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How to Wade Creeks for Multi-Species Fishing Success

Wade fishing creeks and small rivers can provide fast fishing action and a break from summer’s heat – if you know how to approach these types of waters!

creek smallmouth basscreek smallmouth bass

Through much of the United States, countless creeks and small rivers lend themselves nicely to simple wade-fishing trips that commonly produce a variety of fish species. Cool creeks feel good in the summer, likely fish-holding areas are easy to recognize, and It’s the sort of trip you can easily do for an hour or two or for much of the day.

This is active fishing, where you keep moving until you find fish gathered, making plenty of casts and using moving presentations. That said, standing knee deep in a cool creek on a hot day makes for relaxing days. The fish commonly respond to surface offerings, adding an extra dose of fun, but subsurface lures certainly have their place as well.

The species mix depends on the creek, but commonly includes a couple of different black bass species and a variety of panfish. Trout, catfish, white bass, and even some oddballs like suckers and chubs might be part of the mix. I tend to keep my lures and my rod, reel and line fairly small because it keeps the most options open. While you never know when a big fish might bite, I’m usually thinking about fast action from a variety of fish and the fun of the creek wading experience, much more so than seeking a trophy fish, on this sort of outing.

Wade-Fishing Trip Planning

creek rock basscreek rock bass

It’s worth noting from the start that while we’re mostly talking about wading through a section of stream, water depth, rapids and other factors will make some creeks and stretches most accessible (or only accessible) from the bank. Likewise, with some small streams, staying mostly out of the water and even back from the bank might be necessary to avoid spooking the fish you are hoping to catch.

That said, if it’s between mid-spring and mid-Autumn, even for fishing a stream that’s mostly accessible only by bank, I’m usually dressed to get wet and carrying gear the same way I would for a wading trip, just in case I find a spot or two – maybe near the edge of a pool with mostly wooded banks – where I can gain more casts and better angles simply by walking out to waste-deep water.

As with many types of fishing, the planning is often best started at the computer or on your phone. Websites for state and national forests, parks and state game land can help you identify streams with good public access and often details about creek-side trails or specific access points. Also look at bridge and road rights-of-way for possibilities but know that public access laws vary immensely by state and sometimes by municipality. Paddling outfitters and campgrounds along creeks and small rivers also provide possible starting points, and many will allow fishing access for a modest day-use fee.

Depending on what a particular stream lends itself best to, I use one of three main strategies for most wading trips. My favorite, if logistics allow and I’m fishing with a friend, is to park cars at two access points and wade from one to the other. Another approach that is often necessary is to fish upstream as far as access allows or as long as I want to fish and then walk back, either back through the stream or on a paralleling trail or road. The third, which is needed when there is more deep water or private water between spots, is to hop from one access point to another by car and wade-fish individual spots.

Managing Gear

Deciding what to carry and, as importantly, how to carry it, can make a major difference in how fun and productive a trip will be. This short video breaks down the plan that works best for me.

Multi-Species Stream Lures

As noted already, I tend to err small with my lures for this style of fishing. Not necessarily micro, although I might switch to that if I’m mostly getting hits from panfish. Most lures I carry appeal to creek smallmouths, spots or other black bass species but are small enough to potentially produce smaller panfish like green sunfish or redbreast sunfish.

Topwater lures are primary for summer creek fishing. A few of my favorites are the Rebel Teeny Pop-R, Crickhopper Popper and Teeny Torpedo. I also always carry a few Crickhoppers and slightly larger Bighoppers. Though these lures are technically shallow crankbaits, I almost always work them with twitches and pauses to make them dance on the surface like displaced hopper in this situation.

For subsurface fishing, I carry a mix of small crankbaits/minnow baits and soft plastic offerings. Tops on the crankbait list is the Rebel Crawfish, especially the Teeny Wee-Craw and Deep Teeny Wee-Craw. The smaller two sizes of a Cotton Cordell Big O and the Bomber 5A are also great options. My creek box also typically includes some Rebel Tracdown Ghost Minnows because the slender profile makes them look like easy meals, and they handle current extremely well.

For soft plastics, I typically have a couple of colors of small bass baits – usually YUM Hellgrammites and 4-inch YUM Dingers, with terminal tackle for Ned rigging, drop shotting or weightless Texas rigging or split shotting. I also carry some Bobby Garland Mayflies and Slab Hunt’Rs for multi-species appeal, with 1/8- and 1/16-ounce jigheads, and at least one color of Itty Bit Slab Hunt’Rs with Itty Bits jigheads for when I want to really target panfish.

Tips for Summer Creek Wading Success

wade fishing a creekwade fishing a creek
  • Go Early – Disclaimer here: Creek fish will hit all day, so go when you can. If all else is equal, though, plan to be in your spot at daylight. The fish tend to be more active early, and you’re more apt to have spots to yourself.
  • Remember Stealth – Creek fish feed opportunistically when would-be meals come past, and nothing has triggered a need for caution. Once they become aware of your presence, they tend to be much harder to fool. Work from downstream and along edges or even out of the water when possible and avoid splashes and abrupt movements. Cast upstream of key spots so the bait comes through ambush zones naturally. Small measures of stealth can make a big difference.
  • Watch for Less Obvious Spots – It’s easy to look ahead to a big pool, rapid or hard current line upstream and walk through the less perfect looking spot in between, spooking fish that get minimal attention from anglers and that you never knew were there. Cast to those little pockets and troughs, even those that don’t look like much, before you walk past them.
  • Stay Alert for Clues – The clues are everywhere, if you pay attention and apply what you learn: crawfish claws on a rock that reveal sizes and colors; fish following lures but not quite committing, a change in water color where a tributary comes in; groups of minnow in shallow area, kingfishers in trees over the water… Consider all that you observe and what that might mean as you refine your approach.
  • Remain Mobile – Traveling light, managing how you carry stuff and being willing to walk allows you to search far more effectively and fish less pressured waters, which often equates with catching far more fish!
  • Work Upstream – If you’re able to work your way upstream, orienting casts at least partially upstream, that accomplishes two important goals. First, it keeps you out of the normal line of vision of most fish, which hold facing upstream in current. Second, it allows for natural presentations to fish that are ambushing forage in current lines.