The Most Important Creek Fishing Tip for More Bass in the Fall

The Most Important Creek Fishing Tip for More Bass in the Fall

I almost quit for the season.

Threw in the towel.

… but something kept nagging at me…

“We don’t quit. We don’t quit.”

FINE.

Fine. Fine. We’ll go. Even though last year we fished all fall with minimal success. A few dinks here and there. All the big fish I made friends with last summer? They left. Not sure when. Not sure where. But the fact remains: we don’t just quit.

So we set about fishing one more time… and at first… let’s just say it was less than ideal…

Let me paint you a picture.

It’s cold.

Really. Freaking. Cold.

To call this fall morning “brisk” would be a gross understatement. Air temps? About 40 degrees. The light poncho I’m wearing is blocking the wind a bit… as are the half-naked trees… but the water falling from the sky is soaking my top half.

The water I’m standing in?

Yup. Soaking my bottom half.

I’m not great at maths, but 50% + 50% has to be close to 100%.

Pushing ahead, sloshing through the waist-deep water is helping to keep my heart rate up, but my hands are shaking. If I break off on a log and need to retie, it’s going to be extremely difficult.

Illinois Creek Fishing for Smallmouth Bass Rain Overcast Poncho
Right about now I’m questioning my sanity…

It seems like the creek water is actually getting colder as the trek continues.

That makes sense when you consider the fact that I’m wading in shorts. Don’t actually own a pair of waders. Don’t own a real pair of “wading shoes” for rocky creek beds either – just a crummy old pair of hiking boots.

Clodhoppers.

Why am I here?

(I mean in the creek – this is not a metaphysical exercise.)

Simple. My business is struggling. Those of you that are self-employed know that when it rains it pours (ah, what an appropriate saying), but in between the peaks are the valleys. They’re not uncommon, and I’ve been here before, but the timing this year is terrible.

Been going 60+ hours a week for some time now to get the ship back on track. That’s why I haven’t added anything on this site in weeks. It’s been an absolute slog.

I’m exhausted.

Stress is high across the country. We all feel it.

It’s also high here at home. I did the math the other day (don’t worry, a calculator was involved) and my monthly expenses are up $1,200 between the current gas, food and utility costs. Our 4 sons eat a lot, and me and mama can put it away, too. I need to unplug and think. Fishing usually helps with that.

Never had much luck fishing creeks at this time of the year, though…

Last year I fished creeks all through October and into November, but I only landed dinks.

Why?

I’ll tell you… because on this rainy, cold October day… I figured it out…

Illinois Creek Fishing Smallmouth Bass Rain Raining Poncho Wading
Nice smallmouth bass well over 2 pounds on a cut down finesse worm.

Where to Find Smallmouth Bass in Creeks

If you’ve ever fished a creek for smallmouth bass, you know that these little buggers can at times be extremely aggressive.

They’re incredible fish.

Some mornings, or even afternoons, it seems like they’re everywhere.

… because they are.

Pop 'n Drop Creator AJ Hauser with a Beautiful Smallmouth Bass
Pop ‘n Drop Smallmouth Bass (Early Summer)

When the water is stable and warm, clear not muddy, these fish move wherever they want, eat whatever they want, and assert their dominance over the other creatures scooting along the rocky bottom or swimming in the current beside them. Bugs that make the mistake of getting too close to the surface of the water will quickly realize the error of their ways.

I’ve seen many 3 pound smallmouth launch themselves high into the air, then come crashing back down again after making a meal out of a bug that made this mistake.

They only make it once.

Kayaking or wading a creek during these periods of high activity can be extremely productive. 30, 40, even 50 fish outings – using active presentations, no less – are not uncommon. If the creek is clear, you can use a lot of the same strategies that work on Largemouth Bass in Ultra-Clear Quarry Lakes.

How To Fish Ultra-Clear Borrow Pits & Rock Quarry Lakes
How To Fish Ultra-Clear Borrow Pits & Rock Quarry Lakes
“Crystal-clear quarry lakes are very difficult to fish. No rock stars here. Believe me. The banks are steep. The fish are spooky. The depths are depth-y. Other anglers, you ask? Few & far between…”

But when the water starts to drop and cool, the bass move. They are in-tune with their surroundings and can feel the water rise, or fall. The current increase, or decrease. Slight changes don’t go unnoticed. As the days start to get shorter and the water cools, smallmouth will move…

Where?

Here’s the mistake I made last year…

I have about 5 different areas where I can access several miles of fishable water, between two creeks. One of these creeks runs for about 55 miles, the other runs for about 10. Both creeks empty into large rivers.

Last year, I spent all of my fall fishing time in sections of creek about 1 or 2 miles from their mouths, meaning I was less than 2 miles away from the large rivers mentioned above.

