River fishing requires quick thinking and adaptability. The waters can be shallow, deep, calm, fast, and any variation in between—even during the same trip. Its varied nature makes the sport popular with new and experienced anglers, especially those hoping to land bass or trout.
In this guide, learn the best ways how to river fish, the supplies you’ll need to get started, where to find the most fish, and plenty of river fishing tips and tricks to make your next river fishing trip worthwhile.
Dropping your lines into a river is another experience entirely. Some sections are steady and still as a pond; next thing you know, the topography, depth, and current completely changes. Like any body of water, however, it is possible to learn the lay of the land and better predict current patterns, popular fish hiding spots, and more.
You can cast from the shore, wade into the shallow sections or rocky areas, or navigate the river with a boat or fishing kayak. Each offers its own unique advantages and challenges, but all three methods can be productive and exciting.
To fish from the shore, find a level spot where you can comfortably stand or sit, which isn’t obstructed by trees or logs, so casting is easier.
A pole of around 8 feet is ideal, as is live bait, although varying pole lengths and artificial lures can work too.
When selecting your fishing spot, it can be very helpful to research the river first. Familiarize yourself with the fishing rules, limits, and allowed species for your river. Keep in mind that not every river has fish, so you’ll want to make sure you aren’t casting into empty waters.
What Do You Need For River Fishing?
Where Do Fish Hang Out In Rivers? (Key Areas Discussed)
How To River Fish: Tips & Techniques For Success
1. Get Your Equipment Ready
Gather the correct equipment, such as an appropriate-length fishing pole, mono or braided line, and lures or bait—along with tackle boxes or bags, sunglasses, pliers, and other must-have items.
2. Select Your Fishing Spot
If casting from the shore, you’ll want an area where you can comfortably stand (or sit) without falling in or slipping. Dawn, sunset, and rainy days are especially good times to head out for the river since fish prefer indirect light and cooler temps.
3. Choose Prime Casting Spot
While choosing your fishing spot (or once you’ve selected it), look around and see if you can spot any areas where fish might gather. These include merging currents or creeks, islands, vegetation, and any particularly calm spots. Reading the river before you fish can save you from many wasted casts.
4. Time To Cast
Once you’ve selected some prime casting spots, bait your hook or set up your lure, then cast into that area. You can choose to hold your pole, or rest it nearby with the tip of the rod elevated.
5. Reel Your Casts
If the current is moving quickly, reel your casts in shortly afterwards, then repeat. This will keep your bait or lure from dragging along the bottom of the river. If the current is slower, you can let your casts linger a while to see what bites.
Common Types of River Fish and How to Catch Them
Crappie River Fishing Tips
River crappie are an excellent example of fish you’ll find in those low-current areas like eddies or rock piles. If the current is especially strong, read the river to find wide obstructions (such as a broad, flat rock or dramatic bend).
See Related Post: Best Crappie Fishing Tips
Pickerel River Fishing Tips
Pickerel hang out in weedy areas, especially if the water is shallow (around 10 feet deep or less), as they prefer warmth. Bright, hot temperatures where the water exceeds 70°F might lure them to deeper waters, however. Baitfish, worms, and even frogs are great live bait for catching pickerel in the river.
How to Fish for Bass in a River
Bass will often linger in slower currents, but you’ll rarely find them in totally calm waters. This is due to the lack of food sources in dead-water spots. When fishing for Bass, try casting into rocky areas near the riverbanks or areas like ledges where the water suddenly becomes deeper.
How to Catch Catfish in a River
Catfish are a favorite target when river fishing. They prefer covered areas and deeper waters, as well as channels and changing currents. Live bait or cut bait is preferable to lures, especially if you’re after some large catfish.
How to Fish for Walleye in a River
Walleye gather in bends and eddies or any place with slower currents. When trying to catch Walleye fish, you can use live baits such as minnows or nightcrawlers, but jigs or spoons can also be effective. Many anglers prefer trolling for walleye, so you might want to consider using a kayak or boat instead of casting from the shore.
How to Catch Salmon in a River
Location matters a lot when targeting any fish, but especially salmon. They are born in freshwater, migrate to saltwater areas in adulthood, then return to freshwater rivers or streams to mate. Time your trip with salmon runs in your river, and consider using fish egg sacks for live bait (or artificial salmon eggs, if the real deal is too much to handle) to capitalize on their mating instincts.
How to Fish for Trout in a River
Like most fish, trout hang out near rocks or ledges where the current is slower and calmer. However, they also prefer brushy areas and spots where they can hide to ambush their prey. Since trout are easily startled, try to cast further than you’re aiming and reel the bait or lure closer, rather than landing directly where you think trout might be hiding.
See Related Post: Fishing Tips For Trout
Popular US Fishing Rivers: Tips from a Pro Angler
People also Ask (FAQs)
How do you fly fish in rivers?
First, you’ll need the proper equipment, including a fly rod, fly fishing reel, lines, waders, leaders, and bait or lures. Choose an area without much tree or limb coverage, so your casts won’t get snagged. Cast into slower currents where fish tend to gather or try your luck in fast waters where fish are actively feeding.
Is river fishing hard?
Although river fishing can be more challenging due to moving currents and changing landscapes, anyone can river fish with the right equipment, a populated river, and practice. Once you learn how to read the river for prime fishing spots, the sport gets much easier and enjoyable.
Do you fish with or against the current?
Statistically speaking, you have a higher chance of catching fish if you cast upstream. This is because fish face upstream to catch food sources as they float by—including your bait or lure.
What is the best time of day to fish in a river?
You’ll have the most luck catching fish at dawn, sunset, nighttime, or on rainy or overcast days. Fish prefer the lower visibility and cooler temperatures of these times.
Although fishing lakes and oceans can certainly prove thrilling and fun, river fishing provides an exciting challenge as anglers navigate shifting currents, topography, and other obstacles.
As you learn how to read the river and current, you’ll become more proficient at this popular sport—and land bigger, tougher catches in no time.