For more than 10 seasons now, soft-plastic stickbaits have been my go-to bait for bass in both rivers and lakes.
During this time, I probably have caught as many largemouths and smallmouths on sticks as on all other lures combined. Plenty of fishing lures on the market catch more fishermen than fish, but soft sticks aren't one of those pretenders. I long ago gave up figuring out what makes these baits so appealing to bass, preferring instead to simply enjoy the results of their effectiveness. In fact, when compared with many exotic-looking soft plastic lures, sticks appear almost too simple to work. But these versatile lures do indeed work well almost any time of the year and are especially effective in the summertime.
Unlike so many soft-plastic baits that have all sorts of built-in action or tantalizing appendages, soft sticks are basically a "do-nothing" bait that looks like a short, stubby worm of some kind. In spite of their rather nondescript appearance, soft sticks apparently hold an uncanny appeal for bass.
What really makes soft sticks different from other soft plastics is their weight. A high concentration of salt crystals molded into the body of the baits makes them heavier than other plastic baits. This extra density makes them cast like a bullet even when rigged with little or no weight.
Once in the water, sticks sink with a tantalizing, slow fall that drives bass crazy at times; or when twitched slightly, they dart erratically like a crippled baitfish.
Currently, almost every manufacturer of soft plastics has their own version of a soft stickbait, and sticks are available in a range of sizes from 3 inches to around 7 inches long. I've found that the 3-inch models are the all-around best size for river smallmouths, especially during the summer. The 3-inchers also work fine for largemouths, but there are situations when 4- or 5-inch sticks will interest the bigger bass of both species.
Although most manufacturers make soft sticks in 4- or 5-inch sizes, the Yamamoto Senko and the Bass Pro Shops Stik-O are currently about the only models of soft sticks available in 3-inch. Senkos were the first brand of soft sticks I used, and they worked quite well. I rarely fish Senkos anymore, however, because they are about twice expensive as other brands and not very durable.
Senkos are so soft that just one or two fish will tear up the bait too badly to use or even sling it completely off the hook during the fight. Therefore, my preferred brand of soft sticks in the useful 3-inch size is the Stik-O, which is quite durable and reasonably priced.
I rig sticks Texas style using a standard, offset worm hook in size 1 or 1/0 for 3-inch baits and size 2/0 or 3/0 for larger baits. When fishing for largemouths with 4- or 5-inch sticks, I sometimes opt for a wide-gap worm hook as well. Because soft sticks sink well, I often fish the soft sticks without any weight on the line in shallow water this time of year. In deeper water or areas with a little current, I'll put a 1/32-ounce Water Gremlin Bull Shot sinker on the line about 18 inches above the bait.
This helps to get the stick down a little quicker or to keep it down if I am working the bait with the rod tip. These special bullet-shaped split shot hang up only a fraction of the time compared to conventional round split shot when river fishing and pull through weeds much better too.
Some anglers like to fish soft sticks wacky style - that is, hooked once through the middle of the bait - but I've never found that presentation all that effective for river fishing. Wacky-rigged sticks can spin in the current on occasion, causing horrendous line twist, so the type of rigging lends itself more to lake fishing. Wacky-rigged sticks can also be suspended below a small bobber or float.
This method can be deadly around the edges of week beds on days when the bass are extra finicky.
Sticks, like most soft-plastic baits, come in a wide range of color combinations, depending on the brand. My two best colors in the Stik-O have always been green pumpkin and smoke/purple flake, but I was delighted when Bass Pro Shops introduced several new colors of their 3-inch Stik-Os in 2013.
The ones I found useful were black/red flake, green pumpkin/blue flake, and a really crazy looking color combination called Houdini that has really been an exceptional producer.
This year, Bass Pro Shops added several more new colors. So far, I have done well with Sprayed Grass (a two-tone green and purple combo), Sure Thing (green pumpkin with an orange flake) and Baitfish, which has worked crazy well lately for river smallmouths.