By Nick Simonson
Flowing waters provide some of the best opportunities to find fish, whether it’s small creeks and streams or larger rivers, and oftentimes they do not require a boat to get on the best spots. However, knowing where to look on a river for those classic areas that provide holding spots for hungry fish is key to making the most of these opportunities that wind through undeveloped lands, small towns and big cities throughout North Dakota. What follows is a handful of tips on those classic spots to cast to in rivers and streams throughout the region for game fish of all stripes.
In medium and large-sized rivers, a good majority of fish activity is located along the shallow edge of the flow, right in front of shore anglers. Throwing cast after cast haphazardly out to the middle of the river rarely pays off, unless there is some shift in the bottom, sunken structure or other fish-holding feature that has been identified. Conversely, the shallows are where baitfish and young-of-the-year panfish live, along with insects, crayfish and other prey items; and that’s where predators like walleyes and bass go to get their food. Additionally, the shallows often have the structure that holds not only those prey items, but also provides cover for game fish. Finally, there is often a quick transition from the main river channel and deeper holes to the shallow edges of the flow, allowing a quick entry and escape for foraging predators. Focus on the edges of a river when exploring new spots from shore and know that fish will relate to the shallows more often than an open middle, and a sideways or angled cast may often be the best bet to connect.
Where fast water meets slow water is also where fish will be found on a given river or stream. These areas between the quick-moving flow and the eddies often appear as a line between the main currents and the small backwater pockets created on their edges. Fish like walleyes and pike use this area where current changes to ambush their prey as they float down with the flow. Cast offerings out into the faster current and work them back along the obvious breakline – sometimes outlined by foam or floating debris on the surface – and then into the slower water to identify where fish are holding. Note that seams can change from day to day, due to shifting bottom sediment, rising water levels and other factors.
Eddies can also provide a prime place for fish to rest and pick off easy meals that swirl around a large hole or scour just off the main flow. When angling for species like catfish, walleyes and other fish that utilize these pockets where food piles up and things slow down, focus on presenting live bait or slow-moving offerings like a jig-and-twister combo along the edges and in the center of the eddy before moving on. As with seams, any pockets, scours, pools or other areas where currents change and provide a resting point are worth a few well-placed casts.
From the tiniest Texas crossing to a large structure holding back a reservoir, to the low-heads, natural falls and man-made fish structures in between, dams provide great starting points when it comes to isolating productive stretches of rivers. First and foremost, they create barriers to fish movement that are not easy to overcome or cannot be traversed by fish at all. Second, they provide highly oxygenated water to a flow which is a magnet for all aquatic life. Finally, they change the structure of a flow with the addition of rip-rap, concrete wing dams, and the scouring-out of sediment and other debris, creating an often cleaner stretch of gravel-bottomed river. Target a dam and work up and down both sides to pinpoint pockets, structure and shifts in the flow to find fish, especially in summer where the water is cooled by the addition of air or from being drawn out of the bottom of a lake, in the case of big dams.
Finally, rivers are prone to creating structure through the natural addition of fallen trees, logs, rocks and boulders which are pulled in during high waters or through natural erosion and are often the site of man-made creations such as bridge pilings, docks and rock piles which help break the flow and attract prey and the fish that follow them. Much of this structure is accessible from shore with a precision cast to those items in the middle of the flow, or around fallen trees and other shoreline items that jut out into a river. Work the areas immediately adjacent to structure in order to find fish.
With this helping handful of tips, shore fishing can often be better than that done by boat, especially on a river which an angler becomes familiar with. Utilize these suggestions to take the first steps in exploring and learning about a new flow, or toward unlocking the overlooked secrets of a regular fishing haunt.
Featured Photo: Dams provide an influx of oxygen to river water, cool it down some in the heat of summer, and create a barrier where fish stack up and often add structure to the shorelines just below them. They’re a great starting point when fishing flowing water from shore. Simonson Photo.