Don’t ignore the rivers

The New Year brought dropping temperatures, snow and generally cold weather to much of the country. For some anglers that means sitting in front of the fire and waiting for spring. For others, however, it means good bass fishing. That’s especially true for those who have learned not to ignore the rivers.

The idea for this column came from my experiences over the years fishing the Ohio River in November, December, January and February. I know a lot of you are laughing right about now. The river has a horrible reputation as a bass fishery. That reputation notwithstanding, you’d be surprised at what she’ll give up when the weather is miserable.

I learned about the good winter bass fishing during our winter sauger trips. Sometimes, when the bite was slow, we’d give the bass a try. Over time we discovered a few things. The most important of which was that river bass worked hard at finding shallow, somewhat clear water — and it didn’t matter if that water was only a few degrees above freezing.

Lots of times the main river looked like fast running chili, but water flowing in from the backwaters, creeks and marinas was in significantly better shape. The bass would respond well to bladebaits, hard jerkbaits and jigging spoons.

My bladebait of choice is the venerable Silver Buddy. It’s as simple looking as any lure ever made, but it will catch fish. They’re a little hard to find right now, but if you look around you can pick up enough to get you through. My choice in jerkbaits is the ima Flit. It gets down deep and holds its position. I really don’t have a preference in jigging spoons. I use whatever’s available.

The trick to catching bass under these conditions is to throw into the inflow area and work your bait back slowly. All I do with a Silver Buddy is gently lift it up and let it fall back down on a semi-slack line. I do basically the same thing with my jigging spoons.

Effectively retrieving a jerkbait under tough river conditions is a little more complicated. After it hits the water the first thing you should do is pull it down to its maximum depth. Bring it back with short, gentle pulls. Let it sit dead still for at least 10 seconds, 30 is better. Do not get in a hurry. That’s the worst thing you can do.

I can’t tell you the number of 3-pound spots in the Ohio River I’ve caught over the years, but it’s a lot. Where they go the rest of the year is beyond me. They simply disappear. The one thing I do know, though, is that they’re the real deal in the winter.

What I’m describing is not unique to the Ohio River. It’s good all around the country. I can say that because I’ve experienced it firsthand. 

The point of all this is that you shouldn’t neglect rivers because you think they won’t produce in the wintertime. They will. And, many of the bass you catch will be surprisingly shallow. I suggest you give it a try.