Wadefishing in small streams is easy, fun and productive, especially for anglers who carry lures that imitate the natural prey of the fish that inhabit these moving waters.
Without question, streams offer some of the most bountiful, most enjoyable fishing in mid-America.
Pristine creeks and rivers trickle through the countryside. Many of these moving waters are loaded with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass; rock bass; white bass; bluegill; crappie; sauger; catfish. This list of species is long, and many of these fish grow to surprisingly large size. This is because most anglers bypass streams in favor of bigger lakes, so streamfish grow to ripe old age.
Streamfishing has another recommending virtue: It's easy. Since fish are more confined in streams, there's less searching involved. Also, because of the sparse fishing pressure, streamfish are less sophisticated than their reservoir counterparts. Pull any likely bait by a stream smallmouth or rock bass, and a strike will likely result.
This means stream anglers don't have to worry with the ponderous array of lures that most big water anglers carry. Just a few standbys will suffice. These can be carried in a small tackle box, tote bag or even a plastic sack.
Following are recommendations for tried-and-true lures to stock a streamfisherman's tackle box. With only modest amounts of money and shopping effort, any angler can gear up tackle-wise to fish these overlooked waters.
Small round jigheads and plastic trailers are almost universal streamfishing baits. The selection of jigs should range from 1/32-1/4 ounce. Sizes most commonly used will be 1/16 and 1/8 ounce. Larger sizes may occasionally be needed for working deep holes and/or swift currents.
Plastic single and double-tail grubs are excellent trailers for several species. Smaller sizes are better: 1-1/2 to 3 inches. Good colors include pumpkin, smoke and chartreuse.
Shallow and medium-running crankbaits are standards for streamfishing. Crawfish imitators (i.e., Rebel Wee Craw) are hard to beat. Also, minnow-style diving crankbaits will produce. Good colors are shad and chartreuse, depending on water color. The dingier the water, the brighter the lure should be.
Smaller crankbaits generally yield more strikes. However, if big bass are known to inhabit a stream, larger lures may be more likely to tempt them.
In-line spinners like the Mepps and Roostertail are traditional streamfishing baits, since they are designed for working in current. However, they also spin easily in slower stretches, as do tiny (1/8 oz.) safety-pin spinnerbaits. These latter lures, which have a single hook, are less likely to snag when worked around logs, fallen trees and other cover.
In-line spinners should be rigged with a small barrel swivel to reduce line twist.
Floating minnows such as the Rapala and Rebel Minnow are killers on bass when fished in quiet eddies. These are especially productive when twitched over logs and other horizontal cover. Stick with smaller 2 to 4 inch sizes. Best colors are silver/black back and gold/black back.
Also, other topwaters (propeller baits, poppers) will produce in warm weather when bass are actively feeding. Sometimes a small buzzbait will produce smashing strikes.
Plastic Tube Baits
These squid-lookalikes are deadly on all three species of black bass and also on rock bass. The best time to use them is in spring; the best spots, around rock ledges, deep banks and eddies at the bases of riffles. The standard size is 3-1/2-inches. Best colors for streams are those which look like crawfish: Brown, green, etc.
Crawfish crankbaits, tube lures, floating minnows and in-line spinners are staples for anglers who fish streams. These four lure categories imitate streamfish's natural foods, and they routinely fool these fish into striking.
Tube baits may be rigged on round jigheads or on special tapered tube jigheads. Best jig sizes are those which allow a slow rate of fall: 1/8 and 1/16 ounce.
Miscellaneous Soft Plastic Baits
Plastic worms and crawfish will occasionally save a day when the fish are finicky. Both should be scaled down in size. A Slider Worm is an excellent worm/jighead combo for fishing in streams. Colors which perennially pay off are black/green tail, green, purple and blue/white tail.
Plastic crawfish in natural colors should be rigged Texas-style (1/8-1/4 ounce bullet weights and 1/0 hooks). The weights should be pegged so they won't slide up the line.
Tackle for Live Bait
Far too many anglers overlook live bait when fishing in streams. Minnows, nightcrawlers, grasshoppers, catalpa worms and other natural baits will catch most streamfish, frequently faster than artificials.
Live bait presentations should be kept simple, and the required selection of tackle should be the same. A few thin wire hooks (#1-6) will cover most options. Add a small assortment of split shot sinkers and floats. Longer, narrow floats are more sensitive than round, fat ones.
Also, a slip float rig is extremely convenient for fishing live bait with spinning or casting gear.
For bottom rigging for catfish, add a few bell sinkers (1/4-1/2 oz.) and three-way swivels.
Beside lures, any stream angler's tackle box should also contain a minimal number of accessories that make fishing more efficient and enjoyable. First on this list is a pair of needlenose pliers for tuning lures and removing hooks. Next is a pair of polarized sunglasses, which help in seeing cover underwater. A spare spool of line is a must, as are a small hook sharpener, tube of sunscreen, clippers and a pocketknife.
A few lures in each of these categories plus all recommended accessories amount to a small, manageable package for stream anglers. This, in turn, lends itself to a simpler fishing style -- less worry with tackle and more time to enjoy the fish and their surroundings. Anglers who don't fish creeks and small rivers are missing a good bet, one which takes only minimal effort and gear to enjoy.