Ahh, the first smallmouth bass of the season caught. That’s a good feeling. I didn’t even realize it was the first until after I’d already been on the water some time. I just slipped right back into my natural routine.
The water level on the river has been high, as usual and expected in early Spring. I haven’t hardly had a single opportunity to put in on the Upper Potomac yet. But, because it was my birthday a few days ago (ugh), I had lots of Bass Pro gift cards to spend (yes!). So I went with Dad up to MD in the morning to the Arundel Mills Mall Bass Pro. I came out with about $180 worth of new gear. I wanted to help Dad get his first snakehead before I leave on our trip, but I didn’t think we would have time for that on this day. So we decided to hit Riverbend. My rationale was that the water downstream wouldn’t have as much current as other places on the Upper like Algonkian or further up around the mouth of the Goose Creek like my buddy, Marc, had fished the day before and said was pretty swift current. I had two strategies in mind. Either the bass would be in the shallows like many of the largemouth are right now. And I did catch a couple in shallows behind rocks making eddies, but I wanted to try the rock outcroppings in the river channel too.
I have not fished Riverbend since my last trip report from last Fall. I finally feel like I’ve started to really figure this area out. I think there is just such a unique mix of conditions and structures here that the bass’ behavior is rather unique. There are some very deep pools and large structure in the form of huge boulders and tree trunks. BUT, the areas that offer the best results for me are the rock outcroppings (with a little grass) that have a ledge system on the up and downstream sides. And the ledge system is parallel to the river flow, not perpendicular like you would usually think. On this day, the water was a little higher and there was some current so the majority of smallies seemed to hold on the downstream side in the eddies, but still within the ledges ready to ambush a bait going over top. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important it seems, to me anyway, to get 90 degrees to these structures and pull your bait across.
I only planned on two baits today. A Ribit frog which they killed the last few times. But, maybe the clarity wasn’t good enough for them today. I used the frog on my Medium power, fast action, KFS 100 kayak fishing rod with 15 pound braid and a 6 foot 12 pound mono leader. But, no luck. I use the heavier mono or flouro leader (in this case mono because it floats) here because of the sharp ledge rock. If I get a big fish, and they dive right back in, I could get broken off immediately. Normally, for smallmouth, I use 8 pound flouro leader. But, again, the conditions dictate the technique here so I go a little heavier on the leader for that reason.
I immediately went to my next suspect in the pattern and that was the Koppers Live Target Shallow diving crankbait. This is what they hit right away. I picked up a couple small ones in the shallows, but went out to the river channel to try the rock outcrops and sure enough, got a couple of quick decent ones. I could tell I was onto a pattern. The reason I chose this bait is that it is a wake bait. It will only dive 6 inches or so. Maybe a foot if you really crank fast. So if the fish weren’t hitting the frog on top, I tried this bait which runs immediately subsurface. It has a wide wobble so if the clarity wasn’t great, maybe they could feel more in water disturbance. This particular bait is important because, although there are the deep pools, the end quickly and the ledges where the bass are hiding can be only 4 inches below the surface. So I was either running a true top water bait (frog) or this subsurface bait directly over those hiding spots. Even a crank bait that dives 2 or 3 feet probably would not be appropriate here for this technique. I paired this bait with my Medium light power, moderate action, KFS 300 swimbait/crankbait kayak fishing rod with 12 pound mono on a high speed 7.1:1 Quantum bait caster. This was just the right tool to get them out of there.
Koppers “Live Target” Shallow Diver Crankbait
I wanted to get Dad on the pattern too, but didn’t have another Koppers in my tackle box. So I figured it’s more of the action than anything here and we went with the Mann’s Baby 1 Minus. And sure enough, he started hitting them too even though the color of his bait was not exactly the same as mine. In this case, it was more about action, the right depth, and water disturbance it seemed.
When all was said and done, I ended up with 12 even and Dad had 4. Not a bad trip for half a day. I was a little surprised to see the fish holding to those same spots at this time of year, but again, I think it’s the unique set of conditions that kind of dictates their behavior in this area somewhat. Another thing to note is that because of the shallow rocks and ledges we are pulling these fish out of, they are JUMPERS. It is cool and exciting, but a jumping fish is likely to throw your bait. It may take some additional skill and technique to keep the fish down as best you can until you get it to the boat. Switching directions and keeping SIDE pressure on the fish will help to keep them down and get more landed. If you pair that with the right action rod for the bait you are using and the right landing techniques, you’ll greatly reduce your fish coming unbuttoned before you can land.
Get out there and kayak fish Riverbend if you haven’t done so yet. If you have, go again and try these techniques.