3 Ways to Fish in a River

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Choosing the Right Equipment
Finding the Perfect Location
Casting and Reeling In
Article Summary
Questions & Answers
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Some of the most popular fish live in rivers, like trout, bass, and catfish. If you’d like to catch fish like these for yourself, then follow a few techniques for fishing in a river. First, get the right equipment. You’ll need lures that attract river fish and a lightweight pole. Then find the spots where fish like to hide, like bends in the river. Finally, cast your line upstream and wait for a bite. If the fish meets minimum size requirements, take it home for a delicious meal.


Method 1

Choosing the Right Equipment

  1. Image titled Fish in a River Step 1


    Choose a bait or lure that corresponds to the fish you’re looking for.

    Different fish have different food sources, so your lure type depends on what you’re fishing for. If you know your target fish, find a lure that mimics its most common prey. If you aren’t sure what you’re fishing for, research the common fish in the area you’ll be in. Then use that information to get the proper lure and bait.


    • Many river fish eat small fish like minnows and nightcrawlers. If you want to use live bait, get some of these from the bait shop.
    • Lures that resemble crawfish are useful for larger fish like trout and bass.
    • If you’re fly fishing, use a lure that resembles a large bug like a dragonfly. Lures have an advantage over live bait because you can use them repeatedly. You’ll be casting in a river very often, so opting for a lure is a better choice.

  2. Image titled Fish in a River Step 2


    Use a lightweight pole and thin line unless you’re going for very large fish.

    In general, river fish are smaller than ocean fish, so you don’t need a heavyweight rod. A lightweight pole lets you feel bites and tugs better, and a thin line is harder for fish to see. A 6 ft (1.8 m) pole and 4–12 lb (1.8–5.4 kg) line works for most river fish.


    • Some river fish get particularly large, and you’ll need a heavier line. Catfish grow very large in some places and have been reported at over 50 pounds (23 kg). Salmon and bass can also reach over 20 pounds (9.1 kg). Pack a heavier line if these fish are your targets.[3]

  3. Image titled Fish in a River Step 3


    Get a wide gap hook that won’t get caught in a fish’s throat.

    Fish can sometimes swallow small hooks, which then get caught in the fish’s throat or stomach. This usually kills the fish. Avoid this outcome by using a wide gap hook that a fish can’t swallow.


    • These types of hooks are available at tackle shops and sporting goods stores.

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    Wear polarized sunglasses to scan the water.

    Sunlight reflects off the water, which can damage your eyes after many hours of fishing. Protect your eyes from UV rays with a good pair of sunglasses.


    • As an added bonus, in a shallow river you might be able to see the fish you’re going for. Polarized sunglasses shield your eyes from the glare off the water and make spotting fish much easier.
    • A quality pair of sunglasses can be expensive, but cheap pairs are not up to this task. Cheap sunglasses won’t shield your eyes as well and you probably won’t be able to spot any fish.

Method 2

Finding the Perfect Location

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    Research if there are any licenses required for fishing in your area.

    Many fishing areas are on government land and require a fishing license. If you’ve never been to an area before, find out if you need permission or a license to fish there. Then go through the necessary procedures to get a license before fishing.


    • The official website for the park you’re fishing in may have the information you need. Search online for local fishing regulations.
    • You can also contact the local fish and game office in the area you’re fishing in.
    • Most areas impose a fine on people who fish without a license. Don’t try and get away with it or you could face an expensive penalty.
    • Always avoid private property when you’re fishing.

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    Find the outside bend of the river where fish congregate.

    River fish usually stay in areas with less of a current to rest and wait for prey to pass by. The current slows down at bends and fish usually wait at these points for their food to come to them. Begin at these bends for a good chance of catching fish.


    • These bends don’t have to be large changes in direction. Slight curves and land protrusions also give fish places to wait. Focus on these areas if there aren’t any large bends nearby.

  3. Image titled Fish in a River Step 7


    Look for a change in water depth and fish on the deeper side.

    Fish prefer resting in deeper waters because of the temperature and protection from predators like heron. They then come up closer to the surface when prey passes by overhead. If you find an area with a change in depth, fish on the deeper area.


