Informational Guide

River Fishing Tips (Tips & Techniques On How To River Fish)

Learn how to river fish, the supplies you’ll need to get started, where to find the most fish, and plenty of tips and tricks with these river fishing tips.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

River Fishing Tips (Tips & Techniques On How To River Fish)

Learn how to river fish, the supplies you’ll need to get started, where to find the most fish, and plenty of tips and tricks with these river fishing tips.

by Andrew

by Andrew

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.  

Catching Fish In A River 

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. 

Catching Fish In A River

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? 

  • Rod, Reel & Line
    River fishing rods of about 8 feet in length (up to 10.5 feet) are ideal for achieving easier navigation and more precise casting.  When it comes to the reel, a spin caster is preferable due to its distance and accuracy. A 15-pound monofilament line will provide the right balance of strength and low visibility. 
  • Tackle, Baits And/Or Lures
    Nightcrawlers, earthworms, or crickets are some of the best choices for live bait when river fishing, and usually easy to obtain. Artificial lures or jigs can work wonders as well, such as crankbaits, soft plastics, or artificial minnows.
  • Tackle Bag
    durable tackle box or bag is essential to organize and protect your hooks, lures, and tools when you’re out on the river. It doesn’t have to be big, but it should be sturdy and buoyant.
  • Fish Finder
    This is an optional but extremely helpful piece of equipment to add to your river fishing arsenal. Fish finders don’t just tell you where the fish are; they can also chart the topography under the water's surface, giving you a better idea of the depth and possible obstructions. 
  • Sunglasses
    Going without a quality pair of polarized sunglasses can hurt—in more ways than one! The glare of the sunlight off the water can strain your eyes and make it more difficult to see obstacles and fish. 
What Do You Need For River Fishing

Where Do Fish Hang Out In Rivers? (Key Areas Discussed)

  • Calm Areas Or Eddies
    You’ll recognize these areas by a diminished current or an upstream or circular current. Fish prefer these backwaters because they require less energy to swim. 
  • Vegetation
    Old stumps, brush, fallen or low-hanging branches, and other vegetation over or in the water are favored gathering spots for fish. They enjoy the shade and hiding places from predators, as well as the insects that often fall off tree limbs or leaves.
  • Islands Or Rock Piles
    Currents curve and slow in these areas, so fish don’t have to expend as much energy to swim here. Oftentimes, an island or rock pile will catch old vegetation floating past, creating even more temptation for fish to congregate. 
  • Merging Currents
    Wherever currents slow down, insects and other food sources gather—and that means fish will gather there, too. Look for places where offshoots meet the main river, as well as drop-offs (more on that below) and springs. 
  • Outside Bends
    Although it’s true fish will usually avoid faster-moving currents, they’ll often make exceptions when it’s feeding time. As water moves to the outside of the bend, the food sources follow.  Fish know this, so casting in the outside bends can get you quite a few catches other anglers are ignoring. 
  • Drop-Offs
    Places where the water quickly deepens results in slower currents and cooler temperatures, so you might find fish in these spots. And if your cast is a little off, don’t worry—feeding fish will move upstream of these drop-offs to catch food as it floats past.
  • Creek Mouths
    Usually, these tributaries are colder and have slower currents. They also provide food sources to fish: creeks are lined with vegetation, which drops insects into the water flowing towards the river. 

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. 

How To River Fish

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 

  • James River Fishing Tips
    Spanning over 400 miles, the James is home to flathead catfish, blue catfish, and much more. Smallmouth bass are common upstream in warm months, while largemouth can be found downstream. 
  • Potomac River Fishing Tips
    Running from DC to Maryland and Virginia, the Potomac is a prime spot to catch bass, sunfish, croaker, crabs, and more.  Fletcher’s Cove and Point Lookout State Park are great areas to cast, as are the various creeks feeding into it. 
  • Rainy River Fishing Tips
    Rainy River is well-known for large catches, especially the enormous sturgeons anglers can land in spring and fall. This 90-mile river also houses smallmouth bass, pike, perch, crappie, and walleye.  Because it serves as the border of Ontario and Minnesota, Rainy River is split into two sides. In the United States, fishing early in the season (mid-April) will increase your chances of landing a large catch.
  • Susquehanna River Fishing Tips
    Large catfish are especially fun to catch in the Susquehanna since they like to hide behind the many jagged rocks you’ll find in certain areas. Make sure you have a strong fishing line on hand to swap out for standard mono varieties, however. These cats are strong and can snap a line in seconds. 
  • Delaware River Fishing Tips
    Check out the tributary river, Big Flat Brook, for rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout in much greater amounts than you’d expect. At Amico Island Park in New Jersey, you’ll encounter largemouth bass, as well as catfish. 
  • Willamette River Fishing Tips
    Running from Willamette Valley into the Columbia River, the Willamette River is perfect for salmon due to its many tributaries where salmon enter fresh water to breed. Springtime is famous for the Chinook Salmon run, although you can find salmon returning in the fall, as well—with far less competition from other anglers.  

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.  


Conclusion

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.  

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