I grew up fishing the creeks and rivers of the Northeast for smallmouths with everything from flies to worms. To be honest, it was a rare to catch a largemouth in most of these creeks, simply because the smallmouths dominated in that habitat. This weekend, while wading a large creek in NC, I was reminded of the significant differences in approach when targeting the creek largemouth of the South. After years of walking through the pools in search the two species, I’ve narrowed it down to three main rules that will immediately put you in the bass-catching ballgame, regardless of if your search is for the brown ones or the green ones.
Livies Are Not Always the Answer: Smallmouths are much bigger suckers for live bait than largemouths. If fished correctly, hellgrammites, crawfish, stone cats, or chubs can literally catch every smallmouth in the pool before they get wise. It’s just not the same with creek largemouths. There are a variety of reasons for that, most of which revolve around how largemouths set up in current vs. smallmouths. Point being, bait is just not the same guaranteed fallback plan with largies as it is with creek smallies. I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t carry some for largemouths. I’m just saying I wouldn’t hit a largemouth creek without some reliable lures and flies.
Find the Slack Water: I don’t steer away from current when seeking creek largemouths entirely, but I always seem to catch morewhen there is a slack-water refuge nearby. Smallies, on the other hand, have no issues with positioning themselves right in the current’s main drag. When I say “slack” referring to the largies’ preference, that little bit of slack water associated with an eddy is good, but a bigger calm backwater is even better for both numbers and quality.
Wood Vs. Rocks: As a general rule, quality laydowns remain in the river in areas where the current has less ability to wash them out during high water. So when you have wood that extends from shallow to deep in a slack area, that spells largemouths. To get them out you may have to flip the heaviest cover, or they may chase a moving bait reeled past. On the contrary, smallmouth not only love rocks, but they love rocks in sections where the stronger current has cleaned the rocks of debris over the years. Big loner boulders or clusters of smaller rocks within a large flat are key components to summer smallie habitat. It’s wise to make up-current casts to both the front and back sides of these rocks with artificial lures, but never be afraid to resort to the live bait gravy train.