GIVING IT STICK
WORDS & PICS: CRAIG THOMASSEN
Photo top : Joey Da Silva with a nice GT
Stickbaits have burst onto the saltwater fishing scene in the last couple of years, and have become very popular lures for most serious salt water artificial lure anglers.
Adapted from lures that have been successful in the bass fishing fraternity for some time, stickbaits are very versatile lures that can be given different actions according to conditions and species being targeted.
I recently did a trip to a remote island in Mozambique, where we were plagued by bad weather. A group of us took some light tackle and walked around to the lee side of the island to try a bit of fishing from the reef. We were casting a selection of spoons, poppers and dropshots. I was the only one who had a 10cm Storm FlutterStick in my box and that was the only lure that was generating any strikes that day.
We ended up taking turns with it, catching a heap of different kingfish and barracuda, including some very decent fish! The lure looked as though it had been chewed by a staffie puppy at the end of the day. It really highlighted to me how effective a stickbait can be when the fish will not touch anything else!
A salt water stickbait is basically a hybrid of the walk-the-dog-type lures that have been available for lighter tackle fishing for many years. Some time ago, companies such as Rapala started developing salt water versions of these lures, making larger sizes of their X-Rap Walk lures and rigging them with salt resistant hooks and stronger split rings.
In the last few years there has been an explosion of larger stickbaits on the market and these have been used with great success offshore for species such as GTs, queenfish, dogtooth tuna, king mackerel, wahoo, yellowfin tuna and even billfish. In our Eastern Cape estuaries, smaller stickbaits have been responsible for catches of many species including kob, garrick, shad, seapike, river snapper, perch, skipjack and even grunter.
A stickbait is basically a cigar-shaped lure, with no cupface or lip. It is hydrodynamic and moves through the water more easily than a popper or a crankbait-type lure. It has very little natural action of its own and needs to have an action imparted to it by the angler. There are floating stickbaits and sinking stickbaits available – the floating versions work right on, or just below, the surface, while the sinking stickbaits work best about a metre below the surface.
Stickbaits are generally used to target aggressive fish species that feed on other fish close to or on the surface. Due to their more subtle action, they are generally more successful when conditions are calm. When the water is rough and choppy, poppers are better at getting the attention of a fish from further away because of the large disturbance that they make. A stickbait worked by one angler in conjunction with another angler throwing a popper is often a good idea when conditions are a bit rough.
Although fish pick up the disturbance created by
a popper from further away, they are usually more inclined to smash a stickbait
due to its very enticing erratic action in the water.
Retrieves for floating stickbaits
The combination of a very erratic action, along with the smoke trail that is created behind them in the water, is what seems to induce the attack from predators. This can be done at different speeds with a fairly steady retrieve, or with pauses and twitches. The three best retrieves for working floating stickbaits are:
- With the rod tip held up at a 45-degree angle, the stickbait can be retrieved fast along the surface, while giving subtle twitches and side sweeps to the rod to create a darting action. This imitates a fleeing baitfish with plenty of bubbles and smoke trail. The wobbling of the tail of the lure and the erratic side to side darts drive fish crazy. This retrieve is especially good in rough conditions, or when fish are holding deep and need to be attracted to the surface by a larger disturbance.
- Probably the most effective technique for fishing stickbaits is to point the rod tip down the line and use regular, long side sweeps, retrieving the line onto the reel between sweeps. This causes the stickbait to dive down to a maximum of one metre in depth with a very zippy zig-zagging action, before floating up and popping out on the surface between sweeps. This action is irresistible to predators, imitating an exhausted or wounded baitfish that is an easy meal. This action is better in calm water or areas where the fish are already hunting close to the surface.
- The third technique for floating stickbaits is a traditional walk-the-dog-type action, which is achieved by pointing the rod tip down the line and working the lure back with regular gentle side to side twitches of the rod tip, while simultaneously retrieving line on the reel. This action gives the lure a lazy zig-zagging action on the surface that looks something like a snake swimming in the water. This technique is particularly effective in shallower water, or times when the fish are not particularly aggressive and are slow on the bite.
Retrieves for sinking stickbaits
Sinking stickbaits are a little heavier and this makes them easier to cast further. They have a fairly slow sink rate and can be fished on the surface with a quick retrieve, or worked slowly at a depth of around a metre with a slower action.
When the water surface is choppy, sinking stickbaits are a good option, especially in shallower water where large predators are hunting. The most effective retrieves for sinking stickbaits are:
- With the rod tip high, this lure can be cranked in quickly, using controlled twitches of the rod tip to cause it to dart around. The lure will come on to the surface and tailwalk, much like a pencil popper.
- Allow the lure to sink for a few seconds, then use the rod-down, sideways-sweep technique described above, allowing the stickbait to sink slowly between sweeps.
- These lures can also be worked with a slow walk-the-dog twitching retrieve, preferably with plenty of pauses in between where they either sink slowly or flutter down in some case.
Stickbaits can also be trolled behind a boat in the lure spread, they have a great side to side action when trolled at the right speeds and will splash along the surface erratically and dive, pulling a smoke trail behind them. These lures are a great addition to a spread of lures for anything from billfish to general gamefish.
The best way to rig stickbaits for spinning is to use a single hook on the back and two back-to-back singles on the belly. Use a small cable tie on the belly hooks to stop them fouling up each other.
When targeting billfish particularly, it is a good idea to rig the stickbaits with assist hooks on both the belly and tail, as the more free movement attains a better hook-up and the lure is not as easily thrown.
It is important to use good quality hooks and split rings, as most fish hooked on stickbaits are big and fight hard. I like the new VMC 7264 OB range of hooks for this job – they have just the right combination of short shank, large eye, strength of wire and a very sharp point.
It is also important to match the size of the hook to the lure, particularly when using assist hooks, as the hook gape must not be wide enough to fit around the body of the lure, otherwise it will often foul up with the lure during retrieves and you will miss fish.
Stickbaits are an exciting innovation in salt water angling, particularly for those fishermen who love the thrill of an aggressive surface smash.
They are actually easier to retrieve than poppers in terms of effort, and it can be very rewarding to get a fish to hit a lure that you are actively twitching to entice the smash.
They frequently outfish other forms of surface lure and are becoming an important part of most salt water artlure anglers’ arsenal. There are a variety of stickbaits freely available in stores, ranging in price from inexpensive to very pricey.
Generally, you get what you pay for, and the more costly lures are made from superior materials. Grab a few before your next trip – you will be glad that you did.