Creek Chubs “a how to guide”

Paul Schumann

This time of year I get lots of e-mails with questions about how to catch and keep creek chubs for bait. I decided I would post all of the information and advice I have in this article for a quick reference guide and link so I don’t have to retype the same info over and over, as I do when I respond to fellow angler’s e-mails every year.  The following article also applys to just about any other specie of legal live baitfish of similar sizes.

Creek Chubs begin their spring run here in North Dakota in mid April (earlier in other states) as soon as the snow melt & run off starts filling the local creeks and streams. The Chubs can be caught in these creeks as long as they hold water for the rest of the year. Creek chubs make an excelent choice for large live baitfish, especially where species like suckers are illegal. Creek chubs are extremely hardy, in the bucket and on the hook, and they are very easy to catch.

I have caught creek chubs in just about any stream & creek that runs into permanent major bodies of water in central North Dakota, especially the creeks that drain into the mouse river system. It doesn’t even have to be close to the major lake or river. I have caught chubs in creeks up to 15 miles away from major water sources. Chubs can be found and caught in the smallest of streams that are barely a foot or two wide and only inches deep.

The first step is to locate some creeks that have chubs. I like to use google earth to zero in on potential spots. Look for coulee bottoms, “veins” of trees, or the actual creeks, weaving through the terrain that lead to the nearest river or lake.

Then drive to the spots you picked out to make sure its not on posted land and that it is an area that might hold fish. Bridges, pools, and culverts seem to be the best spots that consistently hold chubs. Some good looking spots below.

There are several methods to collect chubs. My favorite and the most efficient for me so far is to catch them one at a time, on hook and line. I have tried trapping them many times with a variety of traps and I just can’t seem to get the numbers as fast & reliable as I can with a fishing pole. It seems like the chubs are smart enough to exit the traps once the bait is gone (I like to use a mix of bread and dry dog food), if you do use traps I recommend you check the traps every 3 to 6 hours, youll find more chubs as opposed to letting the trap set overnight. I’ve tried dip nets and even cast nets in states where they’re legal, but creek chubs are way too fast for them and seem to get out of the way of most nets before they can be caught. Also remember to check your local laws regarding trapping, netting, and using live baitfish

A simple clip on bobber and a tiny ice fishing jig with a piece of worm, gulp, wax worm, or spike for bait works the best. If there are chubs in the area you shouldn’t have to wait more than 30 seconds to get a bite. you’ll want the depth setting to hold the jig from mid level to just off bottom. below are some of the jigs I use, red seems to be the best color. in a good area I can average about 1 chub per minute.

While fishing for chubs chances are you’ll catch one or more of the several other native species that live in the same areas as chubs. make sure you know the difference since the only legal live baitfish here in ND is the Fathead Minnow, and the Creek Chub. below is some of the more common “by catch” you may come across.

The common shiners

The Breeding Male Common Shiner

Emerald Shiner

The longnose dace

Sand Shiners

Blacksided Darters

Keep in mind there are many more species than the ones I showed above here in ND, like mud minnows, other shiners, dace, and darters, and of course you’ll even catch the more easily recognizable ones like suckers, perch, stonecats, and even several other species of chub.

While catching chubs I keep them in a 5 gallon bucket with a battery powered bubbler and a lid (chubs jump…alot!). you can get a battery powered aerator at walmart for 8 to 12 bucks.

I recommend having a large tank already set up at home before you start collecting. Large coolers, rubbermades, metal stock tanks, aquariums, or just about anything that holds 30 or more gallons of water that you can put a lid & a filter on will work.

The ideal spot for the tank is in a cool corner of the basement, but chubs are tuff and can usually withstand the higher temps on hot days if the tank is in the garage. maybe put a frozen water jug in the tank to cool it on those really hot days.

Always have a cover on the tank. Chubs start jumping the instant you’re not around and a few dozen chubs will be floppin on the floor in just a few minutes.

I use the large double sided power filter thats usually sold at walmart for 30-40 bucks. They move alot of water (300 gph) and use a very universally common and easy to find filter cartrige.

here is the set up I have been using for years


Once you have the tank set up, do not add too many chubs at first. the tank needs to “cycle” before it can break down the waste and ammonia of dozens of fish. This is done by bacteria that eats and breaks down ammonia, to nitrite, and then to nitrate. This process can be achieved much faster by putting used “dirty” filter cartriges from an already established tank into the new filter. the dirty cartriges are already populated with millions of bacteria ready to begin breaking down chub poo. If you don’t have other fish tanks around the house like I do, most local pet shops would be glad to exchange a couple of their dirty filters for your new clean ones. Make sure you bring the filter home in a bag with some water in it so they don’t dry out.

You can google “aquarium nitrogen cycle” to get a better understanding of this process.

Maybe start with only a dozen or so chubs for the first few days or a week to make sure the tank is cycled and the water isn’t going to get cloudy, smelly, or kill the fish from ammonia poisoning.

when you add the chubs or transfer them from one place to another always make sure that the water temp you’re adding them to feels about the same as the water they are in. if the bucket I brought them home in is colder than the tank, I’ll let the bucket sit next to the chub tank with the aerator in it for an hour or so until the temp equalizes. They are pretty sensitive to temperature shock and will die within hours from it.

Remember the lid….ALWAYS CLOSE THE LID!!!

Never keep or put minnows in with the chubs. The chubs eat the minnows and what they don’t eat, they kill, and it makes a real mess of the tank. I don’t even feed my chubs and they last for well over a month or two without food, but if you must feed them use a pet shop pellet or flake food and feed them as little as possible.

Creek chubs range in size from 3″ to 12″, the big monsters work great for pike & musky hooked thru the back under a bobber, on live bait lindy style rigs, or trolled behind a bottom bouncer with a stinger in the tail. The small to med ones work even better on jigs for walleyes & smallmouth bass.

It’s late April and the creek chubs, among many other species of baitfish, are running up the creeks as you’re reading this. Now is the time to stock up, and if you have kids, this can be some of the most entertaining fishing of the year for them.