The term "stickbait," which you definitely won't find on dictionary.com, was still virtually unknown to most anglers just a few years ago, especially in the United States. However, in recent years, awareness and demand for stickbaits has been on the rise.
But what makes a stickbait a stickbait?
The answer depends in part on what you are fishing for. Stickbaits have been around for some years among anglers fishing the Pacific waters of Australasian. But lately, freshwater bass anglers have appropriated it to describe surface dog-walking plugs or, more commonly, straight worms, essentially narrow, soft plastic cigars.
In serious saltwater use, at least stickbaits are hard plastic or wooden lures. To better understand these baits, I spoke to several bait makers and skippers who have experience with stickbait and asked them to define the term.
Most seemed to have similar thoughts. To them, I added some of my own refinements to create this as possibly the first published definition of stickbait:
DEFINITION: A tapered, streamlined plastic sinking or suspending lure cast long distances by an angler who can impart a variety of actions and speeds during the retrieve.
Note the "tapered and streamlined" descriptors: Stickbaits do not have lips or a bill for added action. This would qualify a minnow bait more like a jerk bait.
And while many consider floating baits stickbaits, here I chose to characterize them as topwater lures, usually the walking-the-dog type.
Stickbaits available in different designs
While some experts argue that these lures lack built-in action, many manufacturers in recent years are designing stickbaits to give a bit of side-to-side motion when retrieved at a steady pace. This is particularly true for flat-sided stickbaits, says Nomad Design bait maker Damon Olsen.
However, stickbaiters often avoid steady retrieves for long, slow rod sweeps with significant pauses or fast, hard pulls with short pauses, depending on the situation, the species, and the angler's general preference.
I suspect that, like me, many stickbait enthusiasts love to cast towards the horizon and then spin like crazy while pulling the bait quickly, landing a fast fleeing baitfish. The blows during these recoveries can be painful.
Until their recent rise in popularity, stickbaits were generally made by hand, as many still are. Often these lures looked exquisite in design and workmanship, painted by artisans creating not just lures but unique works of art at exorbitant prices. “In the Northeast, where stickbaits have become a tuna-fishing staple, anglers have elevated high-quality, detail-oriented stickbait craftsmen to near-royal status,” says enthusiastic Capt. Jack Sprengel.
But reasonably priced, mass-produced stickbaits will fill the spaces in most tackle boxes. Even these tend to be characterized by a range of surprising finishes, often gaudy, as if to offset their generally simple form in colour. Most also use wire construction because perhaps no category of bait is more abused by tough game fish than stickbaits.
Stickbaits tend to be quite heavy for their size, which makes sense because stickbaits generally want long casts. They are also, like Merv Rubiano's Strategic Angler Custom Lures, generally weighted forward or reverse, which increases distance. This weight also makes them eminently throwable, even in strong winds. Long casts give stickbaits the advantage of covering a large amount of water with each retrieve.
“A well-presented stickbait, when skillfully crafted by the angler, can create an action that triggers a deep, primal reaction in a predator,” says Siren Lures creator Jason Ward.
The best tuna baits
Stickbaits continue to gain popularity among tuna enthusiasts who play the game of run and gun, chasing fish that fly after bait fish on top. These schools provide exciting, but often terrifying targets that ships may have a hard time getting close to. A heavy stickbait can, with a long stick, be thrown a mile and then given the kind of frantic escape action that quickly attracts the attention of predators in a melee.
Anglers in the northeast increasingly prefer large, flat lures for bluefin tuna, as do tuna enthusiasts in southeast Australia who go after the big bluefin from the south. (When tuna are gorged on eels, Rubiano notes, a long, skinny stickbait can trump a flattened design.) Phil Carfagno of Ocean Tackle International goes so far as to say that the reports he sees on social media suggest that tuna bait has gone global.
Stickbaits have also been popular with anglers in Southern California since the trevally. Olsen, who lives in Australia, cites glowing reports from his California guides. Chris Beldon of Rapala, also in Australia, points to the popularity of stickbaits among kingfish enthusiasts.
Carfagno suggests that when encountering mahi, an angler would do well to cast a lure and watch them give chase.
