Best 9 Fishing Lures for streams and Small Rivers

Best 9 Fishing Lures for streams and Small Rivers

This post lists the best 9 fishing lures for streams and small rivers. These smaller bodies of water requite a bit more finesse than do larger lakes and rivers. Smaller lures and lighter lines will produce better results.

The best 9 fishing lures for streams and small rivers are;

  • Rebel Wee Craw
  • Mister Twister grub
  • Roostertail spinner
  • Beetle Spin
  • Rapala Floating Minnow
  • Gulp Alive Minnow
  • Heddon Tiny Torpedo
  • Daredevil spoon
  • 4” Yamamoto Senko.


best 9 fishing lures for streams and small rivers

Click on the title link to read Capt Jim’s E-book Fishing for Crappie, Bluegill, and Panfish

These 9 freshwater fishing lures will cover every situation that an angler fishing small rivers and streams will encounter. They will also fool just about every species including smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, panfish, pike, walleye, rock bass, and more. There are certainly many other effective baits, but these are Capt Jim’s personal, proven favorite lures.

river fishing tips

Best fishing tackle for small rivers and streams

Spinning tackle is the perfect choice for most anglers fishing these smaller waters. Conventional tackle can certainly be used, especially when casting larger baits. Spin cast is still a choice for novice and more casual anglers. However, a 6 1/2′ light spinning rod with matching 1000 reel is a very versatile outfit. It is affordable, reliable, and easy to use. Light spinning tackle is perfect for most small river applications.

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for rod and reel combos.

It is very important to use line that is as light as possible in these smaller waters. It can’t be stressed enough how this alone will result in more success. 4 lb line is a good choice in most situations. This is especially true in low, clear water. Anglers can bump it up to 6 lb test in stained water.

brook trout fishing lures

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for fishing line

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Top river and stream fishing lures

In this section, Capt Jim will list his best 9 fishing lures for rivers and small streams. In most cases, he will give tips on how, where, and when to use the lures. Also, he will include the species that the lure normally catches. Let’s get started!

best river fishing lures

1) Rebel Wee Craw

The Rebel Wee Craw is the number one river and stream fishing lure. It is practically a legend! It is a small crank bait. The Wee Craw float at rest and dives down 4′ to 6′ upon retrieve. It has a terrific, erratic action that fish can not resist! It resembles a crawfish, which is arguably the top forage of river and stream game fish.

river fishing lures

As mentioned, this lure works best with a fairly aggressive, erratic retrieve. Like most lures, it is best to cast it across the stream and work it back against the current. Ideally, it bounces off of rocks and boulders on the bottom. This closely mimics a fleeing crawfish. This bait is effective in both moving and slower water. However, it really shines in the slower pools between riffles.

The list of species that this lure will fool is long. Smallmouth bass are at the top of that list. Trout, panfish, walleye, pike, pickerel, and other species will hit it as well. The bait comes in several colors. The best approach is to use lighter colors in clear water and darker finishes in stained water.

bebel wee craw

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Rebel Wee Craw lures.

2) Mister Twister jig/grub combo

Second on Capt Jim’s list of best 9 fishing lures for streams and small rivers is the Mister Twister Grub. These baits hit the fishing scene in the late 70’s. They have been producing fish for anglers ever since! The soft plastic grub has a curly tail that puts out terrific action with very little movement. It mimics both bait fish and crustaceans.

The Mister Twister grub is usually fished on a jig head. The 2” grub fished on a 1/16 ounce jig head is an excellent all-round size for most small rivers. It will catch bass, trout, panfish, and more. It is extremely effective for river walleye. The bait is cast across the river. Anglers can swim it steadily or bounce it on the bottom.

best lures for fishing streams

Anglers can go up in size in deeper water with a more current or when pursuing larger fish. The 4” baits will take pike, bass, and even musky. White and chartreuse are excellent color choices to imitate bait fish. Rootbeer and olive are great imitations of crawfish. Pumpkin green is a great all-round freshwater color. These baits are inexpensive, versatile, and effective. One drawback is that they do snag on the bottom easily. However, they are so inexpensive that the trade off is worth the trouble.

mister twister

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Mister Twister lures.

3) Wordens Original Rooster tail Spinner

The Rooster tail spinner is third on Capt Jim’s like of top river and stream fishing lures. However, if hard pressed to choice a single lure to use, it would probably be the Rooster tail. This lure has several advantages. It is very easy to use. Anglers simply cast it out and reel it in as slowly as possible. It comes in many sizes and colors. However, most of all, it catches everything!


