Bass Fishing

True Confessions of a River Rat

Fishing Techniques
River fishing

I remember how it used to be - beautiful scenery, wildlife, unique scents, and sounds. The fishing was easy, fast-paced, and fun. I learned something every time I went out on the water. Those days have given way to tournament and club responsibilities. Although those days are not long gone, I see myself heading back to them rapidly. Back to a time when I could target some bigger fish and not worry about a clock. Back to a time where my next turn could have me spying a deer taking a quick drink or a Hawk or Egret spying the water's edge. Back to a time when I was almost assured of solitude and frantic bass action. The fact is I am a River Junkie....a River Rat. I always was.

I know what you are thinking...."Earthy is the last guy I would consider a River Rat." I cut my teeth fishing for river bass many years ago despite fishing the tournament and club outings these last few seasons. My summers were spent on the tributaries of the Hudson, wading for miles to catch Smallmouth bass. I plodded small streams for largemouth when I was back on Long Island. I've been successful as a river fisherman, taking some imposing bass. I've based almost every one of my philosophies on things I learned while on the river. I've applied the tricks to lake and pond fishing using that knowledge.

These days, the realm of bass boats, ample water, and business responsibilities take up most of my time. What went wrong? I long to reexamine some of my past, the part where I did the most growing as an angler and indeed the time where I had the most fun. I also wanted to break down the elements that helped me succeed.

The Transformation

I slipped out of my power fishing phase long ago. Thanks to a 13.9-pound largemouth on 6-pound test in the Ocala National Forest. This one fish prompted me to explore the realm of light tackle, something I've prided myself in learning. I started simply by scaling down my tackle and using it on the same big waters I frequented. This worked well as my catches increased dramatically. I accidentally discovered a gold mine with a side trip to a small flowing stop off on the roadside. This stop led me to explore many of the small rivers and streams on Long Island. The water also made me realize that I needed to make new baits to become consistent.

In the spring of 1995, my river fishing had become a priority as I looked for new baits that would give me success. The places I fished were full of overhangs and snags. There were plenty of thick areas the fish had never seen a bait before. I set out on a quest to find a suitable river bait. Something that could penetrate deep into cover yet not hang up. Something that I wouldn't be upset over if I lost it. I decided the bait would be a jig. My quest now began as I needed to develop a working bait quickly so as not to miss an entire season on the water without it.

I got hooked up with Charlie Nuckols of Float N Fly fame, and the rest is history. We designed a great little jig that I tipped with a tight skirt. The next step was a small twin tail curly trailer. Even though the first baits lacked the high-tech improvements I've since made, they were good. They were also the first proper light tackle jig and pigs anywhere. The Bitsy series would not show up until several years later. My first outings proved that this bait was the answer. In fact, "The Answer" was the jigs' name for a little while.

The little jig was great for skipping into the snags, and it was equally great in hooking the big bass that those snags held—my first two weeks with the jigsaw three fish over 6-pound. I took a nine several weeks later. Most impressive was the extreme increase in my catch ratio. I had several days where I took more than 75 bass to over 100 fish on water that had never given up those numbers. I quickly realized that I was targeting a whole new group of fish that lived in a different area than my past quarry. By now, I was sold on river fishing. This was what I wanted to do. Every time I got out on the rivers, I learned something new. I still do.

Putting It Together

I moved to establish a tackle box based solely on river fishing needs. I needed something small, as space was at a premium. I put together an assortment of baits that I felt would be effective on smallmouth and largemouth alike. I coupled this with the notion that I wanted to have the most fun possible. Light tackle was an obvious choice. The following list is what I carry all the time on my local rivers:

20- 4" hand-poured worms - bruised watermelon, pumpkin/chart weenie

12- 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce Micro Munch jigs - Blk/Blue, Brown

3- 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits - Firetiger, chart/white, chart

