Eric Olson with a river sauger 

If you are looking for constant fishing action, try fishing a river this summer. You’ll catch plenty of fish, like walleye, sauger, and bass. Rivers can provide some outstanding fishing action throughout the summer. Actually, rivers can be good year-round, especially the larger rivers. However, in the summer, small, medium, and large rivers can provide anglers with action from a wide variety of fish species.

Sometimes, in the heat of the summer, lakes can get tough to fish. The fish in rivers, however, just keep eating. Rivers have current, so fish in rivers are constantly expending energy. To sustain their energy, they need to eat more often. Because river fish are almost always fighting the current, they become stronger than their lake-dwelling cousins. They also usually don’t grow as fast, although there is still plenty of big fish to be found in most rivers.

Because of the current, it’s a good idea to remember that most of the time a fish that wants to eat will be facing upstream. Therefore, it works well to present your bait so it is working downstream or cross current. By doing so, the fish will be able to see it better. Also, any wounded minnow or bug, or crawdad will be moving downstream, so this is a very natural presentation.

There are times when working upstream is better. This is most noticeable when trolling crankbaits. Troll crankbaits upstream, going faster as the water warms.

A jig and soft bait combination is perhaps the best set-up for catching fish in rivers. In the summer, a Thumper Jig tipped with a three-inch Swim’N Grub is a killer. Thumper Jigs have a small blade that attracts a wide variety of fish, and the Power Grub adds size and color. Pretty much any gamefish that swims in Midwest rivers will eat the Thumper/Swim’N Grub combo.

You don’t need to have a boat to fish rivers, although a boat certainly provides access to areas that the shore angler doesn’t have. Nonetheless, anyone that wants to go fishing can catch river fish.

If you’re a shore angler, look for areas that have deeper water nearby. In small rivers, deep water might be only four or five feet deep. Concentrate your efforts on cover near deep water. Walleyes, bass, pike, muskies, trout, and pretty much any river predator will hang out around logs, rocks, docks, and anything else that provides refuge just waiting for something to eat to go by.

Rivers are abundant throughout the Midwest. Their inhabitants are willing eaters and strong fighters. That should be enough to encourage anyone who wants to go fishing to try a river this summer.

PHOTO CAPTION—Our fishing friend Eric Olson with a river sauger taken trolling minnow-imitating baits upstream. When fishing gets tough, Eric heads for a river.

To see all the newest episodes of the Fishing the Midwest television series, new fishing related tips, and fishing articles from the past, go to

By Bob Jensen

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