Late winter river fishing

See the Elites race to their starting spots on Day 1 of the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork!

A lot of anglers ignore rivers this time of the year. That is a mistake. If conditions are right, you can have a great multispecies day, one you’ll remember all of your life.

First off, you need to forget about water temperature. It’s cold. That’s really all the information you need. There is one exception to what I just said though. We’ll talk about it in a minute. 

The thing about the water that does matter is water condition. It needs to be clean and blue. Right now the Ohio River near where I live looks like chocolate milk. It’s a waste of time to fish it. But that’s somewhat of an exception to what you’ll usually see in rivers this time of the year. Most of the time the water will be in pretty good shape.

I referenced multispecies days above. I usually catch several different types of fish from now into March, depending on the weather. I’ve often caught sauger, hybrids, stripers and even the occasional flathead during the same afternoon. They don’t pattern right now the way they will when the water warms. It’s a mixed bag, but that is not a bad thing. 

Presumably you’re not fishing a bass tournament so anything that pulls back and splashes around on top is fun to catch and will bring a smile to your face. In my neighborhood we call days like this “trash fishing.” But I always thought that was unfair. Fishing is supposed to be fun. Catching anything is fun, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it. 

Lure selection is about as easy as it gets on late winter, river fishing days. In no particular order, I like Strike King jerkbaits. They’re all good and perform well so pick the model that you like the best. Just be sure that it’s a medium or deep diver and that you work it real slow. Pauses longer than 12 to 15 seconds should be your starting point.

Another great choice is a Strike King Red Eye Shad. They come in three sizes and at least 59 colors. (No, that is not a typo in my column. There really are a minimum of 59 colors available.) I like the 1/4-ounce size best. It’s not that there’s anything different about it. It’s just that it’s a little smaller and fits the forage profile in most rivers better. I know the overwhelming favorite color is Sexy Shad, but for me, I like silver with a black back or silver with a blue back.

Don’t fish your Red Eye Shad like a crankbait. Throw it out and yo-yo it back. And again, do everything slow and easy.

My final winter river bait choice is a blade bait. Everybody has one, but my favorite is from LurePartsOnline. They have blanks available that you can rig yourself in just a couple of minutes. Fish them with a snap and fall retrieve but be careful not to bring them back toward the boat too fast. Give the fish plenty of time to get to your lure. 

The best places I’ve found to fish are creek mouths and discharges. The creek mouths are usually between deeper water and the forage back in the creeks. Discharges tend to be warmer than the surrounding water. Almost every power plant and industrial business runs some water into a nearby river system.    

Take advantage of what the outdoors has to offer while you’re waiting for spring. 

Now I’m going to end this column with a challenge. Does anyone know of a bait — any kind, any type — that’s commercially available in 100 colors or more. If so, post it in the comments section under this column.