By Louie Stout
Jacob Wheeler may hail from Tennessee, but the Major League Fishing pro is an Indiana native who has spent his time fishing northern rivers.
And on this day, we were on the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wis., and he was catching bass at will on the backside of a sandbar that was breaking the current.
“The biggest thing in summer is to find the current where there is more oxygen and the baitfish gather,” he said. “You can find fish in the backwaters, but the bass love the current during the hot days of summer, and there are bigger groups on the river.”
So what should you target and throw to get those bites? It kind of depends upon the location. Here are some of Wheeler’s recommendations:
Sandbars and jetties: Sandbars and jetties create an eddy line, and the larger the eddy, the bigger the school of fish it will hold. You can find sandbars on the backside of islands where the sand builds up over time from the flow of water. Similar situations occur on major rivers that have rock jetties. Both create eddy lines where the current creates dead water or a back flow.
“With eddy lines, I throw either an Accent River Special spinnerbait or a swimbait, like the Storm Largo Shad,” he said. “The River Special has smaller blades, which are ideal in the river and the Largo has good action and comes in 3 and 4 inch. Small baits are best because the baitfish are smaller this time of year.”
He says that when the fish are feeding, they will be right at the current break or slightly downstream. If not, look for them in a deeper hole just below the sandbar.
Rocky shorelines: Bass will scatter along a rocky yet jagged shoreline with deep water nearby. The rocky banks help direct the current, and bass will lie tight and amongst the rocks. That’s where Wheeler throws Rapala DT4s and DT6s, depending upon the water depth.
“For this pattern, I prefer steeper banks,” he noted. “Fish will scatter along the rocky bank and you can do quite well by running a crankbait along those rocks.”
Channel banks: There’s no shortage of fallen trees or logs along deeper banks, and that’s a good place to pick up a flipping rod rigged with a jig or craw-style bait.
The fish also will use fallen trees and logs along the shore to break the current. The bass are eating crawfish and small baitfish around the heavy cover.
He’ll rig a Googan Krackin’ Craw with a 2/0 VMC hook and ¼- or 3/8-ounce sinker and pitch or slither it around the logs.
“The smaller the craw, the more bites you will get, but you can upsize your bait and catch better quality,” he advised.
Oxbows: You will find larger groups of bass out around the cooler river waters, but backwaters can produce some dandies.
Wheeler prefers the oxbow areas that have current flowing through them.
“I avoid the stagnant backwaters and look for those areas that have a meandering, slower current,” he said. “Those areas tend to have more vegetation and are great places to fish a Terminator Frog or other topwaters. You may also find some places to flip your jig or craw bait.”
Bank flats: As the water begins to cool during late summer, bass will get off the current breaks and get on flatter bottoms. They will roam in wolf packs on flats adjacent to the bank or move up on the sandbars.
That’s where he likes to throw topwaters, like the Rapala Skitter Walk, and cover water quickly.
“Later in the summer, the bass like to push bait up on the flats and feed,” Wheeler said. “I fish it fast, looking for a group of fish. When you find one, there’s usually several up there.”
If they won’t bite the topwater, he turns to a Carolina rig with a small plastic craw or creature bait and drags it over the flat.
Main-river mud flats: When summer moves closer to the fall transition, Wheeler looks for flatter banks on the main river.
“The fish will move out on the mud flats and corral baitfish early in the morning, but when the sun comes up, they will get tight to logs lying in very shallow water and ambush anything that swims by,” he said. “The smaller spinnerbaits work well.”
Regardless of when you fish, remember that river bass are opportunistic feeders.
“River current adds another dimension, so the bass are going to set up on cover and areas where they don’t have to work as hard,” Wheeler offered. “They allow the current to move food to them, yet where they can be somewhat protected.”