How to fish creeks in coldwater
Creek fishing is one of the disputed joys in life. It is undoubtably fun, catchingfish after fish while admiring the picturesque scenary many of these creeks are set in. It's fun to climb over rocks, hike through the woods, and lose yourself in outdoors. The options are diverse, too: while most people think of trout when they think of creek fishing, you can catch smallmouth, panfish, and even the rare catfish and largemouth bass (be warned; creek largies can be feisty!) There are also fish who less well known, but putting up a good fight nevertheless, such as chub, sucker, and various large minnows.
Above: Large creek minnows can be easily caught late in the year with 1/16th jigs.
Many park creeks see a lot of visitors in the spring and summer. Rows of men and boys, some very experienced, others just learning to wet a line, line the banks of popular creeks in the summer. Many tackle shops near popular destinations stock up overtime on live bait and flies in preparation for the warm-weather traffic. But when the leaves start turning red, and the frosts set in, the once-common crowds are now gone. The shores are bare. The parking lots are no longer packed. The cold weather, and the subsequent lower feeding activity of fish, discouraged most fishermen.
Above: When approaching a large pool in a stream, walk quietly. You never know what kind of fish you just might spook!
However, that's a mistake. Creek fishing is still very much alive in the fall. All fish will feed if a good opportunity, and the right conditions, are in place. The challenge is getting them. That's when stealth and finesse tactics set in. Whenever and wherever the water is getting cold, these two tactics work.
When most of us think of fishing, stealth isn't something we think of. But in small, or clear creeks, especially in the cold weather, the fish are jumpy. They are easily disturbed, and the sound of pebbles skidding down the shore, or the vibrations created by your heavy boots hitting the ground scares them. And when fish are scared, the bite's off. They hide, and don't feed. It's crucial in these situations to:
A: Walk slowly and quietly. Don't talk. You don't want the fish to sense your presence and get scared by your approach.
B: Make a silent cast into the water. The sound of your lure hitting the water may scare them. Try to "slip" your bait into the water. Make as few ripples as possible.
Being spooken into not feeding, especially during cold or post-frontal conditions, is universal fish behavior. Some fish, such as panfish, are easier to coax back in feeding again, but others, such as brown trout, will stop feeding altogether. Your best bet is to move down to the next pool and come back later when you scare the fish.
Above: Fish like to crowd around inlets for the flow of food.
Finesse tactics are something we are all familiar with. Fish small, unintrusive baits, and fish them slow. In the creeks and streams during the cold months, I recommend using tiny hooks with a bit of worm or cricket on them, 1/16th oz marabou jigs, or fly-fishing wet flies. Ice fishing jigs (1/64th oz) can work as well. Make a silent cast into the pool, and start to work you bait. I like to fish my jig with a twitch (small!), twitch, pause retreive. Remember, in the cold, the fish are inactive, and won't be frisky and chasing after fast prey.
I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any article requests; this article was resquested by a reader and I was more than happy to write it.
Creek Craws as Smallie Bait
Everyone here knows that smallmouth bass love craws. Craws are everyone where there's smallmouth, and the two species share similar habitat, cool, rocky water. What wouldn't smallmouth love more than a real craw?
Sometimes, especially in highly pressured water, smallmouth turn their noses up to soft plastic or flie imitations of craws. While there are some highly detailed soft plastic crawfish imitations on the market, it's like the fish just know sometimes. After all, when's the last time you seen a live crawfish mate with your soft plastic imitation?
Above: Not big, but a beautiful creek craw bass.
You can also catch some real lunkers with live craws. I've seen it done. To start off, you need a catch some yourself.
Go to your local creek. The water should be at least somewhat clear and moving. Get yourself a dip net. Fill over rocks, and under the rocks you may see craws. Put your net behind the craw, and coax the crustacean towards the net. The craw will propel itself backwards with it's tail, and go into the net.
After you get some craws for ourself, you need to store them. Make sure to give each craw sufficient toom in their container so that they don't fight each other.
Then, you are ready to use them. Get yourself a spinning setup with light line, so that the craw looks natural underwater. Next, tie on a appropriate sized light wire hook for the craw, and pinch a light split shot 18" up your line. Hook the craw in the middle of the tail, and cast towards piles of rocks. You got yourself a killer for smallmouth.
The ned rig. The last resort bait for many fishing lakes, a bit for post-front conditions, or when the fish just have lock jaw. But in some places, it's the only bait that works.
There are some places, such as tiny ponds and creeks, that pond bass,, but these bass are small bass, so small that the 1/2 oz jig you purchased isn't going to worm. You got to think finesse, and REAL finesse. Sometimes, you got to use ned rig. In some waters, you even up to downsize that.
