Three Easy Ways to Catch More Striped Bass In Rivers

Rivers are great places to fish for striped bass in the spring. These tips on how (and when) to fish in moving water from Field & Stream's Fishing Editor Joe Cermele will help you hook up.

bass fishing, fishing technique, fishing strategies, hook stripers

Silver Springs

The author with a river bass swung on a chrome ­Sébile Bull Minnow.Joe Cermele

Many rivers have spring runs of striped bass. In some, these fish come straight out of saltwater and into freshwater to spawn; in others, bass migrate out of a lake or reservoir into tributaries to follow spawning shad. In either case, the locations where these fish post up to feed will be very similar.

Striped bass have no problem feeding in heavy current, but they’re not as likely to hold directly in fast water for extended periods. Most of the time, the fish will sit behind trees or boulders, or in depressions and bank eddies that break the flow and allow them to exert minimal energy against the current. When a shad or herring is washed overhead or down the side of their holding positions, the stripers can quickly dart out, feed, and return to their quiet spots.

Knowing where these fish hold is only part of the battle. The other part is getting them to eat. Live bait—where legal—is always a safe bet. For the guys like me who love to hook up on artificials, here are some tricks that will get bass to take a shot at plugs, flies, soft baits, and swimbaits more frequently.

1. Striped Bass Strike When Your Lure Swings Across The Current

Over the years, I’ve noticed that one of the most important aspects to drawing a strike from a river striper is how your lure swings. These fish are less likely to chase a lure moving straight up or downstream as they are one swinging past in an arc with the current. With that in mind, choose diving plugs and soft plastics that dig and maintain a tight wobble with only the current acting upon them. A lure that needs to be reeled quickly may not look appealing on a tight line swing and therefore might slip right over a striper’s head without the fish moving even an inch to chase.

2. Bulky Deer-Hair Heads Give Streamers Great Action

Rather take a shot at river bass with a fly rod? Make sure your patterns move plenty of water. I like herring-imitating streamers with a wide-profile head made from spun bucktail. While the fly swings across the current, slight pops of the fly line are all it takes to make the fly jackknife as the flow pushes against the bulky head. The large heads also create water resistance, sending a pulse of water over the tail, helping the fly “breathe.” Essentially, what you’re doing is giving it life without hard strips, just letting the river move the pattern in an arc, as you would a diving plug.

3. Fish In Clear Water On Cloudy Days For The Best Striped Bass Action

Stripers are pretty light sensitive, and if your river is crystal clear during their spring run, getting bit on a bright, sunny, day can be challenging and frustrating. That’s why in spring, I pray for overcast skies and rainy conditions when the water is clear. You might get a quick bite at first and last light on a sunny day, but overcast skies seem to get the fish to lose their wariness, often moving away from their haunts to actively hunt in riffles and across flats. Ideally, your local water will be stained up during the peak of the run. Dirty is bad, but stain keeps bass more active regardless of the sky.