How To Catch Smallmouth Bass in Creeks (Complete Guide)

Photo Credit – jjessiebaker

Bass fishing is one of the most popular recreational activities in the United States, and anglers of all skill levels can improve their techniques and reel-in prize-worthy fish when fishing for bass. Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are a popular option for anglers, but learning how to pluck them from murky creek waters can be tricky.

To catch smallmouth bass in creeks, you will need to learn how to identify them and their typical habitats. Additionally, you will want to use spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and a lightweight rod. Choosing to wear waterproof wading gear may also help when navigating deeper streams.

This guide will discuss everything you need to know when trying to catch smallmouth bass in creeks. We’ll explore how to identify smallmouth bass, how to cast into the perfect spots, and how to improve your catch rate. After you’ve finished here, you may feel more confident the next time you find yourself creekside.

Learn How To Identify Smallmouth Bass

Before you can run, you must learn to walk. The first skill you’ll need to master when catching smallmouth bass is identification. Now, if you’ve been reeling in smallmouth bass from rivers and lakes, you might feel confident in your ability to spot this fish. 

However, it’s crucial to note that fishing from a creek is far different from fishing other bodies of water. The waters tend to be far more shallow, slow-moving, and murky. There may be deep, dark pools that collect around heavy boulders and rocky shoals. 

Even on a clear and sunny day, eyeing a smallmouth bass in a creek can be challenging. Additionally, some anglers may have limited experience with this type of fish, and this lack of exposure can make proper identification nearly impossible. As such, it’s essential to discuss the general appearance of the smallmouth bass.

Let’s quickly review this species’ appearance by examining the two subspecies that make up the smallmouth bass family: the Neosho smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu velox) and the Northern smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu dolomieu).

Neosho Smallmouth Bass

This smallmouth bass subspecies is native to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. As such, it’s not nearly as common as the Northern smallmouth variety. It’s also worth noting that the introduction of non-native smallmouth bass seems to have impacted indigenous populations of Neosho smallmouth bass, making it even rarer of a catch.

Neosho smallmouth bass that live in small streams or creeks tend to be smaller than their lake-dwelling and river-dwelling counterparts. A typical adult specimen might grow to ten inches (25.4 cm) in a wide river, but a Neosho smallmouth that spends its life in a creek could be four inches (10.2 cm) shorter, on average.

These fish exhibit a standard coloration that’s very similar to the Northern smallmouth bass. Typically, the Neosho smallmouth has dark brown or green scales along the spine. These colors continue and transform into a mix of dark diamond-shaped patterns and vertical stripes along the fish’s sides. The belly is often white or cream-colored, and the fins may feature the same coloration as the spine. 

There are three primary ways to tell the Neosho smallmouth bass from the Northern smallmouth subspecies. Firstly, location. The natural habitat of the Neosho is far more limited. Secondly, this smallmouth variety has a rounded pelvic fin, while the Northern smallmouth has a truncate fin.

Thirdly, you could take a look at the dorsal fins’ base, also referred to as the fish’s spine or back. If you’re working with a true Neosho, you’ll notice that the top body line (from the fish’s head to its tail) is very smooth and rounded. As you might guess, the Northern variety doesn’t have as graceful of a body profile.

Northern Smallmouth Bass

Now, we can address the more common type of smallmouth bass, the Northern subspecies. Fortunately, this fish is very similar to the Neosho variety, though its pelvic fin and dorsal fin base are slightly different.

If you’ve ever fished for largemouth bass, then you might be surprised to find that smallmouth bass have a browner coloration than the larger, greener species. Adult smallmouth bass can grow up to thirteen inches (33 cm) in length, but they’re rarely ever more than two pounds (907.2 g). 

If you’re not sure about the differences between a Northern smallmouth and a juvenile largemouth bass, here’s a helpful hint: look at the dorsal fin. When you check out the fish’s spine, you’ll either spot two distinct fins or one long conjoined one. When angling for smallmouth, you’ll hope to see just one dorsal fin.

Choose the Right Spot

When fishing for smallmouth bass, it’s crucial to choose the right casting spot. If you’ve found a great freshwater stream but you’re not sure where to cast your line, you could struggle to hook any smallmouth bass. 

To improve your catch rate, you’ll want to aim for:

  • Deep pools
  • Dark waters
  • Large rocks
  • Swirling streams

Smallmouth bass tend to gather in these areas, as murky waters make for great cover when hunting. Any drops or dips in the creek’s bottom could be hiding a hungry bass. 