Above: A 1 pound, hard fighting creek smallmouth on a 1.5" inch piece of stick worm. The king of the trickle of water that flowed near my garden. I expected smaller fish; this was a pleasant surprise.
Yes, downsize a finesse bait. But the last thing any fisherman would want to do is to get himself skunked. Really small waters, such as tiny ponds and creeks, are a blast to fish, only if you had the right tackle. Think really small baits (1.5" grubs, 1.5" minnows, micro jigs, etc), and ultralight tackle. We are talking tackle for really small water here, folks.
First, get yourself a sticky that you have no use for. Everyone these days has more than one brand of stickworm, and a bag or two of stickworms that they just regretted buying; stickworms with no actions or otherwise appeal to fish. Time to get that stuff out, folks.
Next, cut off some chunks of that stickworm, about 1.5" long. Put it on a sufficently large light wire hook more suited to panfish than bass. The horizontal fall of the ned rig is what gets them. Then crimp down a light split shot about 18" up your line. You are all set. Fish the bait like a traditional ned rig, and if you don't get any bites, or only get nips, it's time to trim the bait down a bit.
When you think fishing in southern waters, you don't think smallmouth bass. When you think of smallmouth bass, you think clear water, deep water, rocks, and fast moving water, water with a minimum growth of plants, waters such as deep Northern lakes. The warmer waters are for largemouth - and largemouth only, right?
Above: Smallmouth water?
However, it seems that smallmouth, which are found only in the deeper, colder, and rockier waters of reservoirs are only there because they were chased out of the prime shallow water habitat by largemouth, which will outcompete them. Smallmouth don't prefer the deeper, colder, and rockier waters to more shallower habitat, but were forced there. In fact, some smallmouth hatcheries have water surface temperatures reach 95 F or higher in the summer. Also, the best growth temperature for sallies is 80-85 F. That's right, 80-85 F.
So why are smallies not as widespread as largies? Smallmouth bass, for one, don't do well at all around sunfish or other spiny finned fishes, which dominate most waterways. Sunfish are hard for them to eat, and aggressive grow and outcompete them for food and space. Largemouth bass have the upper hand in static water. Thus, the smallmouth is limited.
Fishing tiny creeks allows you to sight-fish; the water in most creeks flows quickly, so that the water is clear. Look for underwater logs, large rocks, and overhangs; chances are, fish will congregate there. You may see the fish underwater, too. Make sure not to make excessive noise while looking for a better view; the consequences are obvious.
To fish the grub, there are a variety of retrieves; my favorite is casting it out near structure, let it sink near the bottom, and slowly retrieving it. Other times, quickly reeling the grub back is the way to go; you decide, based on the mood of the fish.
Above: While fishing a finesse rig like the split shot rigged grub, you may come across catching these.
Sometimes, you may just jerk the grub in the water, like a wounded minnow, or just cast it out, and let it sit there. It all depends on how the fish feel. Fish are weird, and you need to experiment at times.
This rig sometimes catches me trout. I also sometimes catch small creek suckers on this. But the most common by catches by far are creek chubs and various species of sunfish.
The good things about the tiny creeks are: one, it's shallow, so you can see the fish easily. Two, it's clear water, so you can see the fish even better. Strikes on the grub can be easily seen, and you can easily see where the fish are two. Creek fishing for "big" bass is really fun.
Have you ever passed by a tiny creek, whether you're running, cycling, or driving home from work, and looked by and wondered whether there's bass in there, and how big it would be?
As fishermen, we are instinctually drawn to the biggest bass in the lake, the alpha, the apex predator. In tiny creeks, however, you don't know if there's even bass; would the creek be big enough to support them?
I've fished creeks all my life for bass, and I have gotten to two conclusions; one, yes, they mostly have bass (be reasonable here, folks. That trickle of water after the rain won't have bass).
Above: Here's the apex predator of a creek that I could spit across at any section.
Two, the best tool for fish for small creek bass, and especially the alpha bass, is a 2"-2.5" grub on a split shot rig.
Get the grub to be in a natural color; anything that imitates small creek minnows is fine, shad colors work great. Make sure that the tail has plenty of action; too often I have seen grubs to have tails that never flutter or corkscrew - terrible action! The split shot should be 12" or so up your line, and should be light, and preferably dull (so that fish don't nip your shiny silver split shots instead). For the hook, a simple yet sharp light wire hook is fine, and there's no need to texas rig, since most creeks are swift moving, thus not really growing any weeds, so you won't really snag.
Get yourself an ultralight spinning rod and reel, with some 4 lb line. For this kind of fishing, an expensive setup really isn't needed; just get some things that are good, but not top of the line. Make sure that the ultralight rod isn't some wimpy noodle rod that can't set a hook; if you have to, a medium action sinning setup is fine. If you can't set the hook into the fish's mouth when he strikes, you only have succeeded in spooking him away. "Big" (for the creek, anyway) small creek bass aren't big for nothing. They are easily spooked, especially if your creek is in a public park.
