Food & Forage / Learning to Fish Rivers and Streams

Food & Forage in Rivers and Streams

Stream fish are opportunists.

If you’re like me and you want to catch more fish, and it’s a good idea for us to study the mouse instead of the owl. What are all of the different kinds of food that could be available to fish in a system? Remember… these are predators we’re talking about here!

Common Stream & River Forage

  • Insects (Grasshoppers, Flies, Spiders)
  • Insect Larvae
  • Wind-Blown Morsels (?… use your imagination…)
  • Aquatic Invertebrates
  • Crustaceans
  • Baitfish & Minnows

The Availability of Food Matters

On a windy day, species like smallmouth bass may feed heavily on grasshoppers and other insects blown into the stream or river. Fish can simply wait in the shallows along the bank and wait for wind-blown morsels to come along. But these same fish that live in the stream, can’t rely solely on food that comes from outside the stream. This would be too unpredictable (or even seasonal) to support a healthy fish population.

Therefore the stream itself must be able of producing ample food. (This is why our list above is a mix of both external and internal food sources – both are very important and will change throughout the season.)

How to Tell if a Stream Will Produce

Water fertility has a big impact when it comes to the amount of food and forage that a stream or river can produce. The more food, the more fish… and if there is adequate food and cover, the more large fish could potentially be present. Take a look at this picture from The Freshwater Angler™: Fishing Rivers & Streams. Just as in lakes, water with a high concentration of dissolved minerals will typically produce more pounds of fish per acre than water with a low level.

Very Fertile Stream Water
Mmmmm… you can smell all the… fertility…

Fertile water contains an abundance of plankton (definition: the small and microscopic organisms drifting or floating in the sea or fresh water, consisting chiefly of diatoms, protozoans, small crustaceans, and the eggs and larval stages of larger animals) and this is the most basic link in the aquatic food chain. Young gamefish feed directly on plankton; older ones on insects and other organisms that eat the plankton.

Smaller creatures are a staple on the menu, and when it comes to imitating smaller creatures in a fertile stream, Rebel has produced some of the most iconic, recognizable options for years – especially when it comes to downsized versions:

Rebel 4 Pack of Lures
The Rebel 4 Pack: The Teeny Pop-R, Crickhopper, Teeny Wee-Crawfish and a Super Teen Wee-R

Later this year we will be doing a Rebel Rundown where we go through and test a good handful of their most popular lures – so make sure to sign up for alerts on our YouTube channel to you get notifications when those tests are released!

Where to Look for Forage

If you’d like to learn more about the forage in your stream or river, then it’s time to get your hands a little dirty! The bottom of rocks, gravel – or better yet a mixture of the two – make a great habitat for aquatic invertebrates and minnows alike. These creatures can quickly and easily find cover under the rocks or in the spaces between them – even in the gravel itself.

Insect Larvae Underneath a Rock
Ah… the perfect hiding place. “Put us back!”

When the bottom silts over or sediment is carried in with the current and settles, the spaces between rocks and gravel disappear. The food disappears with them. No cover… no food.

A firm muck bottom will produce some food, like the larvae of burrowing insects, such as mayflies. (Many avid smallmouth and walleye fishermen up north are all too familiar with “mayfly hatches”.) However, a clean, sandy bottom produces practically no food. The sand will shift with the current, and provide little cover for invertebrates or anything else.

A steady flow is the final ingredient. If a stream is too shallow, the gravel beds may dry up during periods of low water, or they may freeze completely resulting in a winter kill… ending life for any and all organisms in the area. When the water comes back, the stream looks normal… but the food is gone, and the fish will follow.

Streams of this type typically do not support a healthy population of gamefish.

Moving Foward

Take some time to explore the bodies of water that you plan to fish. Look for forage and see if you can figure out what kind of food is available. This will help you select a presentation that will work well, and it is also a critical step when it comes to fishing with kids so they don’t have a horrible time!

Fishing with Kids Beyond the Bobber
The more prep-work you do, the more fish you’ll catch. Get after it, Dad.

Learning more about your local bodies of water is always time well spent. Tight lines!

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Next: Have You Ever Caught CRAPPIE This Way? Don’t tell your buddies…

A Crappie Fishing Secret

It’s So Easy the Kids Caught Fish Doing It, and it doesn’t involve a bobber

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