    • You may be able to tell when the depth changes just by looking at the water. If you can see the bottom in one area and can’t see it further down, then this is a good spot.
    • In rivers, shallow water is usually rougher and deeper water is calmer. If the water looks choppy in one spot and calm in the other, the calmer area is probably deeper.

  4. Image titled Fish in a River Step 8


    Fish on the downstream side of dams, waterfalls, and rapids.

    These features push smaller fish downriver that larger fish use for food. Accordingly, larger fish usually wait at the end of these areas for food to pass by. If there are any dams, rapids, or waterfalls in the area, focus your fishing efforts just downstream from them for a better chance of catching fish.


    • Waterfalls and dams also sometimes trap fish that can’t get passed, leading to higher fish concentrations in these areas.

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    Cast behind large rocks breaking the surface.

    Rocks create pockets in the river with no current. Fish usually rest here and wait for prey to pass by. If you see rocks breaking the surface, it’s a good bet that fish are hiding behind it. Cast here to increase your chances of catching something.


    • Other obstructions create the same cover. Try fishing behind a downed tree if there are no large rocks in the area.

Method 3

Casting and Reeling In

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    Cast upstream from where you’re standing.

    River fish usually hover and wait for meals to pass by. Take advantage of this behavior by mimicking their food. Cast upstream so the lure or bait gets carried downriver towards the fish.


    • If you’re fishing behind rapids or a waterfall, cast right at the point where the rough water ends. Your lure will look like something that just came out of the rapids.
    • Casting upstream is also ideal because the fish will be facing upstream as well, with their backs to you. This means they won’t see you and get startled.

  2. Image titled Fish in a River Step 11


    Reel your line in at the speed of the current.

    Usually when you fish in a river, you don’t cast out and leave the line in the water. Fish attack moving targets, so keep your line moving. When your line hits the water, begin reeling in. Match the speed of the current so your lure just looks like a small fish moving along with the river. Going too fast will startle the fish.


    • If you reel all the way in without getting a bite, cast back out and repeat the process.

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    Wait patiently if you feel small bites on the line.

    Don’t start reeling in fast right away if you feel bites on the line. Some fish might just be curiously nibbling at the bait, and reeling in will scare them off. Resist reeling in until you know there’s a fish on the line.


    • Signs that the fish is attached include the rod bending, feeling a strong pull down on the line, and seeing the line moving around sporadically. If you use a bobber, it might be completely pulled underwater. At this point, the fish is probably on your line.

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    Snap the rod up when you know you have a fish on the line.

    Once you feel a good tug on the line, set the hook by pulling up sharply. This drives the hook into the fish. Once you set the hook, start reeling the fish in.


    • Use a combination of reeling and pumping upwards with the pole when you’re reeling a fish in. This combination tires the fish out and brings it to the surface.

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    Keep the fish if it meets regulation size.

    Most states have laws on when you’re allowed to keep the fish you catch. These laws set a different minimum length for each fish in the area. Measure the fish you catch and see if it meets the minimum length to keep. Otherwise, remove the hook and throw it back.


    • If you throw the fish back, make sure you get the hook out completely. Throwing a fish back with the hook still in could kill it.

Community Q&A

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  • Question

    What is the size limit for bass?

    This varies by region, and can even differ among different bodies of water in a region. Pick up the most recent hunting and fishing guide for your area at a bait and tackle shop or sporting goods store, or reference it online.

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  • Use a net to grab the fish so it doesn’t hang on the end of the line.


  • Use gloves when you handle a fish. Some have spikes and spines that could cut you.
  • Be careful when removing the fish hook so it doesn’t cut your hand. Remove the hook from your finger if it gets stuck.

Article SummaryX

To catch fish in a river, you need to cast in the right places and use the right bait. Live bait that mimics the food sources that local fish eat is the best to use. Many freshwater fish eat small minnows and nightcrawlers, so baiting your hook with these will increase your chances of catching a fish. You can also increase your chances of success by fishing in areas where fish tend to congregate such as the outside bend of a river or behind large rocks. When you cast your line, cast upstream from where you’re standing so the bait gets carried downriver towards the fish. Then, reel your line in at the speed of the current so you don’t startle the fish. For tips about how to set the hook when you catch a fish, keep reading!

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wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 9 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. Together, they cited 15 references. This article has also been viewed 35,635 times.

Categories: Fishing Spots

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