That’s why you should always aim for the deepest areas of the shallow creek stream, but to get the perfect cast, you might need to get your shoes wet.

Don’t Be Afraid To Wade

Fly fishing can be a muddy affair, but it can also yield some truly tremendous catches. This is partly due to the nature of fly fishing, but there’s also something else at work—namely, location. 

Fishing from the bankside is fine for some fish, but when you’re angling for smallmouth bass, you might want to slip on your watertight boots and head out into the creek stream. Still, you won’t need your half-body waders or hip-high boots.

While fly fishing often incorporates standard wading techniques and principles, smallmouth bass fishing usually requires a slightly less intense setup, especially if you’re fishing from creeks or small rivers. Instead of bringing your full wading gear, consider preparing for a simplified wet wading experience.

Anglers who wet wade might only have water come up to their knees, though many creek streams are only about a foot or so deep. To wet wade, you’ll need to bring a few essential pieces of gear. Don’t forget to pack:

  • Waterproof boots or shoes
  • Waterproof gear storage
  • Quick-drying clothes
  • Fishing vest
  • Shin guards

In terms of footwear, you’ll find a wide variety of potential options. If you’re determined to fish from several different creeks or rivers, you might want to invest in several different types of wading shoes. 

For example, some shoes are made of mildew-resistant vinyl and floatable foam. They’re ventilated and lightweight, allowing water to pass through them. This feature also helps them to dry more quickly. The Crocs Men’s Literide Pacer shoes are an excellent example of light wading shoes.

Still, slippery creek beds can make for treacherous fishing conditions, and it’s a smart idea to choose a boot with superior traction and gripping ability. The Simms Men’s Freestone Wading Boots are made of thick, durable rubber and synthetic leather. It’s a waterproof option that’s far heavier than the slimmer, sneaker-style water shoes.

Creek waters can be cold, and they can also be full of silt, so anglers should also invest in insulated wading socks. If you’re shivering up a storm while you’re wading, you might scare away your potential catches. WETSOX Frictionless Wader Socks are a great starter pair, and they extend up the calf for superior body heat retention.

Take Advantage of Spinnerbaits and Crankbaits

Smallmouth bass aren’t as carnivorous as their larger counterparts. Juvenile specimens tend to graze on waterborne insects, minnows, larvae, and plankton. Adult smallmouth bass eat crawfish (also called crayfish), smaller fish species, and (occasionally) their own young. 

Anglers need to consider these eating habits when choosing a type of bait or lure. Two of the most commonly used fishing lures for smallmouth bass are spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Let’s briefly discuss how these types of lures work and how they’re different from one another.


This type of fishing lure comes in several different styles and colors, but the spinnerbait’s defining features are its blades. These lures typically sport one or several shiny pieces of smooth metal. These bits usually aren’t razor-sharp, but they’re called blades, nonetheless.

The purpose of this feature is to shimmer in the sunlight like a fish’s scales. Predatory fish (like an adult smallmouth bass) that spot this shiny lure think that it’s a smaller fish, prompting them to move in for the kill. You can attach live bait to this lure or secure a plastic crawfish to attract smallmouth bass.


While spinnerbaits rely almost solely on shimmer and shine to attract fish, crankbaits use the power of water displacement. These small, fish-shaped lures feature a plastic lip that allows water to enter and exit slowly. 

After casting, a crankbait might bob around near the water’s surface for a minute before diving down toward the creek bottom. After a short while, it might travel back up toward the surface. This action mimics the movements of small prey fish like minnows. Many crankbaits are also highly reflective, helping to attract hungry game fish.

The precise motion of each crankbait differs and depends on its design. Still, nearly all small crankbait lures are appropriate for smallmouth bass fishing.

Use a Light Fast-Action Rod

Heavier rods might be necessary when fishing for larger bass, but a big rod might slow you down when fishing in a creek. Lighter rods with plenty of spring are the way to go. Not only are they less of a weighty burden, but they also allow anglers to move more quickly. 

The St. Croix X Spinning Rod is a high-quality option with medium power and an ideal line weight scale—about 6 to 12 pounds (2.7 to 5.4 kgs). The 6’8″ (2.03 m) model is perfect for dedicated smallmouth bass fishing, though the 7’1″ (2.16 m) version might be a better option for anglers hoping to catch a variety of species.

If the St. Croix line is slightly out of budget, you may want to consider investing in the more affordable Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Rod. The 5’10” (1.78 m) model is incredibly compact and easy to use, and it sports the same power and line weight abilities as the St. Croix option. The only major downside to this selection is a slightly reduced speed.  