To be continued.....
Nothing is more of an embodiment of fly fishing for some than the wild mountain creek in the remote wilderness, chasing down wild trout, reveling in the breathtaking scenery. However, such places aren't exactly common, and the price needed for some of the trips aren't exactly common either.
I once was in charge of teaching some students to fly fish before they went to the mountain streams of Virginia for a trout fishing trip. Great stuff. To let them experience fly fishing in a "stream", I took them to a little creek behind their neighborhood.
Above: Large minnows, such as chubs, can provide you with some fly fishing experience.
After they got the right flies to tie on, and set things up, they practiced presenting their flies to....... creek chubs and fallfish, with the occasional smallmouth and sunfish. They learned to feel bites, and handle fish. When they got to Virginia, they caught a bunch of trout and had a blast.
Experience is the real teacher in fishing, and as a substitute for a mountain creek, going to a local creek is fine. Fish for the local creek dwellers to build up your skill and experience. Reading/watching videos never trumps real experience on the water. Creek fish can be challenging sometimes, too, and certain fish, such as smallmouth, put up very nice fights. Plus, it's a lot of fun.
Live bait is something that most of us started out fishing with, and then moved on to soft plastics, flies, etc. We usually associate fishing with live bait as something only for panfish. I disagree.
Do yo know about those small creeks that snake behind houses, stores, and in parks? Most people don't fish such small creeks, but I do, and I find them enjoyable. Even in large creeks and rivers, you can use my method of catching smallmouth bass.
Above: A healthy creek smallmouth is caught out of the Middle Patuxent River in Howard County, Maryland.
If you read any of my previous blog posts, you will find that I like using mealworms as live bait. There are many reasons for that, including but not restricted to these:
1. Natural. A mealworm looks natural underwater, like some kind of aquatic insect larvae, or something that fell off a tree branch. It won't spook any fish.
2. Tasty. Fish love them. Not as much as nightcrawlers, but very close. Besides, a nightcrawler doesn't have some of the most important advantages a mealworm has.
3. Strong. Fish can't ripe the off the hook as easily, due to the shell.
4. They are the perfect size for my technique, and for creek fishing
5. They don't easily dry out. They used to live in bags of grain! How dry is that? When you leave them out in the sun, they won't die nearly as easily as worms do, but they still prefer shade.
6. Hardy. I can shake them around hiking, heat them up while in my car, and other ways. They still don't die. Many other types of live bait, such minnows, die extremely easily.
7. You can put the in the fridge, with little care. That's a good way of storing them, and very convenient.
First, put a mealworm (You can get them at feed and pet stores, or online) on a hook in a way that they are on the hook straight, covering the shank, but with the bend and point exposed. Then, put a tiny split shot 8" or so above it, and cast it out in a nice pool. Feel or watch for bites. The mealworm will look like insect larvae to hungry creek smallmouth, and natural, as well. I have got many fish this way, and so will you.
Do Creek Bass like Big Craws?
I often see people throwing big, 4" craws in creeks. The dead stick it, they finesse it through, but they still catch little or no bass. Why?
I find creek bass to be shy to big craws. Remember, crawfish aren't exactly a dead or dying shad. They have their claws up in a defensive position, ready to tussle and pinch with an incoming bass. Also, they might get scared by the sound of a large bullet weight or jighead hitting the water, being creek fish. As much as bass like 'em, you have to realize that craws have to be smaller for creeks, also because creek bass tend to be smallmouths, not largemouths. If you flip over rocks and examine the crawfish, you will actually find creek craws to be on the smaller side, but like those massive red Louisiana bayou craws.
Above: Creek bass are more apt to choose the smaller craw, on the right. However, the big one will catch bigger fish.
In creeks, 2"-3" size craws are sufficient. It seems the smaller you get in that range, the more bites you get, and those bites aren't even small bites. Shown above is a large craw, and a small craw commonly used by local bass fisherman in HoCo for creek fishing.
Small Creek Smallies
Everyone that likes to fish loves smallmouth - and nothing is better than creek smallmouth. However, when most bass fishing articles online refer to the word "creek," they mean something larger than 15 ft in diameter.
However, smallmouth live everywhere, and those smaller creeks that run past people's homes are a good candidate to start fishing for smallmouth. I have caught 2lbers in some really small creeks, from inner city Baltimore to the suburbs of Howard County.
Above: There's a fish..... in that trickle?
Never hesitant to find smallmouth in any reasonable water.
Hi. I am Ian, an extremely avid bass fisherman living in Howard County, MD. I like to bank fish and fish at local ponds and small creeks. I will explore budget friendly options for people to use in this blog. I hope I can teach you something.