The Ohio River is a world-class fishery by any standard, but bass fishing in the river tends to be overshadowed by catfish and other species. A tributary of the Mississippi River, the Ohio offers substantial opportunities for smallmouth bass fishing, with access in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The 980-mile river is, put quite simply, a fisherman’s dream come true. The Ohio offers ample shore access, many sections that are navigable by canoe, kayak or float tube, and bass-attracting habitats that range from deep pools to rocky mid-river reefs.

The Ohio River contains ample populations of both smallmouth and largemouth bass, but smallmouths are batter adapted to living in current than largemouths. They can be found throughout the Ohio River, especially in the main river channel. Most of the Ohio River’s finest smallmouth habitat is upstream of the Willow Island Dam, so this is a good area to target if you are new to the river. Bass can be found in tailwater areas, along rocky shorelines and in deep pools. Smallmouths generally gravitate to rocky and gravelly habitat, where they can blend in and hunt for crayfish and other bottom-dwelling critters.

Smallmouth bass spawn on main-river flats when water temperatures are in the mid-60s. The spawn typically starts in late April at the southern end of the river and gradually moves north. In summer, you can usually find smallmouths in places where a riffle drops into a deep pool, or in holes where the river bends.

You can catch smallmouth bass on the Ohio River at almost any time of year, but most of the biggest fish are caught in April and early May. Pre-spawn bass fall for deep-running crankbaits, jigs and soft plastic lures in dark, natural colors like green pumpkin, watermelon and junebug. If the river is high and muddy, try fishing white and chartreuse spinnerbaits around current breaks. Topwaters can catch bass along rocky shorelines as the waters warm in summer. Live bait is a great option too; drifting a minnow under a float can catch bass just about anywhere they swim, and nothing tempts fish like a live nightcrawler or crayfish near bottom.

The Ohio River flows between several states, so regulations vary slightly along the river. Most areas have a six-fish daily limit for bass, which applies to largemouth and smallmouth bass singly or in combination. Length restrictions may vary, so be sure to acquaint yourself with the regulations in whichever state you happen to find yourself in. In most cases, bordering states will honor fishing licenses from either state if you are fishing by boat, but to fish from shore you must have a license from the state on which you are standing.

A full-time freelance writer since 2009, my work has appeared on USAToday.com, eHow, Answerbag and LIVESTRONG. I love to write about fishing, camping and the outdoors in general; and when I’m not at my writi…  View profile

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