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Drift, Swim or Jig It
How to use soft stickbaits in currents

By Russ Bassdozer

I tend to use soft stickbaits as lures that imitate preyfish - any kind of preyfish. I understand they could easily resemble half a dozen other things to a bass - including crayfish - but I have other lures I like to resemble crayfish. I like stickbaits to be preyfish. I fish them horizontally, often casting out and swimming them back steadily like I have some kind of live baitfish out there on the end of my line. The tapered shape of the stickbait body resembles a preyfish. Some are skinny, like the Senko and Slug-go, and I fancy these as minnows, Some are sway-bellied like the Fluke and Assassin and I visualize these as shad, alewives, and roach. Some, like the Fin-S-Fish have a medium silhouette as do many preyfish. So, any stickbait has got the silhouette of a baitfish, and simply by drifting it along the bottom with a strong flow or reeling it in steadily through quieter water, it's got the glide-along motion of a smoothly swimming baitfish in addition to the shape. That's often all the recognition a bass neeeds to trip the alarm that it's a live preyfish. Most preyfish are only a few inches long (3" to 6"), and essentially "do nothing" most of the day but float and slowly move along rather uneventfully. They just glide along on hardly-noticeable flicks of their tails that propel them forward in a rather straight direction. Those "hardly noticable tail flicks" are exactly what the subtle body waverings of a stickbait send out visibly and audibly to the bass. It's a good trigger to get a bite.

Drifting. Deadstick it without any rod motion. Just cast upcurrent, let it hit bottom, and take in a turn or two so it sweeps downstream barely above bottom. You don't want it to roll and tumble - it will get fouled like that. Maintain "neutral" line control by taking out a little of the slack line with the reel only but you must keep some slack belly always to keep the lure down. Keep the rod tip stationery. Never use the rod tip to move the lure at this point. Using the rod tip will only make the lure rise too far from bottom. Instead, rotate your hips so the rod tip never moves, but by moving at the hips, your rod will follow the angle of the line perfectly as it flows down from upcurrent. So, always have the rod perfectly aligned with the line, and rotate your hips to keep it that way without ever moving the tip. Expect to get hit as the line passes 12 o'clock - the lure will do an about face in the current. If you know what you are feeling for, you will feel a tick then a tightening in the line as the lure does a 180 and starts to stem against the flow. It begins to rise off bottom and sway in the bottom-swirling current. Envision it kind of like a cranky kite that doesn't really want to get airborne, but does a lot of side-to-side shearing and waffling before it gets up there. It does that IF you have the proper equilibrium of slack/tension in the line. It's a yin-yang kind of thing where the line can't be too tight or too slack - but the line pressure must be in NEUTRAL at that moment. Just hold it there for a while motionless in the current. And you may now want to slowly bow the rod to mend slack - but you've got to experience when and why to do that - I'm not sure I can describe it in writing. At times, you will be surprised how long you can just wait for a bite. After that, if you can keep it down near the bottom, then retrieve it against the flow all the way back in. If it's too difficult to keep it near bottom, just reel in, make another cast, and let it swing down, turn and rise up again.

As far as a splitshot, use the correct weight shot to float down properly in the flow at hand. Micro-tune your shot load by trying different numbers and sizes of shot until you find you've got the correct load that let's the lure rise, fall, swirl, and veer off erratically as it swings down and is buffeted by the bottom-bouncing currents.

Keep in mind that the Senko will hunker down more than other stickbaits. In fact, each stickbait has different fluid dynamics in water, but the Senko is MOST different due to its density and round design. Other stickbaits are less dense, and other stickbaits usually have broad sides that are not as hydrodynamic as the round body of the Senko. The Senko sinks faster, tends to stay deeper, and gets pushed around a little more deliberately by a current whereas other stickbaits tend to "blow like leaves" and typically "plane up" in a flow.

Swimming. You still need to drift your bait down when faced with lazier currents, but you sometimes cannot deadstick effectively without getting hung up or dragging the bottom - so you need to retrieve line that keeps the bait barely sweeping and waffling up off bottom at the correct slow retrieve speed that matches the lazy current sweep. It's still a lot like the deadstick method described above, with emphasis on getting hit as the stickbait does the about face at 12 o'clock. What this means is that you must be positioned at right angles to the spot where the fish are holding. Now the spot where the fish are holding is NOT necessarily the stucture or cover. Active fish are often holding ahead of the structure or cover. Extremely active fish will be holding FAR ahead of structure or cover, and I swear it almost becomes a competition thing as to who will get the furthest ahead of the other! Now, a mess of very active fish will spread out in a V pattern ahead of the structure/cover. Put yourself so the closest one to you is the front runner. Never cast over one fish to entice the second one. Keep the casts short, sweet and close-in. Going for the lead fish like this will intensify the competition and draw even more fish out further off the cover/structure towards you. Never cast over an imaginary fish's shoulder. Just keep catching the one you imagine to be closest to you and you'll be fine.

Now, inactive fish will be on, hovering over or in the structure and cover. After you catch the active front runners, reposition yourself so your lure is sweeping on, hovering over or in the structure and cover. You may want to buzz them a bit with a buzzbait first. Use it like an alarm clock to attract attention for two casts. Then commence with the stickbaiting as we just described it.

Semi-active fish will also be below the structure/cover, again forming a trailing V pattern behind it depending on how many fish are there at the moment. Many fish will have their noses up against the back of the stucture/cover - but others will trail off downstream behind it. It is for these fish with their noses up to the back that you may desire to master the sophisticated line "mending" tactic that I alluded to earlier. It's deadly when done right - but takes practice. For the trailing fish further downstream, you may want to open the bail and "drop back" more line to get a second or possibly third mini-sweep quartering at where they may be holding. You drop back line, then engage the reel so the stickbait will do the "12 o'clock" rise in front of their noses - only it's not a 12 o'clock line angle anymore - but a "quartering" angle of the line.

Jigging. A jigging motion can be an effective trigger in areas that have no current to give life to the lure. Keep the rod tip at ten o'clock and reel in slow and straight. Just swim the stickbait straight back in. Flick the wrist to produce an alluring dart and hesitation every so often. The dart gets the notice - the dart gets seen AND heard - and the hesitation gets the bite. The upstroke of the flick is to lift the lure into position. As you drop the rod tip on the downstroke, it mends the slightest slack into the line so the bait hesitates and flutters downward for just an instant. This is when to expect to get bit!

There's nothing else you can do. In terms of action that an angler can impart to a lure, there's little else you can - or need - to do. An angler can only ever do three things to a lure: 1) drift it, 2) swim it, 3) jig it.

As anglers, we hear many terms such as deadsticking, pausing, doodling, shaking, twitching, jerking, ripping, stitching, crawling, slow-rolling, popping, walking-the-dog, yadda, yadda. They all are simply some manner to either drift, swim, or jig your line (notice I didn't say lure - LOL).

Hope it helps you.

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