Learn To Set a Hook

If you haven’t mastered setting a hook, you’ll likely struggle to catch smallmouth bass. Many anglers assume that they don’t need to set a hook when fishing for smallmouth bass, primarily due to this species’ smaller size.

However, smallmouth bass can be just as aggressive as largemouth bass, and an inattentive angler can easily wind up sabotaging themselves by failing to set the hook. Not only could you lose your bait to a fast fish, but you could also end up killing your catch if they swallow the hook whole.

Learning to set a hook is a straightforward process, and you’ll only need to remember seven essential steps. To set a hook and successfully reel in smallmouth bass, you’ll need to:

  1. Bait the hook.
  2. Cast your line.
  3. Tighten the line.
  4. Angle your rod.
  5. Wait for a bite.
  6. Pull your rod up and to the left.
  7. Crank the reel.

Many of these steps should be commonplace, but some might be a little surprising. As such, we’ll take a moment to examine each one in greater detail. Once you’ve mastered setting the hook, you’ll find that your catch rate vastly improves.

Bait the Hook

The very first thing you’ll need to do is bait your hook and double-check your lure. Smallmouth bass enjoy minnows, but live minnows are better suited to largemouth bass. To keep the smaller fish coming, you’ll want to use live crawfish or plastic bait tubes. 

Your lure should be in excellent condition, as should your hook. When you feel confident about your rod, line, bait, and hook, you can cast.

Cast Your Line

Cast into the darker, deeper parts of the creek to place your bait near lurking smallmouth bass. You may also want to release ahead of such areas to avoid scaring away potential game fish. Immediately after casting, tighten your line to eliminate any slack. 

Tighten the Line

A slack line isn’t going to do you any favors. Firstly, you won’t be able to feel the tell-tale tug of a biting fish, preventing you from acting quickly. 

Secondly, your line can become more easily tangled in floating weeds or half-buried stones when it’s loose. Before you can catch any fish, you need to pull that line in until it’s taut and ready for action.

Angle Your Rod

After ensuring that your line is set correctly, you’ll want to angle your rod so that it’s pointing slightly to your right. Depending on your positioning, this may cause your line to change course, but this deviation is well worth the inconvenience.

Setting your hook from a standard forward stance can be challenging at best. Angling your rod so that it’s slightly askew can allow you to move more fluidly and with more force when it’s time to set.

Wait for a Bite

One of the hardest (or easiest, depending on your perspective) aspects of bass fishing is the waiting. Sometimes, fish will start gobbling up your bait as soon it touches the water. Other times, it takes hours just to get a single bite.

While you’re waiting, you’ll want to relax your shoulders and your knees. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on your line and ensure that it remains taut. As soon as you feel a bite, it’s time to move.

Pull Your Rod Up and to the Left

As soon as you feel the weight of a nibbling fish, hoist your rod upward and sharply to your left. Bring the reel up toward your head to get a clean set. You’ll also need to keep a hand close to your reel while you set the hook.

Crank the Reel

You’ll want to crank the reel after pulling upward and to the left. While your initial movement might be enough to sink the hook into the side of the fish’s mouth, the catch can still get away by immediately pulling backward. 

When you quickly crank the reel a few times, you’re overpowering the bass’s instinct and pulling them toward you in one swift move. After that, it’s merely a matter of persistence until you can yank the fish from the water.

Practice Your Skills Often

The last thing that anglers should keep in mind when fishing for smallmouth bass in creeks is patience and practice. Nobody becomes a professional bass angler overnight, and it’s unreasonable to expect yourself to become a perfect angler in just a few days or weeks.

One of the best things about improving your fishing skills is that it requires tons of practice. This means weekly fishing trips, monthly excursions to new locations, and annual tournaments. 

Smallmouth bass live throughout North America and can be found in nearly every major river, streak, or creek. Consequently, you should have plenty of opportunities to try your hand at smallmouth bass fishing.


Catching smallmouth bass in creeks is easy when you know where to look, where to stand, and what gear to use. Anglers looking to improve their catch rate should be familiar with the smallmouth’s appearance, cast into deeper areas of the stream, and try wet wading for more accurate casts.

It’s also a great idea to use spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and lightweight fast-action rods. Learning how to set a hook and practicing your bass-fishing skills may also help you catch more smallmouth bass. Now, get out there, and enjoy snagging some smallmouth bass!


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