They call your boat number. Throttles pinned, outboards screaming, we’re heading to the fishing grounds. You set up in 20, 30, even 40 feet of water, break out the deep cranks and the football jigs. That is hot, summer time tournament fishing by the book- but that’s not me. The bass go deep. They find a comfort zone in the deeper darker water and escape the heat and, most importantly, chase schools of bait. I sit back and watch the boats rocket by while I idle out of the launch zone and into the closest cool water creek that I know.
When the water temp gets way up into its peak range, the bass move from the shallows and “set up shop” on the humps, ledges, deep rock or whatever deep structure they find holding bait. But, to be completely honest, I’m not a deep water fisherman. I am from South Jersey where 10 feet is deep to me. So I stick to what I know, and what I have learned is that there are shallow patterns for the heat of summer. I have found that places where creeks flow into bays, lakes and river systems can be very productive on the hottest of days. I could be fishing a creek on the Delaware River with barges or the Chesapeake Bay with wood, or a maybe even a natural still water lake, but wherever I am it is where there is current- cooler, flowing water. The current, which is the key component. Current keeps the water nice and cool for the bass. If I’m fishing a body of water where the average temperature is 80-83 degree water, I find that it is in the creek where I find the temperature down to as much as 75 degrees.
Cooler temperatures like that keep the bass from being sluggish, and, where they are active and not sluggish, they can almost always be found feeding heavily. The current coming downstream from the rockier, less sediment filled areas upstream helps oxygenate the water which, from my observations, stacks the bait in these creeks and energizes the largemouth. It really gets the fish going and they put the feed bag on.
As far as bait goes, it really depends on the body of water you are fishing. My two “home” bodies are the Chesapeake Bay and tidal Delaware River. Both offer similar bait but I see huge differences in their creeks. Creeks feeding the Delaware in summer really seem to stack up with fish such as white perch, sunfish, shore minnows and occasionally American eels or needle fish. On the Chesapeake I see a lot of shad, yellow perch, suckers and crawfish. During parts of the season, schools of herring migrate up these creeks. There are really endless amounts of forage in these creeks and what makes it easy is that the creeks generally are so tight that any lures matching the forage hatch tends to work.
Since the variety of forage is generally wide, when it comes to throwing baits in creeks, instead of focusing on what forage to fish, I focus on selecting the bait that best allows me to fish the cover properly. If I pull into a creek that has docks, pilings, or some sort of industrial structure, I generally go with a jig or a bait I can put underneath of what I’m seeing. I’ve had a lot of luck throwing All-terrain finesse jigs tipped with Power Team Lures Craw d’oeuvre and also throwing the All-terrain casting jig in the PB&J color with a Bass Kandi T-craw on the back-especially when a bigger profile is called for. Some creeks are primarily rocky bottom or bank structure. Facing this situation, my mind thinks crankbait. The water in these creeks is generally pretty clear. I recommend going with natural or pale type colors like the Rapala DT6 in Ike’s custom ink colors. I also like to throw shakey headjigs and drop shots around the rocks.
I would have to say that my all-time favorite cover situation in a creek, and in my opinion the one that consistently produces the best fishing, is a big solid lay down. Something I can really pick apart flipping to it. In this situation, I pull in and start by casting a square bill across and parallel to the wood lay down. If I do not hit, I switch to a spinner or chatter bait. This type of bait can still provoke a reaction bite but now using a slower bait. I’ve had a lot of luck with big spinners in situations like this- 1/2 oz. big willow leaf blade spinner baits. After working this presentation, if there is still no fish in the boat, I break out the battle stick for some “hand to hand combat”. I do not know why, but my favorite fish catching bait in this situation is a Reaction Innovation hematoma colored Smallie Beaver, unpegged on a 3/0 VMC flipping hook and a 3/8 oz tungsten bullet weight. This has rig has accounted for a lot of fish tight into the cover. Don’t let its small size fool you, I’ve caught many a five lb plus fish on this little bait.
To wrap up this look at creek fishing consider these last few tips. In creeks, whatever I do and whatever I throw, there is one common factor- it’s stealthy and I am stealthy. If you want to get these fish, don’t go in with the outboard going. If you use power poles and talons, try to limit yourself as this kicks up sediment. Lastly don’t run over cover to get as far up the creek as possible. Start at the beginning, quietly work the cover by just starting to cast.
iBass360 Pro Staff Jack McKelvey lives in Sicklerville, NJ, his base for extensive fishing in tidal creeks, rivers and flats flowing into the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. Jack has written a number of informative articles for iBass360 based on his experiences as a tournament angler on the New Jersey Bass Federation and NJ Bass Nation tours where he recently finished third at the Susquehanna Flats event.