River Fishing Tips: A, B, C’s of River Fishing

Fishing on the river tips
Written by Neal Walker

“Fish On!” – The hopeful battle cry of every angler dreaming of catching the big one. River fishing can be exciting and challenging as you have to know about changing waters during various seasons, types of sport fish available, fish habitat and life cycle. Even more, right at the top of the river fishing tips is a long list with some of the common fish you can catch.

This list includes walleye pike, northern pike, bass, salmon, trout, and in some streams, you will find what we call pan fish in the Midwest – sunfish, bluegills and crappie. Don’t forget the catfish – very popular in the southern states. But we know that the fish that put up a good fight are always the most exciting!

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River fishing can be done from the banks or from a boat – either can net you some fish especially if you are familiar with the river or stream you are fishing in. Also, it is important to know your fish very well.

See also: Best Fishing Canoe: 7 Factors and 7 Models You Have to Consider

For instance, knowing what type of habitat they prefer (swift water, slack water, deep water, shallow water) – all are variables we deal with on the river. However, most important is to enjoy the experience and be patient, you will catch some fish.

River fishing

This article will focus on a variety of tips, tricks and techniques that I call the A, B, Cs of River Fishing. Let us take a look.

Techniques Advanced Anglers Use On The River

First, before you even start thinking about fishing, you have to know how to anchor your boat. Anchoring your boat in a river always calls for the anchor to come from the bow. If anchored from the stern, the broad end of the boat will cause the water to actually flow up over the edge of the boat and submerge it. If you anchor from the bow, the point will split the water and let it run around your boat.

Bottoms Up or Bottom Bounce Technique

The bottom-up technique is where you put your weight about 24” from the hook. The weight will sink to the bottom and let the hook float along with the current. You can change the weight if you want more bouncing action. The depth and speed of the current are variables that will affect the placement of the weight.

Coho Catch Tackle

This technique is used to catch silver salmon – they get their name from their silver color. Their silver color has a green/blue shimmer. They also have smaller black spots. The average weight is 10-14 pounds. The silver is an aggressive fish that puts up a good fight – always fun for the fisherman. The silver run is later in the summer, running from August to September.

Black and silver coho

Silver salmon setup calls for a medium-heavy to heavy rod with moderate to fast action, about 6-7 feet long. It should be able to handle 8-15 pound test line. The reel also should be able to handle this line and balance the rod. Typical types of the line include monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon. The flies should be bright, spinners, pink or purple flies about the ¼ – ½ inch size.

Dabbling – A Little Dab will Do You

This technique is where the angler works the bait in and up and down fashion. This technique will work better in slack or slow water areas rather than in swift currents where the bait will flow with the current.

Egg Loop Knot

An egg-sized clump of salmon roe will be perfect. Secure it to your hook using an egg loop knot. This knot is tied using about 4 feet of leader threaded through the eye of the hook pointing toward the hook end. Wrap the leader around the hook and the loose end of the leader about 15 times.

Feed the remaining end back through the eye in the opposite direction of the first threading and wrap about 5 more times. Pull tight to secure the knot. Make a loop on top of the hook to hold the role.

Flossing Fish, Not Teeth

Another way of catching fish is called flossing. This works well with sockeye salmon and other fish that are not aggressive.

River Fishing sockeye salmon

This is where you lay your line out in front of the fish in such a way that it catches the line in its mouth; it will slide down to the hook, where you then set the hook. The trick is getting the hook to float flat in the water, level with the weight. Cast upstream and let your line float down to the fish that are swimming upstream. This method takes practice to feel the fish and know when to set the hook.

Don’t forget to check out our informative article on spinner fishing tips to give you more options.

Fishing Techniques for Different Types Of Fish

King Salmon –King on the River

King salmon are large fish (30 lbs. or more) and have blue-gray backs with black spots and shimmery silver sides. When spawning the slivery color turns to a maroon/olive/brown color. The mouths start to misshape by curving inward.