1- 1/4-ounce buzzbait - White

40- 4" Senko-type worms - Watermelon Magic, Blk/Blue/purple

20- 2 ¾" Tube baits - Blk/Red Blk, Watermelon

10- 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce tube heads

20- 2/0 EWG hooks

1- Rapala 3" floater

1- Sammy 65

10- size 4 Gamakatsu split shot hooks

2- 1/6-ounce Roostertail spinners

6- 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce hair jigs

By now, you've noticed my fondness for small baits. It is not a mistake. By decreasing the size of my baits, I feel that I increase their appeal to more fish. For just plain overall fun, ultralight is the way to go. If I were trying to win a tournament, my lure choices would be upgraded. In truth, none of the gear I use is what most would consider ultralight. I do not use those cheesy whippy-style rods that lack a backbone. I prefer shorter 5 ½- to 6-foot rods with a good solid backbone to set the hook. I've used a Cabela's Tourney Trail 5-foot ultralight rod for ten years with total satisfaction. It has taken at least one 9-pound largemouth.

My newer rods are BPS Extremes and Bionic Blades in 5 ½ light or 6-foot light action. If I didn't fish tournaments, I'd use these all the time. I mainly opt for the Tica SB500 spinning reels, which have been flawless for me for two full seasons. On longer rods, I switch to a Stradic 2000. As far as line is concerned, I'm a Yo-Zuri guy. I love the 4- and 6-pound line. For hooks, the sharper, the better - especially when dealing with light tackle. I've applied this to my tournament fishing, and although my gear is upsized, I rely solely on 6- and 8-pound tests. I've only lost two fish in two years of tournament fishing due to break-offs. One was small. One was big. But I don't let it bother me. The gains far outweigh the losses.

How to Achieve Success- The Micro Munch way

I have scaled down my tackle so much over the years it would be sickening to most anglers who are used to carrying a giant over-stuffed possum belly box. I usually take along one small box that would fit in my vest pocket, maybe two boxes. Keeping the theory 'less is better in mind, I approach my fishing the same way. I've looked back at my all-time favorite and successful fishing methods and simply stuck with them while virtually eliminating almost all others. If I could only fish half a dozen baits, this would be my game plan:

Green Eyes Worm Works SS Worm: The Salty Stinker is a hand-poured version of the infamous Senko. There are many differences, but overall, it is as good as and often better than the six-buck-per-bag wonder. I don't worry about many guys beating my bass senselessly with it. That is a job left up to me to do.

This is a salty stickbait that I can pour in any color, I imagine. I have colors in my bag that guys would drool over if they could imagine them. I also use a large amount of scent in these baits, making them unique to the Senko. While not quite as heavy, it still falls very quickly. This is the only worm entry I need. This bait can do it all.

I generally Texas rig it weightless. I've made a decent tournament living by Wacky rigging it as well. In rivers, the Wacky rig can be devastating. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite methods. I like to mojo, or split shot rig, these baits as well. There is something about watching your split shot bait creep over a sand flat in crystal clear water with a big bass following it. This bait is all that, and I'm dead serious about that!

Last year led me to a highly successful tournament season that included four first-place finishes, four second-place finishes, a Classic win, and overall Angler of The Year Title. We have had five victories with it this season,  and we are not finished fishing yet. It certainly outclassed the other baits thrown by almost every guy consistently.

Earthy's Color Choice: Watermelon Magic. I also make several colors solely for the waters I intend to use them on. These are secret. You can't expect me to give everything up. Peconic Death, Maratooka Murder, and Swan Magic are some of those colors. Don't ask. You can't find them anywhere. I can't be bought as some things must remain sacred. There is no doubt that these colors usually outfish others on the specific water they were intended for.

The New Kid on the Block: As of today, 8-11-03, I have a new completely round hand-poured StickBait. This was accomplished by making a double-sided mold. I changed the plastic and the salt to put together my most incredible hand-poured creation. This is a bait that can run with the big boys. My 4-inch Salty Stinker SD Super Duty is durable, salty, heavy, and reeks of garlic.

In one week of testing, the bait has taken two 5-pound largemouths, four and three 3-pounders. That is only between three anglers testing it. I'm more than excited about it. I also made a 3-inch version explicitly designed for drop-shotting and wacky ultralight rigging to make things even more enjoyable. This one has a small hook lot molded into the plastic.

