “floaters” that make lure presentation incredibly difficult, wrapping around both line and lure.

For example, sections of the Allegheny River were so choked with broken strands of eelgrass late last summer that every lure would ­become fouled as soon as a retrieve was started. Forced to employ presentations that did not require moving the bait, river anglers began ­target casting a weighted wacky worm on a weedless hook to openings in moving floating mats of grass and letting the worm drop vertically. Likewise, drop shot presentations were invaluable, with casts directed into wash-out holes and pocket eddies, utilizing enough weight on the rig so the sinker sat in place while allowing the slender drop shot bait to wave enticingly in the current. And instead of using popular hard-body topwater lures, some anglers switched to dragging a weed-resistant floating frog across the surface.

As the river rises and current starts ripping, baitfish will move to the banks and the bass will follow.


Because river levels are constantly changing, “normal flow” is best described as a range of summer averages over a number of years. During normal summer flow on a typical free-flowing smallmouth river, bronze bass can be found in many different areas on a river. Generally, the most productive areas will be fairly strong current areas of firm bottom composed of sand, gravel, chunk rock and/or boulders. Smallmouth may search for prey on moderate-flow flats or take feeding positions in current breaks, where they can rest with minimum exertion while waiting for forage to swim or drift by. One particular type of fish-holding break is a current seam, created downstream of solid objects or when two somewhat opposing currents collide. Under extreme low flows, many current seams fizzle into nothing, forcing active feeding bass toward midstream structures. On the other hand, with a fast-rising river, current seams are blown out, pushing feeding bass toward the shore, sometimes into muck bottom sites rather than exclusively hard bottom sites.

To see the entire July/August 2013 issue of Bassmaster Magazine, click here.