Fishing for Rock Bass – Tips to Succeed!

Fishing for Rock Bass – Tips to Succeed!

This post will cover fishing for rock bass. Rock bass are common throughout the midwest and are an under appreciated little game fish.

Rock bass, Ambloplites rupestrisalso, known as “goggle-eye” and “red eye bass”. They are a member of the panfish family. Rock bass are native to east central United States. They don’t grow very large, 8 inches is an average size, but they put up an excellent tussle on ultralight tackle. Rock bass are quite aggressive in most instances and will bite when other species shut down. Finally, rock bass are very good to eat!

rock bass fishing tips and tackle

Capt. Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. However, he grew up in Maryland and has extensive freshwater fishing experience from Maine to Florida. He especially enjoys fishing for panfish, trout, smallmouth bass, and other species in streams and small rivers. He is sharing his tips and experience in this article.

Rock bass facts

Rock bass are found in a good percentage of the United States and even southern Canada. While originally from the Midwest, rock bass have extended their range naturally and through stocking. The Ozarks area is considered to be rock bass central.

Rock bass are most often associated with rivers, and with good reason. As their name implies, these diminutive name fish can often be found in rocky environments. Rivers, particularly those with slow to moderate current are the perfect waters to target these fish.

rock bass fishing tackle

Rock bass can be found in clear, deep lakes as well. In fact, just about any body of water that holds smallmouth bass will usually have a resident population of rock bass as well. Most anglers pursuing rock bass do so in streams and small rivers. Therefore, river fishing techniques will be emphasized. The same lures and tactics will produce and lakes as well.

Rock bass fishing tackle

Special equipment is certainly not needed when fishing for rock bass. Most anglers already have a rod and reel combination that is suitable. One reason that rock bass don’t get the respect they deserve is that they are often times caught on medium spinning tackle. To truly enjoy these hard fighting little fish, anglers should scale it down and use their ultralight bluegill and panfish outfits.

fishing lures for smallmouth

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Rock bass fishing video

A 6 foot light spinning rod paired with a 2000 series real and spooled up with 4 or 6 pound monofilament line is a perfect all-around combination. Longer rods are definitely an advantage, especially when fishing and rivers. They allow anglers to make a longer cast as well as keeping the lure or bait up out of the rocks.

Fishing for rock bass with live bait

Rock bass can most certainly be caught by anglers using live bait. The normal selection that produces fish in freshwater will be fine when fishing for rock bass. Nightcrawlers and crayfish top the list of live baits, especially when fishing and rivers. However, minnows, helgremites, hoppers, crickets, earthworms, and even prepared baits will catch fish.

rock bass fishing tips

The best approach when fishing for rock bass with live bait is to keep it simple. Rock bass do have a largemouth in proportion to their size. Therefore, anglers can go up a bit in hook size from what they would use for bluegill and other panfish. A number six short shank thin wire live bait hook is an excellent all round choice. A small selection of floats and pinch on split shot is all an angler needs to catch rock bass using live bait.

Top rock bass fishing lures

While live bait is quite effective for anglers fishing for rock bass, the majority of those targeting them opt for artificial lures. There are a couple of reasons for this. Lures are more convenient, there is no need to capture, purchase, and keep alive bait. Second, and most importantly, lures take advantage of the aggressive nature of a rock bass. Many smallmouth bass and largemouth bass anglers have been surprised at catching a small rock bass on a large artificial lure!

rock bass

The same lures that have been producing in rivers for decades our perfect when chasing rock bass. The best approach is to keep it simple. Here is an article that Capt. Jim wrote on the best river fishing lures for anglers that want more information. Spinners, plugs, spinner baits, jigs, and spoons are the top artificial lures used when fishing for rock bass. Capt. Jim will list his favorite lure in each category below.