Micro Munch Tackle-Wicked Tube: This is a fat-walled tube put through a process to impregnate it with an enormous amount of scent. The tube itself is based on the Mizmos Bad Boy series.

While I prefer to Texas rig the tube, I've become accustomed to slipping in a tube head of about 1/16-ounce or so and slamming river bass on the head with it. It has become highly productive for me and has also given me tournament success. I like to use a slip-in head that is custom-made for me. It features a Gamakatsu hook, and if a bass breathes on it, I know I've got him.

Thick tubes are very durable. These have tremendous amounts of salt and scent baked into the bait. Earthy's color picks Smoke Purple, Black Red Flake, Smallmouth Special, and Missouri Roadkill.

Micro munch Jig: This bait got me interested in catching big bass on light gear. This little jig fished with its trailer or a 3-inch Yammie craw is just a deadly offering for bass. In rivers, I kill with it. The recent upgrades to a HydroSilk skirt and Black nickel Mustad hook have made this tremendous little jig even better.

I love to skip this bait into, under, and through anything, I can target. It falls slowly and is often just the ticket to a good day. The trailer I have been using is a hand-poured replica of Zoom's Skinny Chunk. It is a craw imitator and is perfectly coupled with the jig. Earthy's color pick: Black Blue Purple, Watermelon Magic, and Camo. Among its list of conquests are two bonafide 9-pound Long Island largemouths.

Green Eyes Worm Works SS Minnow: Appropriately named by Paulie of Hooked Solid Baits, it is no wrecked ship. This little 4.5-inch stick of dynamite can be skipped and twitched anywhere. Its super soft composition gives it such great action in the water. I love its little forked tail. I only fish it in Pearl White, although I make a few other colors. This bait replaced my love affair with the 3-inch Slug-Go. The Slug-Go is a great little bait, but I needed something a little bigger with a sexier sashay.

I built it myself, and they jumped all over it. I rig the bait with either a 2/0 or 3/0 Hookerz EWG. I significantly upped my bag in a recent tournament with these baits. This one has plenty of scent and salt, two secrets for success.

Earthy's color pick: Pearl, is there any other? OK, Pearl with Red Tail.

Micro Munch Tackle: Hailey's Killer Komet Spinnerbait- This is the pride and joy of the fleet. I made this small spinnerbait with the Strike King Mini King in mind. I took what I liked about it and what I hated and went to the drawing board.

Although the bait has undergone a transformation or two, the current model is the best I can produce. I incorporated a 3-D Scale pattern minnow head with 3-D eyes built on a Gamakatsu hook. That is only for starters. I designed several cool Hydro Silk Skirt colors and matched the components with a Sampo swivel, gold and silver plated magnum willow blades, and a unique quick-change system.

My prototype bait caught 130 bass out on the first day of testing at the Proving Grounds. This bait is excellent fished on 6-pound test and a spinning rod. I make them in 1/8-ounce and 3/16-ounce. This bait is deadly fished in current eddies and pockets. I prefer to fish it with the current rather than against it—Earthy's color pick: Lavender Shad, FireTiger.

Excalibur Spitting Image Jr. - I have Mr. Xiques to thank for getting me into this gem. This bait rekindled my love for topwater bassing. Its unique shape makes it move like no other bait. It moves extreme amounts of water. I've used it for smallies and largemouth in current with a high degree of success. Check out the bootleg colors in Bass Pro Shops. They offer a signature series with four custom colors. There are a few very lovely colors there—hint Hint.

Runs, Riffles, and all comes down to current breaks anyway.

I'm not much for giving reasons for why I throw one bait over another at any given time. I just do it without overthinking about it. Call it intuition. I can tell you how to employ these baits and what to look for out on the water. When it comes to rivers or streams, I look for two things first; current and current breaks. Everything else is secondary. Temperature, oxygen, forage, and anything else are on the backburner here. This is why: The anatomy of a primary stream is broken down as a series of pools connected by runs or riffles of faster-moving water. Within those runs are current breaks or eddies. These eddies contain slack water or sanctuary from the moving current. They are natural funnels that draw baitfish and predatory fish alike. They are predictable ambush points that a seasoned river angler can see and find with little or no effort. A current break can be as simple as the lee side of a boulder or as challenging to find as a group of underwater stumps providing slower moving water within a run.