The average weight id 35-40 pounds, but bigger ones are there waiting to be caught. There are two runs of kings – late May to late June and the month of July.

King Salmon fish

The best setup for king fishing is medium-heavy to extra heavy rod with moderate to fast action, about 8 feet long. It should be able to handle 15-30 lb. test line. The reel also should be able to handle this line and balance the rod.

Types of line include monofilament, braided, and fluorocarbon. The lures should be spinning and flashy with bright colors, about the ½” size. Salmon roe are also great bait.

Northern Pikes or Just Northerns

The northern is an aggressive fish that likes living in lakes or slower, smaller streams. They are best caught using what I call the daredevil – a metallic, striped with red or blue, long spoon with a treble hook. The bigger the fish you are hunting, the bigger the lure you will need.

Fishing Northern Pikes

This writer grew up on a small river and we fished every day all summer long and caught northern after northern using the red striped daredevil. Drag it through the weeds to increase your chances.

Rainbow Trout

The rainbow trout is a great sport fish because it likes to put on a great fight. A good sized trout can be as long as 45” and weigh up to 55 lbs. This is a trophy fish. Spinning, wobbling lures and bait such as salmon roe and shrimp are appealing to trout. They are strong swimmers and aggressive eaters.

Rainbow Trout fish

Rainbow trout setup calls for a light to medium-light rod with moderate to fast action, about 6 feet long. It should be able to handle 4-10 pound test line. The reel also should be able to handle this line and balance the rod. Typical types of line include monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon. Trout like an assortment of spinners and spoons.

See also: Best Trout Lures: Equip Yourself to Allure All The Fish

Sockeyes – Red and Green

The red salmon are also silver but they do not have any spots. During spawning they turn a bright red with a green head and grow a hump in the middle of the back. They are easily spotted because of their distinctive colors.

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The mouth deforms dramatically, seemingly to grow longer and curve downward. The average weight is 7-12 pounds. Red salmon also have two runs: mid-June to early July and mid-July to early August.

Sockeyes – Red and Green

The sockeye setup calls for a medium-heavy to heavy rod with moderate to fast action, about 6-7 feet long. It should be able to handle 10-18 pound test line. The reel also should be able to handle this line and balance the rod. Typical types of line include monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon. Reds like flies that are red, orange, and green such as the Coho Fly or Crazy Charlie.

InVESTment – Time, Talent and Money

If you are a serious fisherman, you are going to invest a lot of time, some talent, and money. It can be a very expensive sport or it can be moderated so the expense doesn’t get out of hand. Make it a family event, so you can be investing in your kids and family, as well as enjoying something you love to do. Find the right level of balance.

Weed Growth Hideout

Rivers do not have a lot of weed growth but find a spot where the water is calmer and it may have some weeds. This is where fish will hang out or hide out. Weeds offer a prime fishing spot.

X-tra Time and Patience

Every fisherman knows fishing is both a bit of skill and a lot of luck. So, what you need is a lot of time to wait on the fish; and patience for those days the fish outsmarts the fisherman.

Time and Patience

The more knowledge and experience you get, the easier it will be for you to land the lunker.

Yokels – Ask the Locals

If you are struggling to find the fish or you are not getting any bites, ask the locals. Stop by the local bait shop and ask where the fish are biting, what type of bait has been working that day. Fishermen like to tell their stories so indulging them a little bit might get you some worthwhile information.

Zipper Worm Antics

This is an innovative flatworm with ridges. It gets its name because it looks like a zipper. They come in different colors and tails – great for bass fishing.

Other Important Tips to Keep in Mind

Garage Sales Have Deals

If you are in need of some newer equipment and gear, start with garage sales. Folks have retired and no long use their equipment and it goes on sale at the garage sales for pennies on the dollar. This is a great way to build up your repertoire of rods, reels, and lures.