Worden’s Original Rooster Tail spinner

Capt Jim’s favorite spinner when fishing and rivers is the Warden’s Original Rooster Tail. This is an excellent bait for fishing and streams and small rivers. The advantage it has over other spinners is that it is very light. This results in less snags than some other heavier spinners. Rooster Tail spinners are available in a wide selection of colors and several sizes.

rooster tail

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Capt. Jim’s favorite color combination is a brightly colored body such as green, orange, and chartreuse along with a gold blade. Gold blades just seem to be more productive in streams and rivers. On bright sunny days, switching to a white spinner with a silver blade can prove to be a good choice.

Rebel Wee Craw

rebel wee craw

The top plug for rock bass fishing is the legendary Rebel Wee Craw. This lure has a dedicated following among smallmouth bass anglers, and for good reason. It is an extremely effective artificial lure that very closely mimics a primary forage of rock bass; crayfish. These baits are available in several sizes and very natural looking finishes. When properly retrieved, the lure works erratically on the bottom, bouncing off of rocks and other obstructions. This very realistically mimics a fleeing crayfish.

Rapala Floating Minnow

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It is necessary to add a second lure to the plug category. This would be the Rapala Original Floating Minnow. This is an outstanding lure for fishing streams, small rivers, and lakes. It is been around a very long time and continues to produce fish to this day. It floats on the surface and dive down a couple feet upon retrieve. This makes it excellent in areas with a lot of snags on the bottom. Silver with a black back is Capt. Jim’s favorite color pattern.

Rapala Ultralight floating minnow

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Johnson Beetlespin

beetle spin

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The number one spinner bait and Capt. Jim’s opinion for fishing for rock bass and panfish is the Johnson Beetle spin. This is a very simple yet extremely effective lure. It is compact, easy to cast, and relatively snag free as the wire frame design bounces over rocks and other obstructions. It is also very easy to use as angler simply casts it out and reel it back in steadily. The 1/8 ounce size with a silver blade and black body is his favorite combination.

Berkley Powerbait tube jig

tube lure

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Just about any soft plastic bait on a light jig head will produce rock bass when properly presented. However, Capt. Jim’s favorite jig/soft plastic lure is the Berkeley PowerbaitTube jig. Two baits are outstanding lures for smallmouth bass, which means they are productive on a rock bass as well. The design of the bait results in a lot of action even with very subtle movements by the angler. Natural colors such as root beer and olive on a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce head are excellent all round choices.

Acme Phoebe spoon

phoebe spoon

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Capt Jim’s top spoon when fishing for rock bass is the Acme Phoebe spoon. While there are many other productive spoons on the market, what makes this one different is its light weight. Heavier spoons will almost certainly snag on the bottom, frustrating anglers. The Phoebe spoon in a gold finish and 1/6 ounce size is an excellent rock bass fishing lure.

Rock bass fishing tips and techniques

rock bass

Rock bass are not that difficult to catch, once located. In fact, many smallmouth bass anglers actually consider them a nuisance. The reality is that rock bass have saved the day for many anglers when other game fish were reluctant to bite. They are an excellent option mid day and summer especially, when the bite can be tough for other species.

Like most game fish, rock bass are ambush predators. They will lie in wait behind a boulder or fallen tree in a break from the current then dart out to feed on prey that is swept down towards them. Any boulder, rock, drop off, fallen tree, or even a dock can be an excellent spot to catch a rock bass.

rock bass fishing tips and tackle

The best approach is to cast the lure or bait across the stream or river and then let it flow naturally with the current. Some artificial lures such as spinners require very little action, the angler simply needs to keep the line tight enough to make the blade rotate. Other lures will require a sharp twitch with a pause in between. Anglers can usually be fairly aggressive in the retrieve when pursuing rock bass.

Anglers fishing with live bait for rock bass will do best to free line the bait where possible. This means just presenting the bait alone on the hook with no weight or float added. However, and areas where snags are prevalent anglers may need to use a float to suspend the bait up off the bottom. Anglers fishing deeper holes may require a split shot or two to get the bait down.

In conclusion, this article on fishing for rock bass will hopefully encourage anglers to spend more time pursuing these overlooked and underrated little game fish. They can often save the day on a hot summer afternoon and produce both excellent action and delicious meals!

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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