I look for obvious current breaks. Logs hanging into the water from the shoreline, giant rocks, and boulders, anything that provides an ambush point. River bass are notorious for waiting in ambush. Generally, you will not see too many bass fighting the current regularly.

One of my favorite ways to fish current is to pick apart the slack water current breaks. You can do this by making multiple casts to the eddy area or drifting your bait into the eddy. Chances are your bait will get popped if you get in the zone. These bass make the most of their feeding opportunities. They will not hesitate to nail a properly placed lure.

I'm against drawing a bait against the current and fishing it back to me. This is a low percentage as few fish will be in direct current, but the bait usually will have trouble running true. It is possible to pull the bait past a rock or obstruction and drop it behind it, but these are not the best ways to approach moving water bass.

You can undoubtedly target fish in slower-moving runs. Often there will be current shoreline breaks that hold fish. I know of a great run in Catskill Creek with a protected area in midstream. The rocks cut the current flow, and the smallmouth hangs out there.

I took my wife there several years ago during a heatwave. The air temp was in the high nineties, and the water wasn't too far behind. We found that spot and cast small jerkbaits to the fish, who were more than eager to pounce on them. Once hooked, these 12- and 14-inch bass tails walked and gave the best aerial show. They all went to the same school and learned to jump 3 feet out of the water together. I had fish run towards me and skyrocket out of the water almost over my shoulders. It was amazing and impressive. Best of all, it was fun and hot action on a super hot day.


Fishing these large, slow-moving sections of the river can be a high percentage way to put your bait in front of most fish. I'm not going to tell you that you will always light them up in the pools. I will tell you that generally, you will find a decent amount of fish that reside in pools. I prefer to fish pools with a tube bait.

I remember my youth spent on the tributaries of the Hudson River. Shallow water creeks full of smallmouth and occasionally largemouth. Some of these memories center around one specific pool about 50 feet long by 20 feet wide. Full of boulders, it slowly creeps to about 8 feet deep. Along the shallow slope just beyond the small waterfall at the pool's beginning, some massive shale or slate rocks were as big as Cadillacs. Just off the lips of these rocks, the rock bass and smallmouth stacked deep. Perhaps they were undercut, and the fish got under them. I never took the time to investigate.

I did know that if I chucked my 2.5-inch Gitzit to the lip, I would be greeted by a hard strike almost every time. This was the perfect ambush zone. The fish would wait for hapless morsels to drift by them, and then they would pounce. I never really got all that many lunkers in these small creeks, but occasionally I'd get a fish up to 4-pounds which is impressive in waters this small on light tackle.

I noticed that larger fish like the baits moved slowly along the bottom of these pools. I'd get a savage strike at times only to realize that a colossal walleye had latched on to my bait. River walleyes can grow big and fat. I've seen several over 8 pounds. The possibility of nailing a large brown trout or snagging a giant sucker and the sporting potential in these little waters is good.

If I want to target the bottom of a pool, one of the methods I employ is the split shot rig. A small split shot craw will usually do the trick. I like the 3-inch Guido bug by Luck E Strike in natural shell.

Inflows and Waterfalls

Just below every inflow and waterfall is slow-moving water. This water is generally supercharged with oxygen and cooler than the rest of the river. Predatory fish will always be close by. The inflows tend to carry bait into the river. I target the first current breaks just beyond the inflows. This is the logical ambush point that bass should use. It is close to the inflow, and the fish can utilize the benefits of the inflow. It is interesting to note that you don't need a significantly sized inflow to attract fish. A mere trickle can do the job. I've noticed that a rainstorm and runoff can often turn the fish on on these small creeks. Imagine that, some dirty water washing in tiny creatures, one would think that bass would ignore the murky water altogether, but this is not the case.