Hook Cutters for Release

If you plan to catch and release your fish it is a great idea to carry hook cutters with you so you can gently and easily cut the hook to release the fish back into the water. When releasing the fish keep it in the water as much as possible.

Hook Cutters

After cutting the hook loose, hold the fish horizontally in the water until it moves on its own.

Indiana Blade for Spinners

This is a small tear-drop shaped blade in gold or silver metallic that is used in conjunction with spinners. As the spinner turn and spin the blades flash their colors making it more attractive to fish.

Jigs All the Way Around

Jigs come in many different sizes, shapes and colors. They will work for a multitude of fish but are specific to the various species. So if you are going to fish bass, for example, make sure you get jigs that will attract bass by their shape, color, and size. Here is a table of suggested weights for the different species.

Fish Species Range of Weights
Panfish &Crappies 1/32 – 1/16 – 1/8 oz.
River Trout & Salmon 1/16- 1/8 – 1/4 oz
Walleyes & Bass 1/16 – 1/8 – 3/8 – 1/2 oz.
Northern Pike & Muskies 3/4 – 1 – 1 1/2 oz.
Trout & Stripers 3/4 – 1 – 1 1/2 – 2 oz.

Also, it is a good rule of thumb to carry a variety of standard colors in your tackle box. You can change them out and try different colors if the fish do seem to be biting on one color. Typical finishes are natural, fluorescent, metallic, two-tone and glow finishes. Basic colors include black, brown, white, yellow, pink and red; utilize fluorescent chartreuse, green, orange and glow for dark water. Try a variety and see what works the best.

Limerick – a Hook not a Rhyme

Limerick is a commonly shaped hook that comes is a variety of sizes.

Limerick hook

It is a great hook because it is very versatile and can be used to catch a wide range of fish.

Mud Minnow Munch

This is the common live bait that is sold in typical bait and tackle shops. The mud minnow can be used with most game fish.

Outside River Bends

Fish are always looking for food. So, as you look for fish, know where they feed. The outside bend of a river or stream is usually the path of food. The fish will congregate in this area. An added bonus is if there is a rock or downed tree that will slow the water even more, making it easier for the fish to catch food. Present your bait/fly to them and watch them bite.

Polarized Sunglasses for Better Vision

If you have ever looked into the water with the sun shining on it you know you can’t see much. But, put on a good pair of polarized sunglasses and finally the water and fish come into view. These sunglasses can range in price from a few bucks up to $75 or more. It is worth the price to get a good pair so your vision is not impaired.

Quick Strike Rigs

Fishing for northern pike or Muskies? The quick set rig is perfect for the pikes. It consists of multiple treble hooks set a short distance apart. It is baited with live bait.

Quick Strike Rigs

This rig is used to really set the hook in these strong fish. You can purchase these rigs for under $10.

Tributary Hold Out

A tributary is a smaller stream that flows into a bigger stream or river. At this junction, fish will hangout looking for food that may come floating from both the tributary and the original stream. This is a good spot to try for a catch.

Undercut on the River Bank

Fish are always looking for a place to hang out that is safe from overhead predators. An undercut is an area of the bank that the river has eroded the under portion of the bank leaving a cave like area. Fish feel secure in this type of area. Big fish live in these undercut areas.

Are You Ready to Plan that Fishing Trip?

In review, there are many techniques, tips and tricks that can be used to catch fish on the river. Know the habits and habitats of the fish you are going after so you can fine tune your gear and bait.

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Know the currents and the curves of the river. Learn about the change in seasons and temperature of the water and how that affects the fish. All this knowledge will go a long way toward helping you get the fish of a lifetime.

Plan your fishing trip

Most of all; be patient, enjoy and have fun. If one lure isn’t working try a different one. Fishing is a combination of a little bit of skill and a lot of luck. And hopefully, that combination will get you hooked up.

Before you head out, check out our experts review of the best fishing backpack with rods for an enjoyable adventure.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.