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River Revelations | Kayak Fishing Rivers

“There’s magic in moving water.” I dedicated an entire chapter in my book I’LL BE TENNESSEAN YA’ to rivers and what they have to offer. For many of us the local creek was our introduction to fishing and other outdoor exploration. Ponds and lakes of all sizes have something to offer but once you discover the “magic” you are drawn to rivers. A lot of major lakes especially in the south are categorized as river system lakes but the natural rivers appear wild and a place of peace and excitement. Once the river pulses through your veins you’re hooked and join the family of “river rats.”

The constant change of rivers big and small can drive you crazy but the lessons from a river prepare you for any fishing condition. Along with the ever-changing conditions is the diversity offered by rivers of all sizes that cross the landscape of North America. Topography, wildlife, multiple species of fish and the big menu of food sources all play a part in the river experience.

Kayak Fishing Rivers


To safely navigate a river it becomes essential to understand a few of the facets contained in any moving water environment. Regardless of size and strength I always, 100% of the time wear a life jacket. Wind, current and obstructions can all be hazardous to even the most seasoned river runner. For the paddler knowing how to maneuver is key, for the pedal kayaker keeping your paddle close by is good insurance. Many kayak disasters occur when strong current “pin” the kayaker against fallen trees or other immovable objects. Panic is not a good partner in dangerous situations. Know what you would do in the event of any situation. From a fishing perspective understanding the reaction of fish to the current is a key to the catch of the river fish. Current will position the river fish; they tend to face into the moving water and frequent places that shield them from the full force of the current. Knowing this gives you the advantage of quickly determining the best spot for your bait. Any obstruction, a downed tree, boulder rock, a boat dock or point is golden. The stringer the current the more likely the fish will be located in these places.
SEE PICTURE and * spots.


More easily affected by rain, rivers (streams and creeks) will become stained to flat out muddy due to recent rains. It’s been my experience that “gin clear” water is tougher to fish than murky / muddy water. For most gamefish their reaction is to move shallow and again assume a position behind an object that redirects the flow of the water. Clue #2 cast to the cover that is most likely to shield the fish from the power of the current. My lure choice is determined by the water temperature AND the water color. Many river residents, bass, bluegill and crappie are sight feeders. With limited sight they depend on help from their other senses to locate food. In dirty water I use lures loaded with heavy sensory qualities. A double willowleaf spinnerbait will give off powerful flash. Try a gold / nickel blade combination OR an old river relic is the change of the blade to a large, hammer finish copper willow blade. Bass crush this one. Lipless crankbaits or their square billed cousins also shine under these conditions. Rattles and brighter colors are a plus. A well-placed rattling jig is a good bet for bass but sometimes the subtle approach, a natural color and no rattle will fool the biggest fish.

Kayak Fishing Rivers


Rising water again normally draws bass shallow. Shoreline changes are great targets. Small rock that juts out creates a haven, a resting spot and an ambush point. These are what I call “one fish” spots, you catch one and try to find another place identical to that. This scenario could lead to a pattern that produces all day. Falling water is tougher. Big fish of any variety never get caught by falling water, once they sense the drop they will continue to move to deeper spots and abandon shallows. Stable water levels are your friend. Paddling is easier and fish tend to lock onto an area, a pattern and a feeding cycle.

Kayak Fishing Rivers


A real key to understanding rivers, river fish and river fishing is learning the importance of the river bends. Again, the flow of the river over the seasons creates a unique situation, inside and outside river bends. Silt, rock, fallen trees and other objects are sent downstream and collect at the outside bend. The inside bend is sometimes shallower and devoid of cover or may just form a point. During times of moderate current, I prefer to fish outside bends for fish resting behind cover and darting out to feed on food source being delivered by the river currents. Any objects even temporarily located on the inside are ideal for crappie and bass at times.

Kayak Fishing Rivers

A healthy river can produce great numbers of fish true giants. I have a river largemouth bass to my credit that scaled just under 11 pounds. Big catfish, crappie and bluegill are all found in many rivers. A good river system cleanses itself through natural filtration and thereby harbors abundant food supplies. Crawfish, minnows of all types, varieties of shad, frogs and tons of food opportunities for all types of fish. Certain forms of life are evidence of healthy rivers and streams. The afore mention crawfish, hellgrammites, certain aquatic vegetation and freshwater mussels to name a few clues to clean water.


With a little on the water experience kayakers can venture out into our rivers. The kayak is also at a distinct advantage to access and exploring waters unreachable by larger watercraft. Couple that with the stealthy approach and you have the potential formula for fun fishing. The secrets are just waiting to be claimed in your own river revelations.

Kayak Fishing Rivers