I did this, because all spring and summer, these had been the most productive areas for both quantity and quality when bass fishing. The problem though, was that at some point, the smallmouth bass decided to empty out into the deeper, more stable water.

That means the bass – especially the big bass – were not in the creeks.

They were in the rivers.

But they can’t all leave a 55-mile creek, because there are many super-shallow areas (runs) and even some rocky barriers that block all but a trickle of water (riffles) – meaning the fish can’t make their way through these areas unless the water is high.

Some are surely trapped, and those fish would seek out the deepest pockets and pools they could find within their section of creek.

To test this theory, I moved back – about 10 miles away from the river – and guess what I found?

Illinois Creek Fishing Smallmouth Bass Raining Rainy Poncho Overcast Cloudy
“Well hello there.”

Smallmouth.

Loads of ’em.

19 to be exact. I also found 4 massive rock bass, and a bonus 5-pound channel cat!

Illinois Creek Fishing Channel Catfish Can Rainy Poncho Rain Overcast
A face only a mother could love… the catfish is ugly, too.

The moral of the story, is that location matters.

By focusing my (extremely) limited time on an area of the creek that was miles and miles away from the river, I was able to fish through sections that still held quality bass. In the spring, I’ll go back to focusing my attention closer to the mouths of the creeks, when the big river smallmouth move back in.

This will allow me to target large fish, and higher quantities, while leaving the bass that remain in the creek all year alone until I have to fish them.

Huge difference. Had I not tested this theory, these big bronzebacks wouldn’t have been caught.

This is why we don’t quit.

The following presentations helped me pick this section of creek apart.

Here’s How to Fish for Fall Smallmouth Bass

Even though I was able to find fish far from the river, we’re still talking about a 2 mile stretch of creek, and maybe 5% of that was productive water. I needed to move quickly and stay warm, and to try to find the fish before I could even think about stopping to work an area over.

The following 3 presentations accounted for all of my success. Try ’em:

Start with a jerkbait to cover water, and vary your retrieve speed and depth. I landed my first few fish on a 3.5″ model similar to a suspending Lucky Craft Pointer 100.

Go for a natural color or a semi-translucent, especially if the water is clear.

lucky craft jerkbait pointer 100
Lucky Craft Pointer 100
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Amazon

After about an hour I decided to change it up for two main reasons. While the jerkbait was working, there was a big problem. I was snagging a TON of leaves that were sitting on top of the water with every other cast – wasting time.

The solution was a Zoom Fat Albert Grub in Smoke / Salt & Pepper rigged weedless on an Owner Flashy Spinner.

zoom fat albert grub smoke salt pepper
Zoom Fat Albert Grub
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Amazon
owner flashy swimmer swimbait hook underspin
Owner Flashy Swimmer
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Amazon

This allowed me to fish through the leaves more effectively as I pushed ahead up the creek. Several more bass were caught, but I missed a handful as well (including a hawg) because the weedless rigging meant bigger hooksets were required to pin fish. Even though I was using 10 pound test on my spinning rod, I was a bit underpowered for this presentation.

Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon
Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon
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Tackle Direct | Amazon
Lew's Mach I Speed Spin Spinning Reel
Lew’s Mach 1 Spinning Reel
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Tackle Direct | Amazon

However, it allowed me to move quickly and get the bass to betray their position. At one point I noticed several flashes in between strikes, which told me that they were here – they just needed to see something different. I slowed down and really worked the area.

The name of the game was a weedess, light wire jighead with either a small minnow shaped plastic, or a cut-down finesse worm.

Powerbait Pro Twitchtail Minnow
Powerbait Pro Twitchtail Minnow
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Tackle Direct | Amazon
Z-Man Power Finesse ShroomZ Weedless
Z-Man Weedless Finesse ShroomZ
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Tackle Direct | Amazon

I tossed this setup into every little hole or area where I could see the water darken and drop just a bit next to the shore (in addition to outside bends). The weedguard helped keep the leaves that had settled in the creekbed at bay. Smallmouth were sitting right on the bottom, hiding in the dark debris & shadows in many of these small, slightly deeper areas, and the subtle plastics worked again, and again, and again.

Once we found the fish… it was an absolute blast.

I needed it.

Even though my world is on fire right now, being able to eek out just a few hours over the weekend helped me clear my head. I would have been happy just to stand out in the wilderness by myself to have some time to think about what I need to do next.

The fact that we had some late-season success was surprise icing on the cake.

Find a stretch of creek away from the river. Cover ground and cast active presentations while you look to see if fish will show themselves. When you notice an uptick in activity – slow down and work the area.

Fall fishing, man…

Cold. Rainy. Soaked. Shivering. Alone…

Awesome.

Illinois Creek FIshing Rainy Poncho Hike Wet
Thank you for a few hours, God. Now… back to work!

Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.

* For more creek & stream fishing tips, make sure to check out: Learn How To Fish Rivers and Streams

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