- Part 1: Loosely define; river- bends, channels, seams, eddies, runs, riffles, rapids, lay-downs, strainers, drops, and low-heads. Take your best guess as to how they affect a river's flow and bass population.
-Part 2: Buy a kayak. Any kayak.
-Part 3: Head down river with your most expensive gear not anchored down.
-Part 4: Research river gauges, weather patterns, various kayak designs, gear, paddling techniques, access research, ecological impact, & survival information later, but only when it's an emergency.
Perhaps the risk-adverse may benefit from inserting Part 4 between Parts 1 & 2. I discovered most of Part 4 through trial & error; spinning improv 540ºs through boulder runs, surfing yoga poses straight into downed trees, paddling through a winding mile or so in the dark, sometimes without lights, by ear... River fishing can be a humbling experience.
As it turned out, navigating 10+ miles of any river required a thorough understanding (crash-course) of river physics and decisive (constant) strokes of the paddle to prevent unfortunate (expensive, drowning) disasters for craft, gear, and person. Also, some kayaks are designed for lakes, not for narrow flowing streams. Their stubbornly-hard 12' keel may not allow them to turn well, & swift currents will simply sweep the kayak straight into every feature and hazard in the river. In this way, I defined hazards and how they functioned in a rather intimate fashion. I assumed hairy situations were part of paddling.
It seemed a logical assumption from a fishing perspective as well. As I continued learning about smallmouth behavior, I was encouraged to explore rivers more thoroughly. Preferred smallmouth haunts are generally deeper (darker) areas near swift current, where trees and boulders provide both protection & ambush points for feeding. Paddling hazards are commonly also prime smallmouth locations.
When this fishing method atop hazards is successful, a large bronze-back angrily attaches itself to you on a short line in swift current, at the precise moment you had intended to abort fishing for evasive paddling. Negotiating a kayak backwards, with only one hand for the paddle while the other hand plays a fish, has an effective way of leveling the evolutionary playing field.
The day this article was conceived, I was visiting Ohio and had borrowed a Jackson Coosa to navigate the river. Standing as I drifted, covered in spiders, shirtless and barefoot, lowering lures into heavily-guarded smallmouth dens. It's been five years since I first pointed a kayak down stream, and though the river knowledge & navigation has progressed considerably, my immersive introduction is still apparent. Most anglers would say I blow up spots like a hand-grenade.
I'm the last to reach the bridge before dark, and I give thought to paddling past it. There are another 18 miles of my favorite central Ohio stream ahead, and as usual I'm not ready to take out. I'll have to plan another trip. Ohio’s river offerings for smallmouth habitat are hard to beat.
PSA: “Yes, there really are fish in here.“ Naturally occuring rivers and streams are fragile eco-systems. These environments require your respect. Pack out your trash. Learn and practice proper catch and release techniques. Lean INTO the strainers, not away from. Make peace with the spiders. Live as nature would.
(full screen images are high-res, include captions, & may take a moment to render)