Stream fishing is much different than casting a line into a calm lake for bass and trout. The constantly moving water not only affects your fishing techniques but determines where fish can be caught. Successful anglers on the lake often struggle fishing streams and rivers. This is because it is not easy knowing how to read a river for fishing. By understanding where to find fish, the best tackle setups, and successful stream fishing techniques you will have more hookups with live bait on your next stream fishing trip.
Where to Find Fish in Streams
It’s hard to catch bass or trout, regardless of your fishing tackle, if you don’t know where to find them. River and stream fishing requires you to understand how fish relate to the current and structure within the water. Good fishing spots are going to be around areas of structure such as downed trees or large rock outcrops. However, don’t solely focus on these areas when thinking about where to find fish in streams. The best stream fishing spots are those that provide fish protection from current and predators, as well as provide an abundance of forage.
The 3 Best Trout Fishing Spots in Streams
Undercut Banks – To avoid predation, trout seek out undercut banks for security. These areas also provide ample prey for large trout making it a prime location to fish for trout. Fish these undercut banks by casting upstream and allowing the current to push your trout fishing bait under the bank.
Riffles – Riffles are usually overlooked by anglers when stream fishing. However, riffles are the go-to place for trout when they are actively feeding on live bait. Fish riffles either from downstream or cross current to avoid spooking trout. Floating a minnow through a riffle downstream to an awaiting trout is also highly successful.
Deep Pools – All anglers head to deep pools first and for good reasons. Fast water enters pools, usually from a riffle, slows down and then leaves again at a fast rate. Focus your fishing on these two “ends”, where the water enters and leaves the pool. Look for trout in the upper two-thirds of the water column, which means they are actively feeding on live bait and more easily caught.
The 3 Best Bass Fishing Spots in Streams
Islands or Large Rock Outcrops – In streams with a lot of current, fish for bass on the downstream side of islands and rock piles. The calmer water here provides a resting spot for large bass and the food they prey on. In bodies of water with a lot of current this sometimes can be the only place to fish. Cast upstream on the edge where the current meets the calm water to trigger bites.
Vegetation – Most streams don’t have extensive weed beds like a lot of lakes. Here, vegetation refers mainly to shoreline vegetation. Overhanging trees and shrubs, especially those that are partly in the water, are bass magnets. Fishing with live bait is most effective around vegetation. Cast a live minnow to the edge and let it drift by positioned bass.
River Bends – Bends have it all, including both current changes and structure. These are collection areas for drifting trees and also a collection area for food. Fish for bass on the inside edge, or eddy, from a downstream position.
Stream Fishing Tackle Setups
Most stream fishing techniques to catch bass or trout with live bait don’t require heavy tackle. You are not flipping dense weed mats or pulling five pounders from sunken timber. As such, your fishing tackle should be on the lighter side.
Trout fishing rigs should be 5- to 7-foot light or ultralightweight spin casting rods. Rods with a sensitive tip but firm butt end work best for feeling bites and setting hooks. Match the rod with a small, quality fishing reel designed for 2- to 6-lb test line. Select reels that are durable and have a fast-retrieve to be able to fish a variety of live bait techniques. Finally, fishing line can make or break how successful you are. Use 2-lb test line in small, clear streams and move up to 6-lb test for targeting larger trout in big rivers. A good option is a small diameter braided fishing line with a fluorocarbon leader approximately 6-foot long. The braid will hold up well while the fluorocarbon leader will be near invisible to trout.
River or stream fishing for bass requires a little beefier setup. Step up to a 6- to 7-foot spin casting rod in light to medium action. You can also use a baitcasting rod rig (7-foot, medium weight), which is better for fishing larger minnows rigged on spinners. Again, good quality reels go a long way when casting and reeling all day. Fishing line can vary here based on the live bait fishing techniques you are using. Choose either monofilament line in 8- to 10-lb test or fluorocarbon line in 6-to 10-lb test for most situations. A braid/fluorocarbon fishing line combo similar to your trout fishing rigs is another good all-around setup for fishing live bait for bass.
Stream Fishing Techniques to Catch More Bass and Trout
Now that you know where to find fish in streams and the best tackle to use, let’s focus on successful techniques and baits for stream fishing. Once you have found the areas that hold fish, try one of these three stream fishing techniques with live bait.
Jigging – Small 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jig heads tipped with live bait for trout work well in most trout fishing spots. Heavier jigs (1/8- to 1-ounce) can be fished a variety of ways for bass. Tip jigs with a fathead minnow for trout or large shiner for bass and work these through riffles. A football jig head works well paired with a live crayfish for fishing rock outcrops and river bends.
Drop Shot – This effective stream fishing technique works equally well with trout and bass. Drop shot rigs consist of a large weight tied below a hook. This technique gets the bait to the bottom and lets the current move the bait around enticing bites. Use live bait like minnows for trout or larger minnows and crayfish for bass. Make sure your live bait is alive for maximum effectiveness.
Upstream Casting – Current is your biggest challenge when fishing streams and rivers. Remember that the natural food bass and trout feed on are drifting downstream. Upstream casting utilizes the current to your advantage and creates a natural lure presentation. Upstream casting is effective with minnow spinner rigs. Cast upstream, let the spinner rig drift with the current, and keep the slack tight until it gets just up from you then start to slowly reel. Many times you will get bites on the drift before you even have a chance to reel.
In conclusion, the hardest part of stream fishing for bass and trout with live bait is knowing where to find these fish. Once you know where to find fish, stream fishing techniques like drop shooting live bait or upstream casting minnow spinner rigs can become effective. Take these stream fishing tips for bass and trout with you next time you hit the water.