Stickbait Making: How To Create Powerful Fish Magnets
Once you know the ropes, wooden stickbaits are awesome to fish with. The right technique gets splashy heart stopping surface strikes. And they’re great for working those “skinny” water areas where sub-surface lures are a waste of time. Perfect.
Of course, the increased popularity of stickbaits has resulted in greater interest in making them, which is great!
As for making your first stickbait, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye. They’re simple lures in many ways, but I use subtle variations in the way they’re built to make them perform as I need them to.
3 Stickbait Body Shapes
The perfect stickbait will glide across the water surface, darting from side to side with each pause in retrieve. Done well, this side to side movement can be achieved with minimal forward movement. And that means the lure can stay “in the zone” for an incredibly long time.
There are a few factors required to make your stickbait perform this way – and one is body shape.
There are 3 basic stickbait body styles:
- Cylindrical bodies. These are usually lathe turned, cigar shaped baits with the tow point on the nose or just under it. As you’d imagine, this style of stickbait takes a fair bit of rod tip action to get it working. Without good rod work their streamlined design allows them to travel in a straight line.
- Minnow shaped. These look more like a crankbait than the cylindrical stickbaits. But there is no diving lip and of course they work on the water surface, unlike most cranks. This style can’t be lathe turned, so they’re usually hand carved or shaped with the help of jigs.
- Keel bellies. These are kind of banana shaped stickbaits. The curve of the belly helps impart a fair bit more action than the other styles.
Matching Body Shape To Fishing Needs
Whether I decide to make a cylindrical, minnow or keel bellied bait depends on the fishing I plan to do with it. For example, lathe turned bodies are the most versatile, even though they require a bit more skill to use. I love being able to work them fast or slow, with as much or as little rod tip action as I like. It allows me to spend more time fishing and less time changing lures.
On the other hand, minnow shaped stickbaits usually have a more random action, especially those with flat sides. I find them easier to use, especially when I want the lure to be “in the zone” for quite a long time. In fact, by imparting short, sharp twitches of the rod I find I can work a well balanced minnow stickbait almost on the spot!
The keel belly type tend to glide further in any one direction than the other styles. They’re not quite so random as the minnow style, but the side to side action is wider, covering more water. Once again, I love working them slowly, even letting them rest from time to time. Other times I work them more briskly, depending on the target species and conditions.
Weight: The Secret Stickbait Sauce!
When it comes to stickbaits, the most common newbie mistake is not weighting them correctly. In fact, I reckon this is about the most important aspect of making this style of lure.
Although stickbaits are topwater lures, they need a little internal weight to get them working properly. Not enough to sink them….. But a little lead in just the right place is what creates the desired action. The aim is to get the lure to sit correctly in the water at rest.
For me, there are two ways that a good stickbait can float: The first way is flat on the water surface. Lures that stay close to horizontal can be worked super, extra slow, keeping them in front of the fish for longer. They’re my choice on flat, calm water and many of my small freshwater stickbaits fall into this category. Exactly how much weight to add and where in the lure to add it is a matter of trial and error. Unless you’re making doing my stick baits course….. then you can just follow the recipe!
The other way I like to weight a stickbait is tail-heavy. Tail weighted stickbaits need a little extra speed and a bit more rod movement to impart a good action, but they’re great when the water surface is rippled to choppy, cast beautifully and are perfect for oceanic speedsters.
Often the tow point (line tie) of a stickbait is right on the nose of the lure. But just as often it’s below the nose, especially on those keel-belly styles.
By putting the towpoint a little under the nose of the lure we can increase the randomness of the gliding action. Generally speaking, the further under the nose the tow point is located the more action the lure will have and the slower it can be fished. When I fish a stickbait with the towpoint on the tip of the nose I expect to have to use more rod action to bring it to life.
Quick Tips For Fishing With Stickbaits
I thought it might be fitting to finish this article with some fishing advice. So here are a few quick tips for connecting your stickbaits with fish:
- Use the lightest line and leader you can get away with, especially with small baits. Robust offshore stickbait styles can handle pretty heavy leaders. But for smaller stickbaits the weight of the line and leader can make a big difference.
- I like to use Lefty’s Loop for attaching a stickbait to my leader. Lures need freedom of movement. So snug knots or heavy snaps only add weight where I don’t want it, killing lure action.
- Don’t be afraid to work your stickbaits super slowly. Short, sharp twitches of the rod tip work wonders when followed by a pause and some slack line. This makes the lure dart side to side and glide a little. Avoid having too much slack though – I’ve missed plenty of fish because there’s been too much slack for me to get a solid hook set.
- The typical “walk the dog” stickbait retrieve consists of short jabs of the rod tip with a pause and some slack line between jabs. This makes the lure dart side to side, switching direction with each successive jab. But don’t be afraid to mix it up with some longer pulls of the rod, short jabs, twitches and pauses. Scared or injured baitfish rarely move in rhythmic, predictable ways, and neither should your lure
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