How to Adapt Big Water Tactics to Small Currents for Big Results

Last updated on March 28th, 2022

fishing in small trout streams

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In fishing, as in life in general, we can sometimes take something that works in one situation and through small adjustments or adaptations, make it work in another.

Fishermen have always been some of the best innovators anyway and this post is about taking what we already have and adapting it to a slightly different environment to catch fish. It’s fun and rewarding.

Many of us grew up fishing small baits in creeks, waiting patiently for bluegills or catfish to bring a rush of excitement to a relaxing day. However, when you start to target the larger species in these skinny waters, the current begins to play a factor in your angling.

For instance, fishing a weightless fluke in a lake results in a “walking” motion of a dying fish, whereas fishing the same rig in a current results in a tumbling, dead bait that doesn’t have any real action. Fishing a heavy, 3/8ths/oz Texas rigged bait in a lake results in a hopping motion littered with dead drops, allowing the bait to flow around and entice fish.

Even fishing small rivers with the same rig would result in the bait hopping along with the current, swinging back towards you in a pendulum motion while fighting the rushing water.

This confuses a lot of fishermen, as their go-to tactics must be modified for use in these flowing estuaries. The good news is that with the addition of a few things already found in your tackle box, many commonly revered bass rigs transfer very well to creek use.

Adapting Big Water Rigs and Tactics for Fishing Small Streams

catching crappie in small creek

The first setup I throw in a small body of water is a drop-shot rig tipped with a small crawfish imitator. To rig it up, tie a 1/4-1/2oz drop sinker to the terminal end of your line, and secure a 2/0 EWG hook 2-6” above the weight. Thread a crawdad in black/blue or black/red onto the hook as you would for a texas rig, and toss the setup into the middle of the current.

The drop-shot weight will tumble much slower than a standard Texas-rigged bullet weight, allowing your crawfish to dance in the strike zone for much longer than most other setups. This allows for a passing bass to spot the “stranded” bait and tear it up!

After the crawfish quits producing, try throwing a wacky rigged worm on the hook instead. It’ll flap wildly through the stream causing powerful reaction strikes from roaming predators.

Another common setup is a live minnow under a bobber, around 4” down. Keep your bail open and allow the minnow to swim where it will. It tends to head for the nearest group of baitfish, a spot almost guaranteed to have hungry predators nearby. As a funky side note, you can tweak this rig when crappie fishing into a “Judas” rig.

If you catch a small crappie, but can’t find the slabs, hook him through the tail under a bobber and let him go. He’ll swim to the closest school of crappie and betray their location, allowing you to target them more efficiently.

Another big water tactic easily adaptable to skinny water is crankbait fishing. A small 1-3” balsa wood crankbait will trigger the bite when nothing else will. Balsa crankbaits are very buoyant and will float to the surface when not being retrieved. In skinny water, this allows you to cover the entire water column in a very small amount of time.

My go-to is the Rapala original Finnish Minnow, an angler favorite. It’s been snagging fish from trout streams and redeye creeks for decades, and I doubt it’ll be stopping any time soon.

Finally, rooster tails are the easiest bait to catch fish in these small water conditions. Simply cast and retrieved, these baits flutter and spin through the water, attracting any fish with a predatory instinct. I’ve caught everything from 1oz bluegill to 3lb bass out of Shades Creek on rooster tails. They’re great for crappie, too!

In the end, the best thing to do in small currents is experiment with the rigs you already know and love. Keep your weight focused lower on your line to hug the bottom, and higher up to allow it to tumble freely through the water.

I hope this has been helpful… tight lines!

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About Willie Luker

Willie is a native Alabamian who is proficient in a number of freshwater species but is especially fond of catching big largemouth bass! He is also a Certified Master Angler, has written about fishing for a local paper, has in the past been a contributor to FishBrain, and is currently lending his talents to Reel Adventure Fishing - your source for everything fishing.