It’s late June and right now it’s primetime for hot river fishing across the Upper Midwest for a variety of different reasons. Number one would be the low stable flows of the rivers, most of the rivers are also running fairly clear. Number two is it puts fish in fairly identifiable areas in the river thanks to the current. Today’s guests is Captain Ben Wolfe of Sport Fish Michigan who targets a wide variety of fish throughout the river systems of Michigan.
Troy Lindner: Ben, what are some aspects of river fishing this time of year that you can share with us?
Ben Wolfe: For us, one of the most important aspects of river fishing actually is “why” – why are they there? Understanding if the fish are a migratory species, like some of our salmon, steelhead and walleyes that are coming in from the main lake to spawn in the rivers, or are you targeting resident fish that live in the river year-round.
Understanding why they’re there will really help pinpoint where to fish them, because that makes them more predictable in terms of where they’re going and why they’re going there. If they are there only to spawn, they’re going to use a river differently than if they’re there as a resident. A walleye, salmon or steelhead that is in the river to spawn may only feed in very short windows. In the case of a salmon, their digestive tract is actually shut down, so they’re not feeding at all – when we fish for those, it’s a provocation strike. For something like a walleye or steelhead, they do feed, but it might be in shorter windows. Resident fish tend to be more aggressive because they need to fight the current and they’re there expending a lot more energy. That current makes them more predictable and puts them into that “feed or starve” mentality, which is great for us as anglers trying to target them. Aggressive fish – who doesn’t like that?
Troy Lindner: I know you fish for a lot of different fish out there in the rivers, we’re talking salmon, trout, walleye, bass, and even catfish. What can you tell us about current, how fish are positioned in the current, and where they feed?
Ben Wolfe: Understanding current is key. Fish will utilize different parts of the river and different characteristics of a river at different times based on whether they’re active and feeding or whether they’re inactive. Things like deep pools, river bends, eddies, river seams – these are all critical aspects of things that fish will utilize. Right now I would focus on the flats because those shallower flats are gonna have more oxygen. That oxygen in turn is going to have more life and more feeding opportunities for those fish. When they’re active, they’re going to go up onto those flats and cruise around and roam, looking for fish.
Troy Lindner: What exact types of spots and cover are you looking for?
Ben Wolfe: Different species utilized cover differently, but in general, we’re looking for things like log jams, deep pools, feeding lanes, seams and those shallower flats that we talked about are all going be critical areas. Active fish in general tend to be on top of a break or on top of the flats, in front of a log jam or a boulder, and the inactive fish are going to be behind those things. It’s really critical to to look for active fish in those areas before you start looking in the spots that tend to hold inactive fish behind those current breaks.
Another aspect of river fishing that is so exciting is the visual aspect. Not only can we often see the strikes and see fish following, but when we’re looking for current breaks and other types of cover and areas that hold fish, that’s a visual experience as well. Being able to understand where to cast, for instance in a river system, typically we want to cast upstream or sideways to the boat or the bank, letting the current sweep that presentation down naturally. That’s how those fish are going to be feeding. They’re always going to be facing into the current. Putting a bait in front of them so they can see it coming at them is going to be much more natural than coming up from behind them.
Troy Lindner: That’s a lot of great information on how to get into some hot river fishing action. I saw that video you did with my cousin James last fall, catching giant flathead catfish. That looked like a lot of fun.
Ben Wolfe: Yeah, that was a riot. The size of those things really gets your attention and your blood pumping for sure. We have such fantastic river fishing options all across the state of Michigan. We’re really blessed to have excellent fishing for a wide variety of species. In the next couple of months, we’re looking forward to king salmon and coho salmon staging outside the river mouths and pushing up into the rivers. There’s some more exciting opportunities right there!
Special thanks to Capt. Ben Wolfe for coming on the show and talking about the hot river fishing options available right now.