Bam! Not long after Johnny Cumberland slid his canoe into Okatibbee Creek at the crack of dawn, a bass smashed his Rebel Crawfish crankbait and dove down into the swift current.
Cumberland battled the spotted bass on light tackle and worked to get it out of the brush top. It was touch and go for a few minutes but the angler finally wore the bass down and maneuvered it into the boat.
It’s that kind of hot action on the cool water that makes Cumberland an avid creek angler.
It’s also why, with temperatures in the mid-90s making the bass bite virtually non-existent after sunup on most lakes and ponds, he chose to make a trip to the cool waters of Okatibbee Creek, which flows south from Okatibbee Lake just north of Meridian.
Our day on the water began just to the southwest of Meridian on a secluded stretch of the creek that has cool clear water flowing through the woods to the south towards Clarke County.
Cumberland prefers fishing smaller creeks, streams and rivers during the hot part of the summer because the bass are ready, willing and always hungry to strike his lures in the cool free flowing waters. And most of his day is spent fishing in the shade catching fish while beating the heat.
As we continued working the structure filled creek, Cumberland worked his crankbait around every piece of structure he could find.
“I like to cast that crankbait beside every stump or log that I can because the bass will attack almost anything that swims by,” said Cumberland. “They wait just outside of the current and take advantage of easy pickings that might swim close by.”
Wham! A fish struck my lure so hard it almost took the rod out of my hands. It was obvious that this was no ordinary bass as it kept diving deeper trying to escape. After an exciting battle I landed the hard-fighting fish that struck the chartreuse-colored Coach Dog crankbait with fury.
Surprisingly a catfish had struck my lure with the same vengeance as a spotted bass. This catfish was not our focus on this trip but it provided the kind of action and excitement we were looking for on this hot summer day.
“You just never know what you’re going to catch in Okatibbee Creek,” Said Cumberland. “You might catch a bass, catfish, bream or crappie on any cast. They’re hungry and hit anything that swims too close.”
While diehard bass anglers and tournament fishermen have a disdain for anything that isn’t a bass, catfish, grinnell, crappie, bream and even chain pickerel can and often do add a little excitement to a day on the creek. Creek fish will strike with a fury rarely seen in slack water areas during the hot summertime.
As we maneuvered around a steep creek bend filled with stumps and laydowns Cumberland pitched his Rebel Crawfish past a stump and worked it toward the current.
Bam! Another spotted bass smashed the crankbait and dove into the brush. Cumberland fought back and pulled the fish from the grips of the root system and into the open current. It was nip and tuck for a bit but Cumberland finally brought the spotted bass into the boat. After admiring the beautiful fish he quickly released him back into the creek to catch another day.
I’ve made quite a few fishing trips with this creek-angling expert and I learned from firsthand experience that Cumberland loves fishing the Rebel Crawfish crankbaits for one reason — they catch fish. The Rebel crawfish not only looks like a crawfish in color and body, it wiggles like a crawfish and is very deadly.
“I like to use a few basic lures but the Rebel Crawfish has always produced well for me and I’ve caught some nice-sized creek bass with it,” Cumberland said. “And I’ll catch bream and crappie occasionally, too. Almost anything that swims in the creeks will hit it.”
Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter how small or large a creek bass is, they hit a lure with a force rarely seen outside of the free flowing creek waters.
As we floated around another bend I tied on a CP Custom crankbait (since I didn’t have a Rebel Craw crankbait). I pitched the chartreuse crankbait near a log in the middle of the creek and another spotted bass smashed it as I swam it by the log. It fought back hard as I drove the hooks home and turned him towards the boat. A few minutes later I landed that fish and quickly released it.
CP Custom Crankbaits are custom made to fish the shallow streams in Tennessee that are loaded with smallmouth and spotted bass but they have applications almost anywhere you find a shallow creek, stream or river.
Topwater action, too
We floated into another creek bend and Cumberland pitched a Tiny Torpedo under an overhanging tree limb and a spotted bass smashed it as soon as it landed.
“Creek bass love these topwater lures and they’re really fun to fish,” said Cumberland. After releasing the fish he quickly went back to working the topwater near the banks, stumps and any cover he could find. When the spots are really turned on they will hammer anything landing on top.
“When you throw it right on top of them they just can’t resist it,” said Cumberland as another bass smashed his offering on impact. “I’ll just pitch that tiny torpedo up there and let it sit a second and then twitch it a time before working it back to the boat,” he said. “If they don’t strike as soon as it hits the water a twitch may be all it takes to entice them into striking.”