The Rooster tail is far and away Capt Jim’s favorite trout lure. It catches rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout everywhere in the country. It also also extremely effective on warm water species such as panfish and bass. Larger versions will take pike, walleye, and musky as well.

best panfish fishing lures

Rooster tail baits are a great choice for novice anglers. It is just so simple and easy to use. Spinners are productive when cast across or even downstream and allowed to “swing” in the current. It works great in pools and in eddies behind rocks. Color is a matter of preference. However, Capt Jim likes silver blades n clear water and bronze blades in stained water or on overcast days.

rooster tail

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Rooster Tail spinners.

4) Johnson Beetle Spin Spinnerbait

The Johnson Beetle Spin is a terrific lure for fishing small rivers and streams. It is basically an under-sized spinnerbait. This lure has several advantages. It is very easy to cast and use. The single hook makes releasing fish easy. It is relatively snag-free. Finally, it catches fish!

Best fishing lures for bluegill

The design of spinnerbaits results in very few snags. It tends to bounce and “walk” over rocks. A very slow, steady retrieve works best. This lure does not do as well in swift currents, it tends to roll. It is extremely effective on bluegill and other panfish. It also catches bass, trout, walleye, and pickerel.

North Shore smallmouth bass

These very versatile lures are great for prospecting new waters. They cast well and cover a lot of water. 1/8 ounce is a good size for anglers seeking bass, pike, walleye, and pickerel. 1/16 ounce baits work best for trout and panfish. Capt Jim favors darker colors such as black and green.

beetle spin

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Beetle spin lures.

5) Rapala Ultralight Floating Minnow

The Rapala Ultra Light Floating Minnow is another classic river fishing lure. Most anglers associate it with smallmouth and largemouth bass. However, it catch many other species as well. Trout in particular will hit this bait, with it often catching larger specimens. Panfish, pike, walleye, and other species will fall for this bait as well.

best stream fishing lures

The bait floats at rest and dives a couple feet below the surface when retrieved. It has an erratic action that puts off a lot of flash and vibration. Since they work the upper water column, snags are infrequent. They do have treble hooks, so anglers need to be careful. Silver is a great color.

Rapala Ultralight floating minnow

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Rapala Ultralight Minnow lures.

6) Gulp Alive Minnow

The 1” Gulp Alive Minnow comes as close to fishing with live bait as a lure can, without the hassles. These baits are heavily scented. They also have great action. These small baits are an excellent choice when the bite is tough. Post cold front conditions are a prime example.

The Gulp Minnows are usually fished on a light jig head. This is a very subtle, “finesse” type presentation. Less action is better, the current will provide enough motion and action. Trout will devour these baits, where it is legal to fish with them. They are extremely effective for panfish and small bass as well. They can be fished under a float, too.

gulp alive minnow

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Gulp! Alive Minnows.

7) Heddon Tiny Torpedo

The Heddon Tiny Torpedo is a topwater plug. It has a tapered nose and a propeller on the rear. It puts out quite a bit of noise and splash. River and stream anglers have been using it for decades effectively. For the most part, it is for bass, pike, and musky.

Manitoba smallmouth bass fishing

The bait is easy to use. Anglers cast it out and work it back in using sharp twitches with a pause in between. It is best fished in the slower sections of the river or stream. It is especially effective when fished near structure such as fallen trees and submerged boulders.

tiny torpedo

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Tiny Torpedo lures.

8) Eppinger Daredevil

The Eppinger Daredevil is another classic lure. It has been around for many years. Most anglers associate it with northern pike, and for good reason. It is an excellent lure for pike in rivers and streams. Red and white is still the most popular col;or pattern. It comes in various sizes. The ¼ ounce size is perfect for smaller waters.

Best fishing lures in rivers

This lure will catch other species as well. Pickerel, musky, bass, and walleye will hit it with gusto. Both a steady and erratic retrieve will produce. The Daredevil puts out a lot of flash and vibration. Anglers do need to use a swivel (and leader if pike or musky fishing) in order to prevent line twist.


Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Daredevil spoons.

9) 4″ Yamamota Senko

Last, but certainly not least, on the list of best 9 fishing lures for small rivers and streams in the 4” Yamamoto Senko. These lures are extremely popular in lakes. The smaller 4” version works great in rivers as well. Natural colors such as green and brown work best. It will catch bass and many other species.

Fishing the north shore of Minnesota

The best presentation involves very little action imparted by the angler. Free lining it on a worm hook with no weight will produce some nice fish. The bait will undulate naturally in the current. A bit of weight can be added if needed.


Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Senko lures.

In conclusion, this article on the best 9 fishing lures for small rivers and streams will help anglers catch more fish!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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