Catch River Smallmouth Bass In Low, Hot Water
By Ken Penrod

A well dressed angler will always wear polarized sun glasses and have your line-cutter on a lanyartd around your neck.



We live in a river-rich region, actually, we live in a tremendous region for outdoor activities, but it’s pretty hard to beat feisty smallmouth bass for summer fun and family activity. The nice thing about those river bass is their willingness to cooperate and there is none among us that would discredit their battle worthiness. I’ve always claimed that if you tied a five-pound smallmouth to the tail of a five-pound largemouth it would be like hooking a moped to a Ford F-150.

The opportunities to fish summer months are best for most folks because the kids are out of school and the weather suits most best. I’ll be first to tell you that catching big bass from shallow, hot water is not a given but it’s not an impossible mission either. While I prefer to fish from a boat, that’s not so important when the water temperature is nearly 80-degrees and the rivers are very low.

I’ll give you some ideas at the end of this story but there are a few things to keep in mind that will make your day successful. I think it’s important to begin your day when the sun does. I like to be on the water by 5:30 AM—but wait, there is an alternative. You can launch or wade at the other 5:30 and fish until dark/dusk.

Smallmouth bass fishing is quite simple, even more so when summer conditions dictate. You will want to acquire a six-foot (give or take) medium action graphite rod. I like Gator Rods. You will want a fast-retrieve spinning reel. (I like Daiwa.) Please spool six or eight pound test monofilament on the reel, green, and fill that spool to within 1/8th of an inch from the top rim (I like Sufix ProMix.)

Enhance your chances by wearing polarized sun glasses, a must, and I like Costa. Wear a fingernail clipper, on a lanyard, around your neck and carry a Leatherman tool on your belt. This information alone is a big step in the right direction.

As far as artificial lures goes, please believe me when I say the best include: Mizmo or Campground Special tubes, the “teaser or Small Jaws” size attached to RAB, 1/8th ounce jig heads (Penrod Purple, green pumpkin, KP Rose and KP V8); Penrod Special spinnerbaits (1/4 ounce); Case Magic Stiks attached to 3/0 VMC hooks (green pumpkin/gold); ¼ ounce Obi Hardhook buzzbaits (white) and Rapala DT-04 crankbaits (crawfish patterns.)

It’s important to know what river and weather conditions you may encounter on any adventure so go to our website (www.penrodsguides.com ) and obtain all of that information from our home page,

The “bonus” for summer fishing conditions include aquatic hatches that generally occur in the early or late hours of a day. All that means to you is that bass are outside of hard habitat, eating bugs and in an aggressive mood. You will see very small water dimples as they slurp flies and you have targets to cast to.

You can find bass in very shallow water during low light conditions, usually near grass beds, rock shores and push water at ledges. Remember this; eliminate water during the day in areas where you can see bottom easily. I look for areas where the bottom is “blurred” through polarized glasses and it’s important to find those areas where chunk-rock and submersed ledges dominate the underwater. Simply “blow-off” other water. Don’t spend time in fishless water.

Summer fishing for river smallmouth bass need not include a boat--so get your knees wet and do it early or late in the day.

There is no better smallmouth lure than the plastic tube and we recommend the 2.75-inch or the 3.5-inch models. I stress Mizmo or Campground Special brands because they are best by far. The tube should be carefully tied to an RAB jig head with a Palomar knot. It’s important to keep a low profile, in a boat or out, because if you can see a fish—she can see you. I always ask my clients to sit down in a boat. If you are wet-wading, you have an advantage.

Cast slightly upstream and understand what the current will do to your offering. Do not cast to the “spot” that you believe a fish lives. Allow the current to deliver your offering. River bass prefer some current this time of year because eddies hold low oxygen water and that’s not good. Look for current seams where moving water meets still water. That’s a kill zone.

It’s so important to keep a taunt line between your rod tip and the lure—but not so taunt that you keep the offering off of the bottom. Your rod tip should be fairly high and we move the tube along the bottom, but just four inches at a time. We must pause between moves, and we never allow slack line to lay on the surface. If the current is moving your bait along the bottom, that’s just fine. Don’t “help” it.

Don’t expect hard strikes because a bass simply slurps your tube. When you do feel that little “tic,” drop your rod tip so the fish doesn’t feel you. Now, wind line on your reel until you actually feel the fish swimming. When you strike her, do it with vengeance, directly over your shoulder, and keep a bow in your rod until you lip-her, or net her.

 The Magic Stik, the four-inch size, should be rigged Texas style, but Wacky-rig is effective also. I like a 3/0 VMC hook for the Texas delivery and a #1 VMC circle hook for a Wacky presentation. Case manufacturers a “Wacky-O” tool that allows you to place an O-ring on the worm and place the hook under the ring. My preference is the one the bass like that day. This bait is a virtual do-nothing delivery. Cast slightly upstream, in slow to moderate current, take up slack line and allow it to reach the bottom. Lift the lure with your rod tip and the current and gravity does the rest. Strikes are difficult to detect but watch your line where it enters the water. Again, when you know a bass has your offering, drop the tip of your rod and wind line on the reel as fast as you can. Strike her with authority and keep that rod bowed.

Remember that hot water is quite low in dissolved oxygen so don’t overplay a fish. Photographs are important to all of us so keep her in the water until you are ready for the “click.” A bass can hold her breath about as long as you can.

Spend some low light time presenting topwater lures but fish have exactly 20-minutes to prove to me that they are willing. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits should make contact with bottom or cover to be effective. My rule for all my fishing ventures is to give the bass what they want. I have no favorites—except the lure that caught the last fish.

Cloudy days will add hours to your morning ventures and prolong the "bite" most days.

The upper Potomac is a fantastic summer fishery, and if you wade, try the areas around Violets Lock, Pennyfield, Point of Rocks and lower Lander. You can rent a boat at Whites Ferry.

On the Susquehanna River, call John Cunningham of Riverfront Campground (717-877-2704) in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. He has camping opportunities, rental boats and shuttle services.

My books, “Fishing the Upper Potomac River” and “Pursuing River Smallmouth Bass” are invaluable for you river rats so send $25 to PPC Publications, 4708 Sellman Road, Beltsville, MD 20705 and be sure to specify the book you want.

We offer guided fishing trips 12-months of the year and while it may seem expensive, we can teach you as much in a day as you can learn on your own in a year. See our website at www.penrodsguides.com for more information and our weekly fishing report.

Summertime fishing need not be a futile day—it can be one of your most memorable ventures. We just have to be smart and thoughtful. I want to be off of the water by high-sun, and that’s just about the time that I see many of you launching your boat. Give a little—gain a lot. Be careful.