Stickbaits elicit an attack response
Around offshore coral reefs and rocky headlands, stickbaits can lead to savage attacks. Those areas where anglers work with large poppers are excellent for stick baits (and may be the best choice in rough water when a popper may lose some effectiveness or, as Anthony Dillon points out with Hanta Rods and Lures, when aggressive birds make it difficult to shallow water fishing). surface water). . They have become a popular item in the arsenals of Central American fishermen looking for large buckets on the Pacific coast. "Heavy stickbaits are the best baits I know of for catching big stickbaits in Panama," says famed bait designer Patrick Sebile. Indeed, stickbaits serve as the primary weapon for giant trevallies in the Indo-Pacific.
In many cases, nearshore stickbaiting can be a fishing festival in clear, shallow water. Watching large dark shapes rise up to chase a stickbait swimming back to the boat just a few feet below the surface offers major league thrills. I had the privilege of baiting around the Coral Sea bommies (huge, tall coral heads) to see the explosive silhouettes of various species, each trying to ambush pre-competition prize including trevally, coral trout large, red sea bass and narrow mackerel. (the fastest of the bunch and one of my favorite fish of all time).
The opportunity to see a lure generate this type of response really made it clear to me that few types of lure generate a more effective attack response in predatory fish than a fast, erratic stickbait.
Many bait manufacturers offer much smaller baits designed with the inshore angler in mind. In light teams, they also throw great distances. Although any inshore predator can attack a stickbait, for many inshore fishing fish, skinny lures will work just fine. I think stickbaits would be an excellent choice when going after fast schooling and/or game fish which may include bluefish, skates, small fin tuna (false albacore), Spanish mackerel and other species that are likely to respond with reaction attacks.
Retrieve a Stickbait in Many Different Ways
Since many flat-sided stickbaits wobble from side to side when retrieved, Olsen says that sometimes just spinning a lure as fast as possible to turn the crank is the ticket.
On the other hand, some experts prefer a much slower retrieve, using long sweeps with the rod and generous pauses. “Most fish don't like a quick retrieve,” says one of the more experienced stickbaiters, Saltywater Tackle's Sami Ghandour. He prefers breaks that allow sinking stickbaits to drop into deeper water. With longer cylindrical stickbaits, Olsen says, a slower retrieve with frequent breaks will work better—in effect, a subsurface walk-the-dog action.
And a slower retrieve with pauses means the lure stays in the strike zone longer on each cast, adds Halco's Ben Patrick.
Sprengel advises his anglers to think about conditions before casting and where the lure will "swim" after retrieval in relation to current, structure and, if any, fast-swimming predators. For example, the stickbait should "escape" from the fish, not directly at it, Sprengel says.
Sebile advises stickbaiters to vary their retrieves, especially when looking for the optimal approach in a given situation, so hit one shot hard and fast, the next slow with pauses, and so on, to gauge what works where and when. But Sprengel suggests not varying recovery during a cast; instead, he suggests, keep a rhythm and cadence from the moment the stickbait sounds until you return to the boat.
When it comes to gear, many experts emphasize that for stickbait fishing below the surface, a rigid rod is less than ideal. Shimano's Adam Lytton says that "these lures require the softer end of a fast or extra fast action rod" to perform optimally with different retrieves.
Stickbaits are versatile
The stickbait category includes some of the largest (and certainly heaviest) casting baits, up to 12 inches or more. Often when going after prey like cubera snapper or monster bluefin tuna, anglers prefer the largest lures they can cast. Similarly for the GT, Shimano Australia's Chris Henry says that often larger stickbaits seem to attract the attention of trevally more efficiently.
But many experts, including Rubiano, prefer smaller stickbaits when trying to match a hatch (or sometimes operate the elephant-eat-peanuts scenario). Some even intentionally vary from the "hatch": bait designer MadsGrosell suggests that target fish may focus attention and chase baits that deviate from the prevailing size of the baitfish, by going slightly larger or smaller.
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For bait maker Ben Patrick, a 150-millimeter or about 6-inch stickbait works well for the vast majority of gamefish.
Sebile says that he prefers the big clubs, but he relies on a wide range of sizes depending. The variety of sizes and styles that these lures can be caught with is critical, Sebile says, acknowledging their great adaptability.
“The beauty of stickbaits is their versatility,” agrees Henry. "The more ways you can work with them, the more applications you'll find to use them."
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