Why Stick­baits Are Catch­ing On Among Se­ri­ous Salt­wa­ter An­glers

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Doug Olan­der

Why Stick­baits Are Catch­ing On Among Se­ri­ous Salt­wa­ter An­glers

The term “stickbait” — which you def­i­nitely won’t find at dic­tio­ — re­mained pretty much un­known to most an­glers just a few years ago, par­tic­u­larly in the United States. How­ever, in the past cou­ple of years, an aware­ness of and de­mand for stick­baits are grow­ing. But what is it that makes a stickbait a stickbait?

The an­swer de­pends in part on what one is fish­ing for. Stick­baits have been around for some years among an­glers fish­ing Aus­tralasian Pa­cific waters. But lately, fresh­wa­ter bass fish­er­men have ap­pro­pri­ated it to de­scribe walk-the-dog top­wa­ter plugs or, more com­monly, straight worms — es­sen­tially nar­row cigars of soft plas­tic.

In se­ri­ous salt­wa­ter use, at least, stick­baits are hard plas­tic or wood lures. To de­rive a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of th­ese lures, I talked to a num­ber of lure-mak­ers and cap­tains who have stickbait ex­per­tise and asked them to de­fine the term.

Most seemed to have sim­i­lar thoughts. To th­ese I added a bit of my own re­fine­ments to come up with this as pos­si­bly the first pub­lished def­i­ni­tion of a stickbait:

A ta­pered, stream­lined plas­tic lure that sinks or sus­pends, and is cast a long dis­tance by an an­gler who might im­part a va­ri­ety of ac­tions and speeds dur­ing re­trieve.

Note the “ta­pered, stream­lined” de­scrip­tors: Stick­baits do not have a lip or bill to add ac­tion. That would qual­ify a minnow lure more as a jerk­bait.

And while many con­sider float­ing lures to be stick­baits, I have opted here to char­ac­ter­ize those as sur­face plugs, typ­i­cally of the walk-the-dog type.


While some ex­perts main­tain that th­ese lures have no built-in ac­tion, many man­u­fac­tur­ers in re­cent years are de­sign­ing stick­baits to im­part some side-to-side shimmy when re­trieved at a steady pace. That’s par­tic­u­larly true for flat­sided stick­baits, No­mad De­sign lure-maker Da­mon Olsen says.

How­ever, stick­baiters often es­chew steady re­trieves for long, slow rod sweeps with sig­nif­i­cant pauses or fast, hard jerks with short pauses, de­pend­ing upon the sit­u­a­tion, the species and gen­eral an­gler pref­er­ence.

I sus­pect that, like me, many stickbait en­thu­si­asts love to cast to the hori­zon, then crank like crazy while jerk­ing the lure rapidly, ef­fect­ing a fast-flee­ing bait­fish. Strikes dur­ing such re­trieves can be arm wrench­ing.

Un­til their re­cent spike in pop­u­lar­ity, stick­baits were gen­er­ally hand­crafted, as many still are. Often th­ese lures ap­peared as ex­quis­ite in de­sign and fin­ish, painted by ar­ti­sans cre­at­ing not just lures, but one-off works of art com­mand­ing steep prices. “In the North­east, where stick­baits have be­come a sta­ple for cast­ing to tuna, an­glers have el­e­vated de­tail-ori­ented high-qual­ity-stickbait crafters to near-roy­alty sta­tus,” en­thu­si­ast Capt. Jack Spren­gel says.

But rea­son­ably priced mass-pro­duced stick­baits will fill spa­ces in most tackle boxes. Even th­ese tend to be char­ac­ter­ized by a va­ri­ety of strik­ing, often eye-pop­ping fin­ishes, as if com­pen­sat­ing in color for their gen­er­ally plain shape. Most use through-wire con­struc­tion as


well be­cause per­haps no cat­e­gory of lure is more abused by tough game fish than stick­baits.

Stick­baits tend to be fairly heavy for their size, which makes sense be­cause stick­baiters gen­er­ally want long throws. They’re also, as Strate­gic An­gler Cus­tom Lures’ Merv Ru­biano points out, gen­er­ally bal­lasted fore or aft, which en­hances dis­tance. That weight also makes them em­i­nently throw­able even in a stiff wind. Long casts give stick­baits the ad­van­tage of cov­er­ing a great deal of wa­ter with each re­trieve.

“A well-pre­sented stickbait, when worked with skill by the an­gler, can cre­ate an ac­tion that trig­gers a deep, pri­mal re­ac­tion in a preda­tor,” says Siren Lures’ cre­ator Ja­son Ward.


Stick­baits con­tinue to gain pop­u­lar­ity among tuna en­thu­si­asts who play the run-and-gun game, chas­ing fish breez­ing af­ter bait­fish on top. Such schools of­fer ex­cit­ing but often spooky tar­gets that boats might have dif­fi­culty ap­proach­ing. A heavy stickbait can, with a long rod, be cast a coun­try mile, then given the sort of fran­tic flee­ing ac­tion that quickly at­tracts the at­ten­tion of preda­tors around a melee.

An­glers in the North­east in­creas­ingly fa­vor large, flat-sided stick­baits for bluefin — as do tuna en­thu­si­asts Down Un­der, off south­east­ern Aus­tralia, chas­ing big south­ern bluefin. (When tuna gorge on sand eels, Ru­biano points out, a long, slen­der stickbait might out­fish a flat­tened de­sign.) Phil Carfagno with Ocean Tackle In­ter­na­tional goes as far as say­ing re­ports he

One of the at­tributes that char­ac­ter­izes stick­baits is casta­bil­ity; typ­i­cally th­ese weighty, slow- or fast-sink­ing lures can be cast long dis­tances.

Left: Bluefin an­glers in the North­east in­creas­ingly rely on stick­baits to con­nect with bluefin tuna. Be­low, left: Lures as art — a num­ber of bou­tique lure-mak­ers com­bine hand-painted per­fec­tion with tan­ta­liz­ing ac­tion such as this col­lec­tion of Strate­gic An­gler Cus­tom Lures.

Stick­baiters who work Oman shore­lines for gar­gan­tuan GT also come up with other prizes, such as this enor­mous queen­fish.

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