This past weekend I spent some time up on the Wisconsin River north of Lake Wisconsin. It was quite the experience since I had not fished up there in over 4 years. The last time I was up there the boat channels were completely different and the fishing was not nearly as good!  My tournament partner and I were focused on finding big smallies, and find them we did!  There are a few tips that I want to share with all of the Fishidy members!

smallie weighin

Chart a Safe Path

First and foremost, learn the river channels. I cannot stress this enough. As bass fishermen, we are born and bread to be run n’ gun types! We want to blast off, get on plane, trim up our motors, and find the straightest line to our best spots. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the power of the billions of gallons of water that make up a river. Rocks, limbs and sandbars are common hazards that pop up out of seemingly nowhere on these waterways. Spend a few hours the day before the tournament learning the areas that may seem most dangerous. I spent most of my practice day just navigating to find a safe route from the main lake up to my spots. I also learned to never follow a jet boat in a river. These boats can cruise across the sandbars that outboards will hit and wreck.

One of my favorite parts about Fishidy is the map that displays all of the contours, structures and bottom compositions. I use this as a starting point. Most, but not all sand bars are in similar areas each year. You can use the aerial map on Fishidy to chart your river travel plan. Again, I would strongly advise folks to drive their route slowly once, before getting on plane and running it at full speed!

fishidy map structure

Key Structures

Most bass fishermen understand that smallmouth bass tend to relate to rock. This is not news to anyone reading this blog, however, there are things to look for when fishing rocky areas. First and foremost, look for bank abnormalities. River fish tend to relate to areas that provide an ambush point out of the current. They do this for a few reasons. The obvious one is to have a vantage point on any bait fish coasting down the river’s current. The other reason is to use as little energy as possible to stay hidden. If smallmouth were to sit in the current all the time, they’d become depleted of energy very quickly.

This leads me to my next point – current breaks. Back sides of any rocks, sand bars, logs/limbs, docks, wing dams, or other obstructions in the river create a low current and hidden spot for these smallmouth to hang out. A great way to mark all of these spots is to use Fishidy’s Mobile App while you are on the river marking your boat path. Any of the previously mentioned structures should be way-pointed and fished for a potential catch!

The third structure that I look for is wood. This may come as a surprise to some folks because we tend to think that smallmouth only relate to rock.  Frankly, most river fish are just looking to find a spot that is out of the current that will provide for that days meal. My favorite structure to flip is wood on bluff walls. Bluff walls are a very good structure in and of themselves, but once these walls are combined with chunk rock, lay downs, and small cuts you will have found the ideal late summer smallmouth river spot – the “honey hole” if you will! These areas generally have quick access to shallow and deep water, great bottom compositions and structures, and spots that create incredible “hunting” areas for these fish.

The best thing about these areas are that they are incredibly easy to find on Fishidy. Bluffs are generally labeled and with a quick structure scan or cruising past with your boat you can find the best areas very quickly! Again, focus on the inconsistencies that may exist on these areas.

As a Fishidy premium member, you can look at all of the FHS (Fishing Hot Spots) points on the maps to find some of the general areas that these fish relate to. This is always great way to have a plethora of areas to hit while on the water. Plus, the mobile app accessibility and GPS tracking ability allows you to look up spots and drive right to them while out on the lake!

fishing hot spot

Money Bait$

There are three baits that I tend to focus on the most in my summer smallmouth river fishing excursions. Obviously, there are other situations that you’ll have to shy away from these three. Versatility is crucial in fishing, and river fishing is no different, but these are the three I like to start with when trying to locate these fish.

The first is a Lethal Weapon II Swim Jig paired with a Kalin’s Scrub. Black and blue or purple can be killer in a river. Other great colors are white/chartreuse or green pumpkin patterns. Fish parallel to the bank and cast, flip, or skip them in front of the boat towards the structure you are targeting. The two retrieves I like to use are a lift and fall presentation or a slow constant retrieve while shaking my rod tip every so often.

Lethal Weapon II Swim Jig
Lethal Weapon II Swim Jig
Kalin's Scrub
Kalin’s Scrub

The next is a square-bill crankbait. Size is irrelevant, but what does matter is the depth of the bait. You have to match the depth of the area that you are fishing with the bait. I tend to go one notch deeper than the banks I am fishing because I like to dig in to the bottom and really bang around off the structures to create that reaction bite. Crawfish or sexy shad colors are the colors I key in on. I also tend to crank with braid to avoid breaking off a lot of baits and to keep fish off of the countless structures in the river once they are hooked.

square-bill crankbait
Square-bill Crankbait

My final check cashing, money bait is none other than a classic Indiana or Colorado bladed spinner bait. The Mann’s Classic Spinnerbait is a perfect selection for these instances. My favorite is the 3/8 oz. Gold Indiana bladed bait in white/chartreuse. It is dynamite in the rocky slack water areas of these river systems!

Mann's Classic Spinnerbait
Mann’s Classic Spinnerbait

Next time you are out use these tips to help yourself put more fish in the boat. I hope this helps out all of my fellow smallmouth fishermen the next time they are out on one of these beautiful and vast waterways. For more spots, tips, and techniques check out Fishidy! Remember it is free to join and easy to use! There are thousands of free contour maps and a mind blowing amount of free information about these lakes! Log in today to get started on your next hunt for the elusive smallmouth bass.


  1. My wife and I are coming to Christmas Village for a week during Labor Day…I’m bringing my boat…I would like to catch Walleye and Smallies…can I do this on the river?..and what should I use for walleye?…Thanks Dale

    • Hi Dale,

      The Wisconsin River is a great place to target walleye and smallies! I encourage you to connect with this waterway on Fishidy. It’s broken down into 3 main sections: below Castle Rock dam, below the Wisconsin Dells dam, and below the Praire Du Sac dam. Fishidy’s maps will show you contour lines, and provide tips to target walleye and smallmouth. If you’re a premium member, you’ll even find specific fishing hot spots and underwater structure mapped-out. Jig and minnow combinations are always a good bet for both walleye and smallmouth.