After seeing the success Cumberland had with the Rebel crankbait I put on a small crawfish colored jig with a Paca Craw trailer and worked it around any cover I could find. The small jig and crawfish combo can be worked efficiently in the swift current as well as around almost any cover in the creek.
Spotting a laydown treetop that was partially submerged in the water I cast the jig and craw combo right in front of the tree and let the current take it into the limbs. Suddenly the line jerked and started running sideways toward the open water. I quickly set the hook and a feisty spotted bass exploded through the surface like it was shot out of a canon. It took a few minutes to wear it down but I was able to subdue and boat it.
Rounding another bend Cumberland cast his tiny torpedo near the bank and another bass quickly slammed it and the fight was on. The diminutive spotted bass fought with a force rarely seen from a fish that size. Cumberland made quick work of this one also and quickly released it.
“You just can’t beat a hot summer day spent on a creek full of hungry spotted bass,” Cumberland said. “These creek bass fight harder pound-for-pound than almost any freshwater fish, and being able to beat the heat and get away from the crowded waters is an added benefit.”
Cumberland carries a couple of rods and reels and a handful of lures, just the basic creek stuff, to keep the weight to a minimum and for good reason.
“You don’t need to get too fancy, or bring everything but the kitchen sink,” Cumberland said. “If you do you’ll surely regret it when you have to maneuver over, under and around logs and trees in the creek. Stick to a few basic lures and you’ll catch plenty.”
Okatibbee creek is laden with structure and you can be sure of one thing, every creek bend will reveal new opportunities in the form of stumps, laydowns, cypress knees, or some type of wooden structure.
As we canoed around yet another bend in the creek we both bemoaned the sight ahead. A large tree with bushy limbs blocked the creek surface from bank to bank. Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot of gear and were able to unload most of it and pull the canoe up, over and around the tree, while using an adjacent sandbar.
It’s almost a given that you will encounter fallen logs and trees over the water on every small creek, but most can be traversed over or under. Occasionally you’ll encounter one like we did and have to portage around it.
Be forewarned, the fishing is usually good, but you must be in good shape and physically fit to reap the benefits of fishing small swift waters like Okatibbee.
Heating up at midday
Almost as soon as we passed under the U.S. Highway 11 bridge below Meridian the change in topography was evident. The creek wound through the area like a snake, chock full of trees and wood structure, including cypress trees complete with knees and roots. Though you might be able to cast the crankbaits in the open water, there was almost too much trash and brush to work them productively.
As we fished past one cypress filled area I noticed baitfish scatter as a fish swirled near the surface. I sailed a white strike king spinnerbait right on top of the swirl and a spotted bass crushed it on impact. After an impressive battle the fish wore down and I boated and released it.
This particular area had a small island with a couple of cypress trees holding on against the current, parting the water to both sides. There was a swirling whirlpool effect on one side as the water circled around and flowed lazily through the channel.
I noticed another bass move on some baitfish and I sent another cast near them and enticed another crushing strike. This time the bass fought back and spit the lure out before I could set the hook.
It was obvious that they were chasing shad now and Cumberland got in on the action by tying on a white spinnerbait. Cumberland switched tactics slightly and began pitching the blade bait up next to the brush tops, as well as around cypress knees and any eddies he could spot.
Wham! A spotted bass slammed into Cumberland’s spinnerbait and swam towards the middle of the creek like it was shot out of a cannon.
This one bore down deep and then exploded through the water surface in a fury. It was obvious that this was no ordinary creek bass, but a lunker spot that took a few minutes for Cumberland to boat on light tackle.
It was a sign of what was to come. That section of the creek obviously held more shad and, even better, more spotted bass. We saw more activity and caught more football-shaped spots, fat from the ample forage.
It wasn’t long before I caught my lunker for the day.
After passing another small island, I cast my lure back up through the narrow chute where water was rushing through, and another feisty spotted bass almost took the rod out of my hands.
I set the hook and the fish dove down beneath the canoe and it was all I could do to hold on and keep the rod and line off the boat. As it was, I almost lost the rod but finally held on long enough to get over the initial surge.
“You just can’t beat the hot bass fishing action in these smaller creeks during the hot summer,” Cumberland said. “All you need is a spinnerbait, or chatter bait, Rebel Craw, and a Tiny Torpedo and you can have a ball. And if you get hot just bail out and cool off in the water.
“I’ll take a Rebel Craw crankbait and small chatterbait and catch bass almost anywhere you can cast a lure on these creeks. They’re easy to use and you catch plenty of fish on them too.”
Whether you’re fishing Okatibbee Creek, Okatoma Creek, or some unknown creek near your home, there’s sure to be some fast paced hot bass action just waiting on you.
Grab a rod and reel and a few lures and try it yourself.