Now that we have looked into current and the affect it has on the fish in a river system or stream, we should go a step further and discuss cover and current breaks. We’ll do this in two phases, starting with some basic concepts provided in: The Freshwater Angler™: Fishing Rivers & Streams:
If you think about it, it’s natural that fish living in current would seek out anything that might prevent them from being swept away. The moment they hatch new fry are small, weak swimmers – and food for larger predators – but fortunately, they can find cover and concealment behind pebbles and gravel… to start.
As fish grow, they will need to find larger types of cover to both shade and hide themselves. It is common for the largest fish in a system to set up near the largest boulders, or near logs or banks with the deepest undercuts. Streams & rivers without cover like this will probably not hold as many large fish.
In the previous article we discussed the different species of fish found in currents of varying strength and their general tolerance to that current. Fish like smallmouth bass have a higher tolerance and so in an area with more current, a single boulder or even a branch can provide enough cover to hold a quality fish – but crappie and largemouth (fish that prefer slower current like what we could expect in a pool or low-gradient area) would probably require more substantial cover to block faster current enough to hold in that stretch of water.
Streams that wind and meander typically have more structure, cuts and cover than those that are straight. Remember too that smaller streams make it easier to see the pool-riffle-run pattern that changes the bottom composition and strength of the current, as the same amount of water has to move through narrow and wide areas – ultimately leading to many deep holes and undercut banks. Straight streams can be more uniform, and therefore offer less cover, meaning fewer adult fish will be present.
The best cover will not only offer a break in the current, but provide overhead protection (from the sun and predators) as well. This means that fish may well prefer the slack water of an undercut bank to say, slack water behind a boulder. The undercut bank offers more robust protection – but both can hold fish.
Whether you are fishing a lake or a stream, most bodies of water have some prime real estate. Areas of cover (either visible or submerged) that are just “fish magnets”. A good spot is a good spot, and when the largest and most dominant fish that set up in these areas are caught, they will either return upon release, or another fish of similar size will move into the area. Pay attention to areas that are productive and revisit them to test this concept.
Over time you will start to recognize visual cues that mean there is cover present. At first, you will miss many of these spots – but that’s good for two reasons. First, other less experienced fishermen will miss them as well, and second, the more you practice, the more cover you will be able to identify, and the more cover you can identify, the more fish you will catch as you continue to develop as an angler.
Now that we know more about cover and current breaks in a river or stream – and why they are important – let’s go ahead and put together a list of common slack-water areas that you can look for which may very well hold gamefish.
The combination of these concepts & targets will help us zero in on success.
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