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Creek Chubs Guide – How to Catch, Trap, & Keep Alive

Updated for 2021!

If you’ve never used a creek chub for fishing, you’re missing out.  There’s something about them that makes fish SNAP almost every time.  They’re a large, feisty bait that creates a lot of attention in the water.  And when properly rigged, the mixture just means FISH!  And don’t get me wrong, fishing for creek chubs (and trapping) can be really, really fun.  It’s also a great activity to get the kids outside, as mine love to catch them.

Creek chubs as bait are nothing new, it’s just gaining A LOT of attention in recent years.  The fishing tournament scene is one of the drivers of that said attention, as many of them are being won on creek chubs time and time again.

Creek chubs are expensive if you find them in bait shops.  It’s not uncommon to pay $1.50 to even $2 a creek chub.  

These 2 facts alone are the reason why many fishermen are heading down the back roads, in search of the next bountiful creek.  Why?  Because they’re almost EVERYWHERE!  The reality is most anglers have a creek holding chubs nearby, and they don’t even realize it.

So let’s talk about how to find creek chubs, and then, how to acquire them and keep them alive.

Typical chub creek
This is an example of a creek pool that could hold creek chubs.

How to Find Creek Chubs?

Finding creek chubs isn’t rocket science, it just requires some fuel in the tank of your vehicle to find them.  MOST anglers I know won’t give up their spots, so you’ll have to find your own.

They’re found in creeks and tributaries that feed into main rivers and lakes.  They don’t need very deep water to survive, just moving water. 

The most logical place to start looking for creek chubs is around bridges, for starters.  They like the shadows they create and if there are any around, you may see them from on top of the bridge.  A trick is to throw your creek chub bait in the water and see if the minnows start “attacking” it.  Something as simple as a piece of bread can be sufficient.  This doesn’t work ALL the time, but you can find out pretty quickly.

Another tactic for finding good routes for finding creeks is using Google Maps, in satellite view.  This will help you find bridges and the creeks themselves when looking around.  I have HUNDREDS of pins of creek bridges and spots.  All color-coded so I can keep it apart from other hunting pins.  It’s great to plan your route and cover ground quickly too.

Another helpful tool is On X Hunt mapping.  It shows all the landowners in the state you choose, on top of satellite imagery.  This makes accessing landowners quick and easy.  

Another spot that I’ve found to hold creek chubs is small pools that are like mini-dams up and down the creeks.  They will often hold along the edges and in the shadows along tall grass or anything that will create shadows.

Now does this mean that shadows are the only place to find them?  Heck no!  I’ve caught a lot of mine in the middle of a creek, in the middle of a 95-degree day.  Just have to find them in the right places, at the right times.

Good Spot for Minnow Trapping
Here when looking down off a bridge you can see current, rocks, and when you look REAL closely, chubs.

Trapping Creek Chubs

The first method I learned to catch creek chubs was to trap them.  It’s actually quite fun and rewarding at the same time.  The water clarity in the creek can determine how you want to approach fishing for creek chubs.  For example, if the water is relatively clear, or has a lot of flow, I tend to do the best trapping.  On dirty creeks or those with very little flow, I’ve had better luck with hook-and-line.

Minnow traps really aren’t that expensive, but I’ve always had a hard time finding them locally so you may have to buy them online to acquire them.  I use the traps below.  They work really well for me and have the right-sized hole on the ends.


Here are 3 things you need for each trap:

Metal Clip – This will secure your minnow trap shut.  Use one that’s easy to open/close, and will fit through the loops of the minnow trap to secure it shut.

Rope – How much rope you need is determined by how you plan to use your traps.  Are you going to drop them off a bridge?  Just going to toss them offshore? Both?  If that’s the case, you may want around 30 feet of rope.  Better safe than sorry.

Bait – You will need bait in the traps to bring the creek chubs in.  I’ve heard of lots of secret recipes for creek chub bait such as wet or dry dog food, hot dogs, or even just bread.  I haven’t tried the hot dogs, but I’ve tried the other two.  Sometimes it’s just hard to beat crumbled-up bread though.  We also have played with adding generic cheese curls and pepperoni slices for added scent.

Creek Chub Traps
In drought years, seek out creeks that are spring-fed. As was the case this summer, these creeks were the most bountiful.

Tips for Using Minnow Traps

Knowing where to throw your minnow traps is obviously the most important component of trapping creek chubs.  I’ve had my best luck in holes along the current and rocks, as well as off to the sides of small pools in the shadows.

If you have bait in the trap that they want, you should see them swimming around the trap almost immediately.  It seems the smaller ones you’ll see right away, but the bigger ones come shortly after.

A common misconception is people will throw traps and leave them overnight.  This won’t work because creek chubs are really good at finding a way out, eventually.  I’ve found that 20 to 90 minutes is sufficient for how long a trap should sit.  There isn’t a perfect science, however, for how long to leave it out.  You may have to find what timeframe you have the most confidence in.

When you do pull up the trap, and you DO have some good size creek chubs in it…take out the chubs and throw the trap back in the same spot.  And obviously, if you strike out…try another spot.

