Catching River Largemouths During Spring Flooding

With the spring flooding of the Mississippi River near my home in Minnesota, which occurs after many long winters, I’m reminded of the many times I’ve faced these conditions while pursuing largemouth bass. Fishermen that fail to adapt find themselves going to some other body of water to fish.

During flood conditions, many of the usual places where bass are caught during the spring have swift, muddy waters flowing through them and no bass. But you can catch lots of bass during these high-water conditions by simply understanding the type of water largemouths prefer during these periods.

Jim Moynagh (Photo Courtesy of FLW Outdoors

Spring, more so than any other time of year, is when I pay close attention to the water temperature gauge on my Zercom CID-40. I won’t even begin fishing until I find an increase in water temperature. In fact, depending on the river system, it may be a few hours before I find something promising. This principle is virtually universal across the entire North American range of largemouth whether they reside in natural lakes, rivers, or reservoirs.

Finding warmer water during springtime often results in rewarding catches. However, in the case of lakes and reservoirs, there usually are other patterns to pursue besides just looking for warmer water. With rivers though, I’ve seen where this is the only thing guiding their location within the system, especially during spring, flooding events.

So what does the warmer water mean? By nature, these are the areas where bass will eventually spawn when water temperatures reach the mid-60s. However, you don’t have to wait for the spawn because bass inhabit these areas long before the onset of spawning. Additionally, warmer areas draw bluegills, shad and other forage providing the bass with steady meals.

To help find warm water faster, it helps to understand why it is warmer in the first place. It’s simply because these areas are protected from river currents. The flowing water is colder during the springtime because its volume is so much greater. Shielded areas, however, heat up much faster because they contain shallower water that is not subjected to mixing. Oftentimes a visible clearing in the water clarity can be noticed in the protected areas.

Beginning the search for warm water starts by first looking at a map. The most obvious areas that stand out are the backwater bays, but often under flooding conditions, these areas are washed out with muddy, river current. However, you still need to go to them, and patrol the outer boundaries, searching for adjacent pockets and slackwater creekbeds that are removed from current.

Oftentimes, you may find yourself having to crash through flooded, lowland woods to gain access to some of these removed areas. The Mississippi River down by Memphis, Tenn., has countless little oxbows that become accessible during flooding conditions, but to get to some of them, you’ll need to blaze a trail through timber.

One quick way to find potential warm water areas is by doing a flyover. From the air, a person can see miles of river all at once. And because the warm water areas generally have better water clarity, they are easily distinguishable from areas impacted by current.

No doubt, springtime floods can be very intimidating. Vast amounts of seemingly “fishy-looking” water hold nothing. But by searching out the warmer water, you’ll be able to break the river down into small pieces and catch just as many bass as if the river was at normal levels.

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Jim Moynagh writes a twice-monthly bass fishing column on Visit Jim on Facebook at!/pages/Jim-Moynagh/167413610047622?fref=ts He is a FLW touring pro, and a former Forrest Wood Open Champion with multiple top 10 finishes. In 2012, he finished in fourth place for Angler of the Year honors. He also finished in fourth place two-straight times in FLW events in 2012. His expertise is deep-water structure fishing for large and smallmouth bass. Jim’s sponsors include M&M’s, All-Terrain Tackle, Chevy Trucks, and Ranger Boats.


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