Over Hanging Cover

I have fished so much overhanging cover in my day that it forced me to become an accurate caster. Either that or I would lose a ton of baits. Early on, I learned to skip baits into tiny openings in the bushes and tree limbs that littered the surface of my waters. I learned to do this out of necessity rather than simple curiosity. The targeted bass had a knack for burying up in these areas. They were obvious places that were in thick spots. They provided slack water and current breaks as ambush spots. They were and are overlooked by anglers not willing to risk their baits. I learned quickly that you have to be in it to win it. I made myself an early promise to never fish a bait that I could not afford to lose. That way, I would not be upset if my line parted. Jigs and soft plastics are perfect low-cost, highly effective baits that I don't worry about if I lose. I wouldn't be throwing a Pointer or other Lucky Craft bait into this maze of snags and tangles.

Much of the cover I was fishing was either flooded bushes or low-hanging tree limbs. There are a few places where I fish where these areas are so tight that the only way to fish is to get on your knees at the water line and parallel cast or skip to the fish. I learned the hard way to know what direction you will set the hook before actually setting the hook. After I snapped a rod and lost the fish on an errant hook set that clipped a limb 4-inches around, I decided to refine my hook setting to a side set rather than my over the should violent swing set.

With that said, you should always be thinking about your next move. Make sure you know where your foot is landing as you take a step. Make sure you know how far the current will push you if you get off the trolling motor while fighting a fish. Calculate this ahead of time, and you'll be better off in the long run. It is funny. These days I get some funny looks when the guys in my club see a bow saw in my boat. You can bet that I do some on-the-water grooming to get myself into some tight places.


I always approach my fishing in a stealth-like manner. Less is better, and silence and precision are paramount. I prefer to wade or float these small creeks and streams. This way, I am one on one with the bass. I always approach from downstream and move upstream. My reason for this is simple. Any debris I may kick up will drift away from me and not spook fish. Also, I prefer to work baits back to me with the current rather than against it.

I wear dull or neutral clothing. Olive, beige, and tan are all excellent options. I prefer to wear aqua socks or dive boots to navigate the rocks. If you move slowly and with care, you'll be fine. My biggest problem is with stubbing my toes, not slipping on rocks.

I prefer to approach the sun in my face, so I do not cast a shadow and spook fish. Besides, it gives me a kick-ass tan too. I walk slowly and attempt not to be too loud or clumsy. It can mean all the differences in the world.

The Explanation and wrapping this all up

Please keep in mind that I am a cop, not a salesman. I don't want anyone thinking that the purpose of this article is to hawk baits. True, I have a small bait company, and these baits are all my own. You must understand that even if I did not have a bait company, these are the baits I would use.

I subscribe to several theories when it comes to tackle.

  1. Throw what other people don't have or can't have
  2. If you can't find it, make it yourself.
  3. I make it the absolute best quality because I am the one fishing it.

The process that I went through as I attempted to form a light tackle river box was long and arduous. At the time, there were no light jigs or decent light spinnerbaits. I looked for alternatives to Senkos and Gitzits, Zoom Flukes, and Slug-Go's. I came up with the baits you just read about. They have helped me accomplish so much in such a short time.

I could talk about them for hours, let alone every other bait I've created, but I won't. The nuts and bolts of this article were based on an extreme feeling of pride and a sense of accomplishment that is due to my fondness for building better baits.

Sure, I fish other baits that are not my own. I'm not much of a crankbait guy, but I will endorse Spit N Image Jr's, Sammy's, Mudbugs, and Rapala Minnows. I'm a huge Yamamoto grub guy, and I love unique California drop shots, and hand pours that even I can't understand how they make them. They have all helped in my quest for consistency.

Those who know me realize that I have so much energy and confidence in my homemade lures. It's just that I am set in my ways and talk about things that work for me. I base my successes on my time out on the water fishing. I fish with my baits, and I write articles. Those baits are a large part of my success. So it makes sense that I talk about them.

I know a relatively decent-sized following of guys would agree with that. Thanks for your support, and I look forward to designing some great baits in the future. It all comes down to catching fish. If you need it, I will build it, and they WILL come.