I will honestly say that successful trappers do have a lot of traps, time, and knowledge.  But if you really want to stack up some creek chubs in a hurry, you have to learn how to catch them.

How to Catch Creek Chubs with Hook & Line

Catching creek chubs with hook and line is honestly a lot of fun.  It took me a bit to get the hang of it, but once I realized how simple the presentation really is it was one after another.

My kids love to do it too, and it’s a great way to get kids involved in the outdoors (and increase their casting skills).

Like trapping, the first step in catching them with a hook and line is finding them.  But once you do, it’s usually fast and furious.  Normally, when you do find them in volume, they will eventually spook.  So make sure you get as many casts in as possible when you’re on them.

I’ve seen guys get crazy with their rigs, but this is really all you need.

  1. Get the smallest clip-on bobber you can find.  I use old red and white, they’re cheap.
  2. Get the SMALLEST set of hooks that you can.  We’re talking, really small.  We use 8 to 10 sizes that are TINY.  But they work perfectly for creek chubs.  I’ve heard of guys using the smallest-sized treble hooks they can find too with success.  Size 12 trebles are about the perfect size for catching creek chubs.  I also use a SMALL split shot in between the bobber and the hook (if you’re not using weighted hooks).  This gets the bait down faster, and keeps it down on windy days.
  3. I use crawlers as bait for catching creek chubs.  The key is to use a VERY small piece on the hook.  Almost the smaller, the better.  Make sure you have a bunch of worms though as you can go through pieces fast.
  4. Have forceps for removing hooks when you’re catching them.  If they swallow the hook, this is vital.


Basically, just clip on the bobber with the leader length you desire.  I’m normally fishing in as little as 6 inches of water to a foot or so deep, so I literally only use around a 6-inch leader.  They will come up and hit it.

They are ferocious little critters and will smack the hook almost instantly when it hits the water.  So be prepared to set the hook quickly.  And when I say set the hook, I should say lift the rod tip. 🙂  You don’t want to set the hook too hard, they’re just little guys…

Use a minnow bucket with a LID when catching and immediately storing your creek chubs.  Yes, they WILL jump out eventually if you give them a chance.  Keep this in mind whenever you’re storing your chubs for that matter.  I also always have a portable minnow aerator going for keeping them alive at all times.

Creek Chubs
Once you accumulate a bunch of creek chubs, now you have to figure out how to keep them alive…

How to Keep Creek Chubs Alive?

Great, so you’ve caught or trapped a bunch of your own creek chubs…nice work!  There’s nothing more satisfying than catching your own bait.  Now you have to know how to keep these valuable things alive…

First, are you going to use an aquarium tank or something simple, like a big cooler?  If you’re going to take the creek chubs with you on the water, you’re going to need a cooler anyways so I’m going to talk about this route.

Second, you need 2 bubblers to provide oxygen in the water.  When at home, I use the plug-in versions and when I’m mobile, I use the rechargeable aerators or battery-operated ones.  Keep in mind, if you’re going to keep creek chubs alive for weeks or longer, I would save your sanity on buying batteries and have both.  I like to drill 4 holes in the lid of my cooler (2 on each side).  2 of the holes need to be large enough to feed the air hose through, and 2 holes are for allowing air in and out.  Simple.

Finally, you’ll need the right water.  Now I will catch some slack for this but in my opinion, you should use creek/river/lake water whenever possible and NOT city/rural water.  I know guys that do and use city water, with treatment, and it works for them.  Awesome.  But I’ve heard too many horror stories of guys seeing hundreds of dead creek chubs as a result of something with the water.  

I like to change out my water at least every 3 days, if not shorter.  Yes, it’s a pain in the butt but if you want to keep them alive you need to go the distance.  This reason alone is why I like to catch my creek chubs as soon as possible to the dates I’m going to use them.  Keeping them alive for long periods of time can be a pain, otherwise.

Keep in mind, you will lose some creek chubs along the way.  Some die, it just happens no matter how careful you are.

Also, if you’re keeping them for a long time you’ll probably want to feed them occasionally.  I’ve heard of bread, fish food, cut up worms…you name it.  But I usually feed mine 3 times a week.

RECAP

As I stated earlier, catching your own bait can be very rewarding.  Especially when it’s a bait as good as creek chubs.  And it’s a great family activity as well.  My kids keep asking me when we’re going creek chubbing next and to me, that means I did something right.

I will do a follow-up to this article on how to rig creek chubs while fishing soon.  We’ve found that some presentations work A LOT better than others, and we’ll share that to the fullest extent.

EDITORS NOTE: THIS IS NOW AVAILABLE!  Learn how to fish creek chubs here.

Until then, good luck creek chubbin’!!!

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6 thoughts on “Creek Chubs Guide – How to Catch, Trap, & Keep Alive”

  1. Thank you for the information. I have been trying to catch chubs and have been unsuccessful thus far. I will try some of the things you have written about and let you know how it worked.

    Reply
  2. Started trapping chubs years back. Along the way, I’ve built and experimented with many different holding tanks. Keeping them as cold as possible is very important. I also added current to my tanks, besides filtration and aeration . Spots dried up after bad drought and finding new ones is tough. But Keeping the tanks full of bait makes me happy

    Reply

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