4 Keys To Being A Good River Angler

By Brad Durick

Fishing rivers is a different kind of fishing. Some anglers don’t like it yet others love and prefer it. Many river anglers are hard core, hence the term “river rats”. With that distinction questions must be asked, what makes rivers so special and how does one become a good river angler?

The Lure of the River
There is just something about rivers that make them special. Many of them once on them feel like a step back in time. In the case of my home river, the Red River of the North it is the wild feel as most of it has not been altered by humans. You can simply sit back and imagine what that river has seen over the past couple hundred years.

Another big lure for river anglers is that rivers are so full of fish and many times you simply do not know what is on the end of your line. Rivers also tend to have BIG fish and who doesn’t love to catch big fish. The options for fishing rivers are many and the skills required vary depending on how involved you want to get. You can sit on the bank with a fire and good friends, be in a kayak floating down and fishing as you go or even in a boat actively targeting whatever it is you want to target. Whichever camp you are in rivers are simply wonderful places to fish and enjoy.

Keys to Being a Good River Angler
Over the years of river fishing it has come to me that there are some things that very successful river anglers understand and do that make them much better anglers in different situations and for targeting different fish.

• Respect the River- This sounds very simple but it is very good advice. The key to anything with a river for your safety is respect the river. This always comes up when rivers are out of their banks but rivers have moving water and must be respected at all times. This does not mean be scared of the river, it just means keep it in the back of your head that there is current and with current there can be debris or sometimes dangers.

• Understand Current (reading the river)- This is an area that many people simply do not understand as anglers. Almost every movement fish make in river is based on current. Understanding and being able to read currents can be a huge key to success or lack thereof.

In terms of catfish if there is a heavier current the fish will follow the current tunnels. This makes them easy to find and numbers will be much easier to attain because the fish are predictable. When current is very lacking, that predictability goes away because the fish will spread out because they don’t need near as much cover. One tip here is when there is very little current, if you find a faster visible current you can usually find catfish.

• Understand Your Species of Fish- Knowing the habits of the species of fish you desire to catch is a key to success. You should understand their seasonal patterns and where they tend to hang out during certain conditions.

For example, catfish tend to move upstream during the pre-spawn before moving back downstream and spreading out to go on the nest. After the spawn the catfish will take up residence in sections of river with all structural and current situations required for feeding and resting. In early fall another upstream migration can begin if current conditions are right.

Of course, walleyes, bass and other fish you may target work in a very similar fashion depending on what that fish desires at certain times of the season.

• Pay Attention to Surroundings- All good river anglers know to watch the surroundings. This means two things. Pay attention to what the trees and other growth on the bank is doing. There are changes in plants and surroundings that can point to a pattern of fish. What this tells us is changes in season in one place can also determine changes of season in another.

A perfect example of this is in the spring when the lilacs are blooming the river temperature is in the low to mid 60s which is prime time for the pre spawn bite. Another one is if your river has cottonwood trees when the cotton is falling the catfish are generally on the nest spawning.

These two seasons fish totally different and what these trees are doing can be an indicator of what pattern to fish.

The second thing in surroundings to look at is what the water looks like when you catch fish. Is the current running a certain way? Is there a snag or some other structure holding those fish? By paying attention to this you can look for like conditions and replicate the pattern more quickly when you make a move. This is basic patterning but in rivers one little thing can make the difference in replicating the pattern or missing the boat.

• Match Your Bait- Bait is a long discussed topic. Match the hatch we always hear. This is a key more in rivers than lakes because certain baits move and migrate just like any other fish and become the key for your targeted fish. It is a big deal to hit the right bait for the right time of year and put it in the right spot.

If you learn these four keys you will be a better catfish angler. If you learn how to adjust to the conditions and time of year on the fly you will be more successful more of the time. Rivers are amazing fisheries that can be intimidating when you first try to fish them but once you get a feel for it they are so much more rewarding.

Don’t forget to take in everything else that rivers have to offer. Watch the wildlife along the banks, pay attention to the peacefulness of the flowing water or enjoy a great sunset. Don’t forget to enjoy those around you too.