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Must-Have Finesse Soft Plastic Baits for Creek Smallmouth

Some of the best baits for catching creek smallies were not made for that application, but we don’t need to tell that to the fish!

“It was designed to be jig trailer,” Patrick Marbury said with a knowing smile as he reeled in yet another creek smallmouth on a YUM Craw Chunk, “but I’ve learned that it works REALLY well on its own!”

A creek fishing enthusiast from northwest Ark. who heads various marketing projects for and associated lure brands, Marbury often goes outside the box with the soft plastic lures he chooses for creek smallmouth bass from Ozarks streams – and in doing so he finds exceptional success.

Marbury’s favorites include some baits that offer natural attraction and subtle action and some that kick hard to move water and prompt attacks. The common denominator is that most are at the small end of the spectrum – baits that would be considered “finesse soft plastics” for bass fishing.

The character of the creek Marbury chooses to fish, color of the water and the day’s conditions contribute to decisions about bait selection and presentations. Nothing trumps the fish’s shown preferences, though. On our recent outing to Arkansas’ Crooked Creek, for example, various soft plastic baits proved effective, but the smallmouths repeatedly showed that they wanted the baits moving. Additionally, they were only feeding in current, no matter how perfect everything else about a spot appeared.

Crappie Baits for Smallmouth Bass

crappie bait for creek smallmouthscrappie bait for creek smallmouths

A couple of Marbury’s most dependable producers for creek smallmouths are from the Bobby Garland Crappie Baits brand and were created for crappie fishing applications. The Stroll’R is a 2 1/2-inch swimming grub. The Pile Diver is a like-sized creature bait.

The Stroll’R, which has a baitfish shaped body and a swim foot on its tail, mostly get used by crappie anglers for casting and reeling past targets and for long-line trolling because of its thumping tail action. That same strong action helps bass find the bait in current and triggers fabulous smallmouth action for Marbury. He swims a Stroll’R steadily along current seams, near rocks and past other cover to trigger smallmouth strikes, sometimes adding lifts and drops based on fish response.

The Pile Diver has a ribbed body, small legs in front and twin curled tails that curve inward. It creates a lot of water movement, whether being swam or when dropping through the water column and was created to draw crappie out of brushpiles. Working it in creeks with lifts and drops, whether beside boulders or treetops or in open pools, maximizes the action and prompts attacks.

Marbury likes to fish both baits on a 1/16-ounce Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle Jighead.

Bobby Garland’s latest introduction, the Mayfly, is also a fabulous crossover bait for creek smallmouth bass. Aquatic insects provide important forage for creek smallmouths, so the bass relate to the Mayfly’s buggy profile. The Mayfly provides an extra good option when the bass favor less pulsing action and want a bait that falls and wavers as the current carries it.

Creek Ned Rigging

Ned Craw standing upNed Craw standing up

Straying from crappie baits, Marbury likes to Ned rig various diminutive soft plastic worms, craws and critters. A technique pioneered by legendary angler and outdoor write Ned Kehde for finesse fishing in small heavily fished midwestern lakes, Ned rigging is a form of jighead worm fishing that relies on small soft plastic baits and presentations that posture the bait vertically in the water column based of the baits chosen, the jighead used and the way the rig is worked

YUM Bait Co. makes three bait baits specifically for this application – the Ned Dinger, Ned Craw and Ned Minnow – and all three feature an air pocket design that causes them to “Ned,” which is a verb form that has developed to refer to a soft plastic bait being postured vertically with the tail end (or the claws, in the case of a craw) directly above the jighead.

Traditional Ned heads, which are normally 1/16 ounce or smaller, are mushroom shaped so they can rock in place, enhancing the bait’s ability to stand. Various finesse worms, including the YUM Finesse Worm and Gene Larew Tattle Tail Worm or Inch Worm, provide good Ned rigging options.

Marbury likes Ned rigs when the smallmouths are relating to the bottom, whether that’s the bottom of a pool or deep run or atop a swift shallow gravel bar. In slower areas, the presentation is likewise slow, with the bait moved with drags or light hops. In swifter water, the current does the bulk of the delivery work, and rod and reel work together to keep the bait kicking the bottom as it moves roughly at the speed of the current.

More Than a Trailer

creek fishing for smallmouth basscreek fishing for smallmouth bass

Marbury’s least conventional approach – and often his starting bait for a day in a creek – is fishing a YUM Craw Chunk alone on a jighead. Designed primary to be used as a trailer for jig, the Craw Chunk is what its name suggests. It has an elongated chunk style body and flat, swimming claws.

The Craw Chunk’s claws waver as it bait moves up and down and offer a nice amount of motion to keep presentation somewhat subtle but with plenty of strike-prompting movement. Marbury works the bait with lifts and drops, using the rod to do move the lure, but allowing the current to aid the presentation as the bait falls.

The Craw Chunk comes in three sizes. Marbury likes the middle size (3.25 inches) because it fits best on his jighead, but when the fish seem fussy, he’ll turn to the smallest Craw Chunk, which is half an inch shorter. He likes a 1/16-ounce jighead that has a No. 1 or 1/O offset hook, allowing him to hook the bait weedless.

Marbury’s consistent success using the Craw Chunk on its own clearly points the value of trying things that are different and allowing the fish to dictate what works and what does not!

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creek smallmouth bait boxcreek smallmouth bait box

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