Rivers offer some of Canada’s best but little known fishing for smallmouth bass. A top pro shares his old-school secrets for getting in on the action
The spinner set-up
Presentations aside for a moment, Gogan is living proof that when you’re fishing for moving-water smallmouths, location is paramount. In other words, the best techniques in the world are useless if there are no bass where you park the boat, or if you position the boat poorly and the fish never see your bait.
“Compared to a highly structured lake, a river is subtle,” he says. “It’s often hard to find features that stand out in a river.” That’s why he says success revolves around reading the current.
Specifically, Gogan is always looking for two things: tiny ledges along shore, and current breaks or eddies, where smallmouths sit in the slack water looking for the easiest possible meal. That’s also why he says moving water that’s clear is always better than water that’s dirty.
At one point, for example, we fished in the swirling water downstream of the world’s longest covered bridge, which spans the Saint John River between Hartland and Somerville. Gogan positioned the boat close to shore while we cast to the bass hanging leisurely in the current breaks created by the 1,282-foot structure’s many concrete footings. It was like picking lush fruit from the vine.
What made it even sweeter were Gogan’s lures. They’re the ones he never leaves home without, occupying a lot of space in his tacklebox, and he usually has one tied onto at least three rods: classic Mepps Aglia (above) and Blue Fox (below) in-line spinners. And rather than the #3 models, which many anglers know to be fish magnets, he favours the much bigger #4s and #5s. Stifle the snickers—his tactic works.
“The more I fish, the more my tacklebox shrinks,” Gogan says, sounding more like a heretic with each cast. “But I work in-line spinners differently than most bass anglers.”
That’s an understatement. Plying the water below the covered bridge, Gogan alternated between two boat-control methods. He either pointed the bow of the boat upstream, holding it in place with the bow-mounted electric trolling motor, or slipped downstream at the same speed as the current while casting his lure tight to shore. Then he barely cranked the reel—just enough to make the spinner’s blade rotate.
“I know a lot of tackle makers aren’t going to like me saying this,” Gogan says with a smile, “but in a river, it’s where you cast and how you position the boat that dictate whether you’re going to catch any bass.” There’s no shortcut or lure that can compensate for bad boat control, he says.