Ken Covington steered his boat to just the right spot in the shallow creek, putting his father and favorite fishing partner, Jerry Covington, where he could pitch a white spinnerbait near a promising brush top.
A lunker bass smashed the lure near the brush, and Covington fought with all his might against the stubborn fish, which refused to go quietly. That’s typical behavior for feisty, cool-water creek bass. They are turbocharged versions of pond or still-water bass. They’re revved up and will snatch the rod from your hands if you’re not paying attention.
The younger Covington netted the fish, the perfect memory of one of the last fishing trips they’d share before Jerry passed away.
Experts and veterans at stream fishing, the two fished almost every stream and creek in east Mississippi and west Alabama over the past 40 years, learning more than a few things about finding and then catching ravenous cool-water bass. Add to that a backstory of the family being in the wholesale minnow and bait business for more than 60 years, giving them a little extra time to do some product testing.
For the Covingtons, cool-water creek or stream fishing means fishing in the creeks too shallow and too small in which to put big bass boats, yet big enough to fish with a canoe, kayak or 2-man vessel like their favorite Uncle Buck’s Pond Prowler.
Father taught son that under overhanging trees with cool, flowing water, bass will bite most of the year, even through hot summers, since the water rarely gets warm like in ponds, lakes and reservoirs. An added treat is that you will rarely see another angler on these small hot spots, as many people just don’t want to spend the time and effort involved since they can’t launch their big boats there.
This story includes Covington-proven tips for cool water stream bass.
The early morning bite
During the warmer months, bass in streams are aggressive and will hit almost anything on the surface at the break of day, as well as at last light. Early and late, the Covington pattern usually involves topwater lures for the excitement, fun and smashing action that it provides.
“Dad always liked to throw a topwater bait with a prop, and he caught a lot of bass on the old Dalton Special, a topwater that had a propeller on the rear,” Ken Covington said. “He caught a lot of bass on that bait early and late in the day.”
Jerry Covington liked fishing topwater prop baits around stumps and logs, and especially beside logs lying near sandbars. Cast that topwater by a log and hold on.
“If the bass are active on topwater, I’ll throw a black popping frog sometimes, too,” Covington said. “You can throw that frog in the brush, over logs and retrieve it back through the brush and not get hung up, but you might get a bone-crushing strike, too.”
Bang-O-Lures, Baby Torpedoes, Tiny Torpedoes, Rattlin’ Chug Bugs, Rapalas and Rattlin’ Rogues are all good topwater lures for creek bass; they will catch fish when they’re looking for that topwater bite.
Be ready at feeding time
Creeks are no different than any water in some respects, one being that bass will become active and feed during short periods of time. That’s when you can really catch them, but you must be ready when that time comes.
While Jerry Covington liked to catch them on topwater any time he could, Ken Covington likes to catch them any way he can, and when they’re active, he’s going to do something a little different.
“I like to fish fast and catch the active bass, so I like to throw something like a swimbait or Fluke,” he said. “You can fish that anywhere and not worry about getting hung up. If the water’s clear, I like to fish a lighter color like a white or chartreuse, and I’ll cover a lot of ground until I find where the bass are.”
Slow down in the heat
“When it gets hot during the summer, you need to slow down a little and work the holes and good spots a little bit slower,” Ken Covington said. “When the bite got tough, Dad always seemed to catch more than me. He was patient and fished slower. I wanted to fish fast, and that’s not always the best way to fish.”
Covington has learned to vary his retrieve when things get tough.
“Sometimes, I’ll use a shaky head with a trick worm or with a crawfish,” he said. “Fish that shaky head around stumps, brush and still water above and below swift-water shoals or narrows. You might also use a Texas-rigged worm.”
Big baits = big bass
“If you’re looking to catch big bass, then a big jig is the way to go,” Covington said. “I can take a black jig with a crawfish trailer and really catch some big ones when the time is right. But you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing when you fish a jig in the creek, because I rarely feel the big ones hit the lure.
“They simply suck it in and start swimming towards the boat or swimming sideways, and the only way you can tell you have a bite is by watching the line. It’s hard to see when you’re fishing current, but if it’s doing anything different, then set the hook.”
Covington likes to fish jigs with stiff rods and really stick them when he’s sure they have the lure.
“When they’re really active, they almost take the rod out of your hand,” he said. “But when they’re finicky, you’ll barely feel them, and that’s when you must pay attention and have your reflexes finely tuned or you’re never know you had a bite. Don’t be afraid to jack his jaw.”
While Ken Covington prefers fishing big jigs, his father liked to fish big spinnerbaits, simply because he caught a lot of big bass on them. The big spinnerbaits have a bigger profile and put out a pulsing vibration with the blades that entices bass to hit and allows the angler to be able to feel the slightest strike, thus making it easier to feel that bite and set the hook. Never overlook jigs or spinnerbaits when you’re fishing for a big bass.
While many anglers overlook crankbaits when fishing small creeks and streams, they were an important part of Jerry Covington’s arsenal.
“Daddy had a box full of crankbaits, mostly Bandits,” Covington said. “He loved to fish those 300 series Bandits, and he always caught a bunch of fish on them too. Whether we were fishing on the Tombigbee River, Sipsey River, Okatibbee Creek or any other smaller creek, he was going to use that Bandit and catch fish on them.”
Covington likes to fish brightly colored crankbaits like white or chartreuse, and he also likes to throw a black and white Bandit with a spot on it.
“I can only remember one time when I beat him, and that was when we were fishing a little deeper water and I had on a Bandit 400 series and they were really tearing it up,” Covington said. “I don’t know if it was getting deeper, or just getting deeper and working a little slower, but, whatever the case, they liked the 400 series over the 300 series that day.”
Key Covington spots
Current breaks: “We always do better after a slight rise in the water during the summer time,“ Covington said. “A summer shower might give it a slight rise, and the fish really seem to turn on and feed. When that happens, fish above and below stumps, logs, brush tops and anything that is causing a current break. The bass will feed on anything that swims by.”
Mixing water tributaries: “If the creek is muddy then look for any small streams or water runoffs that have clear water coming into the muddy,” Covington said. “The bass lay in the muddy portion and hit anything that comes into that mixing area.”
Shoals or narrows: Almost every stream in east Mississippi and west Alabama has areas where the creek narrows and current speeds up over shoals or rocky areas where the water flows faster. Covington targets the area just upstream of the shoals or narrows and the area just below as bass will stage at either place looking for an easy meal.
Above and below launch site: While many anglers put their boat in at one location and fish down to a take-out point, the Covington way is to put in at one spot, fish upstream first, then fish back to the landing. They’ll also fish downstream to a certain point and then come back with the trolling motor.
“In some of the creeks, you’ll need a trolling motor with a lot of thrust,” Covington said. “I have a 70-pound thrust motor that we use on some of the creeks so we can make it back to the ramp.”
By fishing above and below the launch site, you have more time to fish and less time need to ferry one vehicle to the launch site and another to the take out site.
Nothing beats experience, and the more you fish the more you’ll recognize key spots like stumps, logs, bushes, sandbars and areas that hold bass. Jerry Covington once told his son about certain stumps he’d caught big bass beside many years earlier, and then he’d catch another from the same one.
If you’re looking for hot fishing action this summer, grab a few lures, a couple of rods and a friend, and head to the nearest stream or creek and get in the game.
You’ll be glad you did.