wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass

Wading Rivers for Illinois Smallmouth Bass

When I found Daniel Byrne on Twitter, I could tell he was a very accomplished kayak angler. And normally I jump to do interviews about kayak fishing. But spending a bit more time on his page, I could tell there was a type of fishing that he has a deep connection with. So today we interview Daniel about wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass.

When did you start wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass?

My father and I started fishing rivers and like many river newbies we were at the dams. The problem for me was all the people at those dams. My father gave me my first waders when I was 11 or so and would pick long flat stretches where he could relax on shore while keeping an eye on me.

Why do you enjoy the experience of wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass?

I am a multi-species fisherman and although the smallmouth’s strength and ability to leap holds a place in my heart, it is the experience of wading itself that draws me. The quiet, the sound of running water, being surrounded by the current, and hearing early morning birds put me at peace. I heard someone call it “The Church of the Water” once and that sums it up perfectly.

What are your favorite wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass?

The Fox, The DuPage, and the Kishwaukee are my favorites within driving distance.

What makes each of them special places for you to fish?

Each is special for their own reasons. The Fox is on the top of my list because I grew up in that river and everywhere I look see my father, who passed, and memories that make me feel at home.

The Dupe was just a crappy coffee colored mess when I was a kid. To see it now, clear and full of bronze bullets is just amazing.

The Kish is smaller and clearer then the Fox but it has an amazing amount of species within its beautiful banks. Pretty cool to pull in a northern, walleye, and a smallie in three casts.

What is your wading gear?

I use breathable FroggToggs HELLBENDER STOCKINGFOOT CHEST WADERS for warmer weather and an old pair of thick neoprene waders for cold weather. In warm weather I wear a Gillz mens long sleeve with mesh and a Gillzmask to keep the sun out of my eye and bugs out of my nose. In cold weather its all about thin layers that are not cotton and hand and foot warmers. As for foot wear I wear SoftScience’s mens wading boot called the Terrafin

When wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass, you don’t have 5 rods to take with you. What is your favorite rod and reel combo to fish with when wading for smallies?

I use a 6’6″ lite power fast action rod for smallmouth. I am looking currently at a longer rod with the same qualities, long, solid back bone, and with a fast tip. Specifically, I am looking at the Denali L821FS Lithium 6′ 10″ Medium Lite Finesse Spinning Rod.

For spinning reels its hard to beat Shimano even their low end reels will last. I have two mid range reels still in use that are over 15 years old. Just keep them clean and make sure you have a reel that fits and balances nicely with your rod.

It is really about the rod. You want something long to control bigger fish and set a hook at a long distance. You want the fast action to launch your smaller presentations and so you can have fun fighting the dinks.

How about line choice?

When I wade I go through a lot of line. Any decent quality anti-tangle, anti-abrasion 6 to 8lb monofilament line will work. I tend to use Trilene XL on most outings.

What tackle bag system are you using?

I use a White River Fly Shop 270 Deluxe Pack because it rides high on your shoulders and gets wet less often. I am a short guy so a higher storage solution was paramount. It also has three places to store tackle one on each side and one larger in the back for those days you believe you will need everything.

Wading Rivers for Illinois Smallmouth BassWhat are your favorite baits to throw when river fishing for smallmouth bass?

This is where I will drive the purists crazy. The answer is the trinity, crawlers, leeches, and minnows. Over the years I have taken steelhead drifting float techniques and applied them to smallmouth. The result has increased my catch percentage 5 fold! Not to mention all the other species that come along with this.

You can take a 10 fish trip and make it 30. I like numbers a lot. The key to drifting live bait for smallmouth bass is all about keeping the presentation at the right depth and at a natural speed. This is easier with premium floats and the use of shotting patterns.

I still throw artificial baits and always have some on me. My favorites are nothing exciting but known producers.

1. white grub and jig head
2. shallow cranks especially craw patterns
3. small plastics like four inch worms, leeches, or helgies that can be drifted through holes
4. swim jigs
5. some sort of top water bait

Again without multiple rods, you aren’t able to have multiple baits tied on. How do you approach changing baits up?

I fish 30 to 50 yards at a time with each bait. I start with confidence baits then change as the bite does. I never keep a bait on just because it has worked in the past. I look for reaction biters first then dissect spots and slow down for the reluctant eaters. If you are lazy about changing baits and re-tying your catch rate will always be lower.

Perhaps most importantly, what are some of the safety practices that you use to keep yourself safe when wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass?

There are now apps so you can follow the flow and CFS (Cubic Feet per Second). These river apps allow you to take notes and keep track of what flows are safe on your rivers. You need to be mindful of the water depth.

Always assume an athletic position and move slowly in new water. Keep an eye on bank erosion at entry and exit points. Tighten your wading belt. You do not want your waders to fill when you fall. A wading staff may be a good idea for newbies or older waders. Move one foot at a time. Never cross feet. Search for solid bases to push off or stand on. In faster current with a partner you may need to cross arms to get across. When the water is cold take no chances. Only fish water you know is safe.

While we focused on wading, I do want to ask you about your kayak. It looks sweet. What kayak are you fishing out of?

I am one of the first midwest anglers to own a Diablo Paddlesports Chupacabra Kayak. These kayaks were made by big guys that fly fish Texas rivers. There really is no kayak more stable and better suited for river fishing. With this stability I can stand while bass fishing more often and longer then my competition giving me the edge in favorable conditions.

Who are your current sponsors?

I have been at this for some time know and have a good number of great sponsors. Each one chosen to help my fishing in some way.

Pivotthead Recording Glasses
Gillz Gear
Diablo Paddlesports
Lithium Pros
B&C Power Yaks
Electric Kayak Company
Mythic Gear Dry Suits
Frogg Toggs
Soft Science Footwear
Beard Head
Denali Rods
Notch Gear Hats
Ram Mounts
K-1 Baits
Crabby Bass Lures
Shur-Set Lures
Daves Tangle Free Weights
Bait Cloud
Tidal Vision

While we concentrated this interview with Daniel about wading rivers for Illinois smallmouth bass, I most definitely plan to have a follow up about Daniel’s fantastic kayak’s fishing. Thank you Daniel. I have enjoyed your perspective and outlook on a method of fishing that is too overlooked in these modern days of high speed bass boats, advanced electronics and truckloads of tackle. A pair of waders, a few key baits, live bait, one spinning combo and a quiet river can make for an amazing day of fishing.

Daniel is on Twitter @danielbyrne.

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