By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
When you need your pants cuffed, you go to a seamstress. When you want to find actively feeding fish, try a current seam.
Formed by converging water flows and water breaking around fixed objects, current seams are dynamic zones that allow fish to sit in the slow (“soft”) water and feed on passing forage. Creature comforts? Fish enjoy temperature moderation, higher oxygen levels and some degree of concealment amid the turbulence.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz pointed out a classic example while fishing Pool 4 of the upper Mississippi River – two channels coming together off the tip of a long, tapering point extending from an island’s downstream end. One of the channels had a stronger flow and the fish were mostly sitting on the slower side.
“The fish were in different positions (along that slower side); some were up close to the actual island, there was another group about halfway out toward the tip and I also got a couple of bites at the tip,” Schultz said. “There were distinct sweet spots on that current seam.”
Find the Sweet Spot
Identifying the zones of higher frequency is important, but also be aware of the mobility factor.
“Another thing you have to prepare yourself for is those fish relocating,” Schultz said. “Maybe when the current slows or accelerates, they might reposition. Light levels, water clarity, forage; there are a lot of factors that can position the fish.
“Generally, when they’re up shallow, they’re in the right mood. They’re usually the more aggressive fish. On (the Mississippi River spot), that’s where the majority of my bites, especially the bigger bites, came from and that’s where the majority of the better bites came from.”
Schultz said he also looks for anything that can position the fish relevant to grass edges, shell bars, stump rows or any other cover.
“If you can find anything in addition to whatever is causing the current seam; whether it’s a grass clump, a rock pile, an isolated stump, isolated debris — anything that can position those fish and give them a better vantage point for ambush, that’s in your favor also,” he said.
Barge wakes can boost the bite in a current seam by creating sudden turbulence.
Former FLW Tour pro Casey Martin notes the importance of natural presentations.
“You really have to pay attention to your cast and allow the bait to flow naturally into the sweet spot,” he said. “The seams will have a sweet spot based on where the current breaks; it allows the fish to sit in an area and just ambush bait that is washed to them.
“On the TVA lakes, you see this quite often below the dams in the tailrace area. One of the big keys in that environment is knowing how to read the seams based on how many generators are running when they pull current. Different combinations of generators will actually change the sweet spot and the fish will relocate to a new spot depending on the flow of the water.”
As Martin notes, natural streams and rivers typically are more stable unless new rain causes the water to fluctuate up or down.
“Boat traffic can change things and not always for the worse,” Schultz said. “I’ve actually seen boat traffic improve the bite on a current seam. When fish are staged to feed by schooling and a boat comes by, it (agitates) the bait; they get frantic and they become disoriented and it might create a schooling opportunity.”
Now that’s a random kind of deal, but Schultz recalls a scenario in which intentional wakes extended a bite.
“We had a winter tournament at Lake Norman and it was miserable conditions; it was cold and damp with freezing rain and snow the whole week,” he said. “There was a hot-water discharge and the fish were schooling on small baitfish. The water was clear and the fish were very picky.
“I was fishing the discharge with four other boats and we figured out that when the bite slowed down, if we took turns cranking up the big engine and running through that current seam, it would reactivate the bite for another 15 minutes.”
Barges can have a similar impact, as their massive wakes throw tremendous turbulence across an already dynamic scenario. For example, Schultz points to a Lake Wheeler, where main-lake flats drop into deep water.
Here, bass sitting on the deep edges to ambush current-washed bait may briefly charge baitfish holding on the flat when a barge wake creates a feeding opportunity by raising the water level and stimulating the baitfish.
Schultz prefers topwaters for fishing current seams.
Elsewhere, Schultz suggests paying attention to current seams of all sizes and volumes. Channel markers, barge tie-ups and bumpers, power-line bases — anywhere water breaks around large objects, current seams occur.
“Whether you’re in a stream or on the Mississippi River at its widest point, current seams are critical to locating active bass,” Schultz said.
The Right Presentation
Schultz typically targets current seams with crankbaits, bladed jigs, swimbaits, spinnerbaits, and topwaters (walkers, prop baits and frogs). He bases his choices on clarity, fish position and aggression level, but strongly prefers the surface game.
“If they’re willing to come to the surface, I’m going to try that because I feel you can pull more fish in the school with a topwater plug than you can with other plugs,” Schultz said. “With subsurface plugs, it seems like they wise up quicker and you have to make a lot of changes.
“If I can get them on top or near the surface, all the better. Then I’ll work my way down into the water column.”
Favoring small swimbaits, Picasso A-rigs and Z-Man jigs, Martin knows that downsizing (head weights and bait lengths) is his best tool for countering a tough current-seam bite.
“You want to use the lightest bait that fishes effectively in the current as it will allow the bait to wash naturally into those eddies and current breaks,” he said. “This will be the natural presentation the fish would normally see and is much more effective.”
Schultz agrees with the conventional logic of presenting baits with the current, but notes occasional exceptions.
“I’ve had success working lures like shallow-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits against the current,” he said. “Sometimes, especially in smaller rivers, the current is so fast and swift you don’t have the opportunity to make an up-current presentation.
“You’re just taking advantage of any targets that come along as you drift downstream. Unless you fish backwards, as you drift with the current, your retrieve is going to be perpendicular or against the grain.”
In such scenarios, particularly tidal fisheries accelerated by strong winds or big moon phases, a measured drift controlled by the trolling motor is your best bet. Schultz offers this advice:
“You’d better be quick on your cast or you’re not going to see many opportunities.”