Small streams equal big fun

Well, here it is September and the heat is still upon us.

Not stifling, horrible heat, but enough to make you want to stay in the AC just a little longer than we'd like.


For late summer and early fall fishing, the small creeks and streams of central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania can cough up a variety of species, big and small, that are perfect for light tackle and big-time fun. Creeks like Antietam, Big Pipe, Marsh, Conococheague, Conowago, Gunpowder, Codorus, Toms, Yellow Breeches, Octoraro, Monocacy, Middle Creek and many others offer exciting opportunities for small stream panfish and spunky smallmouth bass as well as the occasional catfish, carp, fallfish, and more.

For the past several weeks, we have ditched the standard "lake and pond" gig and opted for the wet-wading/stream strategy for aggressive smallmouth bass and those other species. It's been a wild ride, with some real surprises on the rivers and streams. With the exceedingly warm temperatures, coupled with low-water conditions, hopping in and getting wet just seems to be the way to go. Here is a basic game plan that will get you started on the small stream gig no matter where you live.


Probably the most effective tools are ultra light spinning tackle with rods from 5-6½ feet long that can handle 4- and 6-pound monofilament lines well. Most of the casts will be short, so distance is not always a major factor for success. I like quality monos like Gamma PolyFlex or Trilene Extra Limp monos for tossing jigs from 1/32nd to 1/16th ounce. Those that replicate crayfish are usually top getters for stream bass and panfish. If I am targeting smallmouths, I usually go with hairjigs and plastics that are brown, olive or red in color. Black can be very good as well.

Small crankbaits can be extremely effective at this time of year, and a top water bite may emerge. We've always had success with the Rebel Teeny Wee series of crayfish and frog patterned miniature crankbaits that even quality 2 to 3 pound smallmouths would smash. Yo-Zuri Pins Minnows and smaller Rapala Floating Minnows in 1½-2½ inch lengths are also day-in, day-out winners for creek fishing. Strike King Bitsy Minnows also shine and the smaller Bagley crankbait line has a good selection of proven stream killers for your arsenal.

For hardware, it always pays to carry a couple of smaller Mepps Spinners in size #0 to #2 to imitate those skipping minnows we sometimes see that are fleeing from a predacious effort from larger bass. If you are changing lures often, then small ball bearing swivels will make switch-outs quicker and easier than direct tie-ons. Plus, the swivel prevents line twist with rotating spinners. When we fish with the jigs, however, we tie directly to the hook-eye with either a Polomar or an improved clinch knot. Plastic additions to imitate crayfish claws or the like can almost always sweeten the pie for creek bass and aggressive rock bass that are found in most of our streams.

Live bait, in the form of minnows and crayfish, can be killer if you can keep them alive and fish them in the heat. However, there are ongoing changes in baitfish and crayfish as bait regulations throughout the Monocacy watershed due to the infestation of the invasive Rusty crayfish ... a larger and aggressive crustacean. For that purpose alone, it is wise to keep the game in the artificial lure selection. Always double-check baitfish regulations for the waters you intend to fish.


I have always been a fan of wading upstream in creek fishing, with minimal wading disturbances in those longer, larger pools. Keep in mind that most of our waters will be in a "low water" state and that most of the quality bass will be holed-up in the deepest available water at this time. Stealth is paramount for success, and sloppy, invasive wading can spook fish quickly. Also, for this same reason, we like to use clear or green monos that blend with the environment and wont alarm fish.

Try to target obvious fish hangouts like undercuts, rocky shoreline areas, deeper runs that sweep against cliff formations or any fallen tree or tree-root system that has a little bit of deep water and shade. Often, an evening bite can occur as insect activity triggers sunfish and minnow feedings, prompting larger, adult smallmouths to the surface to hammer those top water offerings. Back in the day, we would also carry medium spinning gear and toss buzz baits for some primo smallmouth action in the late summer/early fall time frame. That would be the topic of a whole 'nuther story!

Accurate casts are needed in many scenarios for the creek angler, as overhangs and currents play zig and zag with your lures. Often you can easily recognize the edge of a current seam and swirl that creates an eddy where fish wait to ambush your offering. It might take several casts to get that "perfect" drift or travel, but persistence will pay off.

Finally, travel light and fish with a companion for the ultra light stream gig. It's pretty easy to slip and fall or take a dunking. Safe fishing with a friend not only is wise but also affords much enjoyment to share the experience with a friend. And lastly, make absolutely sure you have permission to be on any water that meanders through private land. Check regulations for trout, bass and panfish in these streams you choose to fish and enjoy some great, late summer/early fall fishing.