Fishing for Smallmouth Bass in Streams

There are several ways to fish for smallmouth bass in streams. Depending on the stretch of stream you are fishing and available access, you have the option of wading or floating. The type of rod and reel you use for stream smallmouth depends on the conditions and the type of lure or bait you intend to use. Both light action spinning
and baitcasting outfits work well for casting and retrieving hard and soft plastic baits.

A nice feature about streams that will help you in your quest for big smallmouth is water clarity. Most good smallmouth streams are clear, allowing you to sight-fish for your quarry. Sunglasses let you see what’s below the water’s surface.  Stream angling for smallmouth is appealling because catch rates are usually higher than in lake fishing. Once an angler becomes able to identify the habitats normally used by the fish in different seasons of the year and during various water conditions, fish can often be located with ease. Look for the few big holes. Though trophy smallmouth are sometimes found in the smaller pools of streams, the really big holes are often where the largest smallmouth lurk. It pays to be stealthful while you search these places. With clear water, not only can you see the fish, the fish can also see you.


Lures and the size line for smallmouth bass in streams must be smaller and lighter than those used for largemouth bass in lakes and ponds. Soft plastic imitations of worms, crayfish and lizards, as well as grubs and tubes used with a jig, work very well. The smart angler will select a lure that closely resembles the preferred food item at that particular time of year. Prior to the spawn and later in post-spawn, when bass again resume active feeding, lures that resemble minnows are most effective.

Fish soft plastics by casting and allowing the bait to sink, then slowly lifting your rod tip from horizontal to vertical with slight jerks, lowering the rod tip back horizontally, reeling in the slack and repeating the steps. Good soft plastics for stream smallmouth bass include 3 to 5 inch finesse worms, lizards, single-tailed grubs, tubes, spider grubs and jerkbaits. Subdued natural hues that imitate crayfish or minnows such as watermelon red flake, watermelon seed,  pumpkin seed, green pumpkin, motor oil, smoke, smoke pepper and black are good colors to throw most of the time.

Crankbaits attract aggressive fish and excel in muddy water conditions. The best dive from 3 to 6 feet deep, are less than 3 inches long and resemble crayfish. Some anglers prefer shallow running crankbaits with a squared lip to pick off the active fish in a hole.

When using spinner baits, or any other lure for that matter, one should think small. Small 1/2 ounce white or chartreuse spinnerbaits are excellent lures for smallmouth bass in streams. Switch to a heavier spinnerbait if the stream is rolling with water the color of chocolate milk. In-line spinners work well in normal, clear water conditions.

Top-water season starts in spring and doesn’t end until late fall. Early fall is the best time to use these types of lures. One of the most popular presentations
is twitching a floating minnow lure on the surface, pulling it under then allowing the lure to flutter back to the top. Minnow lures also are effective when steadily retrieved just under the surface. White buzzbaits and torpedo lures with propellers are deadly in the spring, or when worked early and late in the day during summer. In early fall, a cigar-shaped, top-water lure worked with a “walk the dog”” retrieve elicits savage strikes. At dusk and after dark in the warm months, nothing beats a black crawler like the Jitterbug.

A factor that appears to be less important, except when using surface lures, is the time of day. Smallmouths will readily pursue surface presentations, especially in the early morning and late evening hours. The cast must be made past the spot suspected of holding a fish and retrieved through that location. The best locations are behind large boulders or on the edge of a quiet pool adjacent to a riffle.

Live bait

Smallmouth bass in streams mainly eat crayfish, hellgrammites and small minnows. Along with night crawlers, these are your best options for live bait. When fishing live bait, use a #2 or #4 hook with split shot sinkers added a foot or two above the bait to help get it to the bottom. Crayfish are commonly hooked underneath the tail, while minnows are hooked behind the dorsal fin or through both lips.

When a smallmouth picks up a crawdad, the first impulse is immediately to set the hook. This action usually results in rebaiting for another try. Smallmouth normally carry the prey for a short distance in their jaws prior to ingestion. Patiently waiting for the fish to stop its run, then reeling up the slack and setting the hook yield much better results.

The patient method also applies when using nightcrawlers. The fish must be given time to suck the entire bait, hook and all, into its mouth. This is especially true when using a whole nightcrawler hooked only through the collar or just in the tail. When one is using minnows, shiners, or hellgrammites, the opposite applies. An angler can usually set the hook immediately and have success.

Smallmouth generally face upstream, so cast upstream beyond your targeted habitat and work the bait back to you and the awaiting fish. Whatever method of smallmouth bass fishing you choose, respect fellow anglers, landowners, the river and the fish.


Recommended Posts