Stream Fishing 101 | Live Bait Tactics for Bass and Trout

Stream Fishing with Live Bait for Catching More Bass and Trout

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 shotting 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.


Live Bait Guide | Live Bait Selection by Fish Species

Live Bait Selection Guide for Various Species


Fishing with live bait is where it all starts. No fancy, expensive lures but only a worm or a minnow on a hook tied on the end of your rod. Almost every angler has used live bait in the past and still does today either when teaching kids to fish or going after a particular species of fish. Live bait selection is just as varied as fishing with artificial lures. To be successful, whether on the shore for panfish or downrigging for walleyes, you have to decide which bait is your best choice for the situation and the fish species you are targeting.


Catching Panfish with Live Bait


Panfish are some of the more common and easy to catch fish out there. They are found in nearly every lake, pond or stream across the country. With panfish, we are lumping in all species of sunfish, crappies, and perch. Besides making great table fare, panfish are the category of fish species where fishing with live bait makes the most sense.


When panfish are tight to banks of lakes and ponds, among all the different types of fish bait the best live bait selection is a worm. You want to choose a small worm such as either a red worm or trout worm so that the small mouths of these species can actually eat it. Hook the worm on a small single 8- to 10-size hook with the worm wrapped a few times through the hook so it stays put even after a few light bites. Add a small spilt shot about 12-inches above the hook so the worm sinks. Bobber or no bobber? It comes down to preference in most instances, but bobbers are great for kids or if you are fishing multiple lines at the same time. However, fishing without one gives you the ability to jig your worm or cast in tight cover.


If you are offshore fishing for panfish, like suspended crappies or schools of perch, your best fishing bait will be a small minnow. One option is to use a small painted jig head and hook the minnow through the mouth. This rig lets you work drop-offs over suspended fish and also allows you to cover ground until you find these fish. Another successful setup for fishing with minnows for crappies is one hooked in the back with a ½- to 1-ounce egg sinker attached about two feet up your line. Your minnow is free to move off the bottom and swim around areas where crappies may be hiding such as in submerged trees or shallow stumps.


Live Bait Selection for Targeting Bass


Bass, both smallmouths and largemouths, can be reliably caught using live bait techniques. For largemouths, there are several live bait options that work consistently better than the many types of artificial bait options. Instead of using plastic worms, replace them with large nightcrawlers. A nightcrawler hooked up on a drop-shot rig when fishing suspended bass on deep drop-offs is deadly. Nightcrawlers are also good live fishing bait for bass when targeting shallow spawning beds. Attach one to a jig head and slowly bounce it off the bottom to trigger reaction bites.


The best fishing bait for bass is minnows. Big shiners attract trophy caliber largemouths. Do not be afraid to go big either as bass will take minnows anywhere from 3- to 6-inches long. The bigger the minnow the bigger the bass in most cases. Depending on minnow size, use a 3/0 to 5/0 hook to rig a live minnow through the back if you are free-line fishing without a bobber over submerged grass flats or through the mouth for fishing with a small bobber near shore. It is important to keep your minnows alive as a dead minnow will seldom be taken by a bass.


Smallmouths love crayfish and if you can get your hands on some, you will crush them in big rivers. Have a hook as long as the average tail length and then hook them weedless by putting the hook through the end of the tail and up underneath the tail like you would rig a long plastic worm. The crayfish will crawl across the bottom naturally and you will stay snag free until a big smallmouth swims by and picks it up.


Live Bait Techniques for Trout Fishing


Fishing with live bait is one of the best ways to catch trout. For this fishing bait guide, the focus is on going after trout in streams. Fishing for trout in moving water, especially if you are wading, adds a whole new set of challenges beyond trying to catch fish. Wading, carrying live bait, pulling something squirmy out and rigging it up is all but impossible without a good live bait container. The first live bait technique for trout starts with a minnow. Thread one using a needle and a loop in your line through the mouth and out the back end with a split treble hook in size 14 or 16 to secure it. Cast it into moving water and slowly reel and jig as it comes in. This tactic works well in swift water in small creeks for rainbows and browns.


Without question, the worm is also a popular live bait selection for trout. The best technique for catching trout with worms is to hook one on a size 8 to 10 single hook with a part of the worm dangling off the shank. Add enough split shot to get it on the bottom and drift it naturally from upstream to downstream. Additionally, trout will take crickets and meal worms drifted in slower pools near the shore. Try floating these with no weight during the summer in streams that have a lot of pressure or in creeks that hold native trout.


Fishing with Live Bait for Walleyes


More and more walleye anglers are switching from one of the many types of artificial bait and coming back to live bait for catching walleyes. Reason? Because live bait is much more productive in various situations and conditions than artificial lures.


First, if you are trolling for walleyes, you want to ditch everything but the nightcrawlers. Get your depth and speed right then rig up a large nightcrawler to a spinner rig. Bottom bounce this setup for deep walleyes or add a snap weight to target suspended walleyes. The second best live bait selection for walleyes is the minnow. Similar to panfish, hook a small minnow on a painted jig head. Jig over deep structures and along the edges of grass. Lastly, leeches are effectively used as a trailer with artificial lures for walleyes. Bucktail jigs paired with a live leech are perfect for deep river walleyes around large rocks or shelving.


Live Bait Fishing


What fish likes what bait gets simplified when sticking with live bait. Live bait selection comes down to primary choices like worms and minnows and several other specialized choices such as crayfish, mealworms and leeches. Although by no means comprehensive, this live fishing bait guide should give you the basics when it comes to fishing for panfish, bass, trout and walleyes with live bait.