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Stickbaiting secrets for SBT
  |  First Published: April 2016



In recent years there has been an explosion in the popularity of casting stickbaits at southern bluefin tuna. The far South West Coast of Victoria and Tasmania has seen an incredible resurgence in the population and accessibility of SBT and many anglers are choosing to hunt the species in a variety of ways. Casting stickbaits is truly one of the most exciting ways to do so.

Stickbaits have been around for a long time and were originally designed by Japanese master lure- makers, however, using stickbaits to target tuna has a relatively short history. In fact the idea in its infancy was met with a certain level of scepticism.

PROOF OF CONCEPT

One of the true pioneers of the technique as it applies to tuna is Brendan Wing of YouFishTV. In 2010 he, along with Rodney Gilham, managed to land three SBT around 30kg out off Eagle Hawk Neck on the southeastern coast of Tasmania fishing on BigPig, Stuart Nichols’ charter boat. Stuart remarked that it was the first time he’d seen or heard of this being accomplished. This simple beginning planted the seed of belief that this method could work. In 2012 Brendan and Joseph Fernand filmed an episode fishing out of Port Fairy on the southwest coast of Victoria and made history with the first SBT taken using cast stickbaits in the state recorded for TV. From these small beginnings we have reached the present where stickbaiting is recognised as one of the most exciting ways to target tuna and the range of available lures, techniques and the willingness of anglers to employ it seems to be growing in popularity.

LURES

The simplest definition of a stickbait is a hard lure that is generally long and slender and designed to emulate a baitfish. In their purist form stickbaits began as a floating lure – like a version of a popper that runs on or just below the surface with an action emulating a distressed or fleeing baitfish. In modern versions there are three main variants – floating, level sink and sinking – all of which encourage a strike when applied in the appropriate situation. The lures themselves come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and weights. Most lure manufacturers include a range in their offerings.

Stickbaits in general terms are not a simple cast and retrieve lure and anglers need to use action to make the lure work to its full potential. Although there is plenty to choose from, a short list of standout lures have emerged on the South West Coast recently including, but not limited to, Shimano Orca, which comes in floating and sinking variants, and available in a range of sizes: Shimano Ocea 115mm sinking, Shout Engra 140mm sinking, Maria Loaded in floating, sinking and level sink and finally the Maria Bullchop 120mm slow sink.

Of course there are many other brands on the market that can do equally as good a job, and choice may simply be determined by personal preference. One of the most important features to be aware of is that there must be a strong wire-through body connection to withstand the pressure exerted by a fighting tuna.

Tooling up
Once the choice has been made to cast stickbaits, there are a host of considerations to be made in terms of gear to use. Line class, rods, reels and leader are all variable depending on the general size of the fish targeted. In simple terms, casting stickbaits is about finding the fish, casting accurately at them, fighting, then landing them – when casting at fish in the 10-15kg range it’s certainly possible to push the limits on how light you can go. Rods in the 5-10kg range with reels from 3000-10,000 size are adequate for smaller school tuna and will certainly make for some exciting sport. Use 20-50lb braid and mono leader in equivalent class for a good starting point on the smaller fish that allow a great fight but will still capably boat a fish within a reasonable time frame. When you target larger fish it pays to be well-prepared and not under-gunned in terms of line class. Ian Miller’s Shimano T-Curve stickbait designed by specifically for casting is my personal setup of choice for fish over 20-30kg+. I match this rod to a 20k Stella loaded with 100lb braid and mono leader of 80-120lb, which is a little overpowered on mid-range fish, but allows a good fight. This setup will still give some stopping power on larger fish if and when one is hooked. I choose to run mono as leader material rather than the less visible fluorocarbon for several reasons. Monofilament has a much slower sink rate than fluorocarbon which is ideal for use with floating and level sink stickbaits and gives the lure a much more natural presentation. It allows floating lures to sit nicely tail down and nose up without the leader encouraging the nose to dip.
The same theory applies to level sink lures where the whole point is to allow the lure to slowly sink parallel to the surface and again not have the nose pulled down. This is especially important when casting with the heavier leader classes.

This leads me to the second and most important reason. The knot of choice for connection between braid and leader is the FG knot. The FG is a knot that bites down into the leader material and in fact the harder it’s pulled on, the tighter it gets. The nature of the FG knot means it is far more stable on a supple leader material like mono than it is on the highly abrasion resistant and far harder fluorocarbon leaders, leading to a much more reliable connection – it’s rated at 100% of line class breaking strain when tied and tensioned correctly.

TECHNIQUE

As with all tuna fishing, but particularly when casting stickbaits, visual cues are the key to find the fish. Bird activity is the number one locating factor. Not only do diving birds indicate the presence of tuna but that the fish are on the surface feeding. One of the most accommodating practices we have implemented in recent times is to only troll skirted lures while trying to locate fish to cast at or actually making the decision to not troll at all and instead cover area to find fish that are actively feeding. Leaving diving lures out of the trolling spread allows you to gun the motor and move quickly to sighted bird activity without the need to bring lures in before taking off.

Once the fish are spotted, the next step is to determine the general direction they are moving. Even when they are up on bait at the surface there will be a noticeable leading direction to the school as they follow the bait. At this point the best scenario is to move up-wind of that direction; the fish will slowly move towards the boat, however, maintain awareness of any sudden or subtle changes in the movement of the fish. When the boat is in position casts should be slightly leading of the schools direction and kept low rather than a big lob into the middle of the school. Engage the bail arm just before the lure hits the water and immediately commence your retrieve. This is paramount to get a strike, although often the lure is hit within seconds of landing with a perfectly placed cast. If the stickbait is not smashed straight away it’s imperative to get the lure moving to create action and draw the attention of the fish. Two variations of retrieve that work exceptionally well are short sharp staccato type movements while slow rolling the lure, or a long and slower draw/stroke of the lure parallel to the surface of the water. The latter works exceptionally well with floating lure presentations, whereas the former seems to be the retrieve of choice with sinking and level sink lures.

In essence, the angler is simply trying to impart an action on the lure that imitates a fleeing or wounded baitfish and if you present your lure to the fish accurately it is rarely ignored. Floating stickbaits offer the most exciting visual action with tuna exploding on the lure at the surface. Sinking and level sink lures are equally as gratifying but generally the visual of the strike is lost as the lure sinks, unless it’s hit as soon as it lands which is quite often the case. The benefit to sinking style lures is obviously getting the presentation down deeper into the water column. Often some of the larger fish will be at the bottom of the school and allowing a lure to drop down through the fish like a wounded or stunned baitfish before commencing an erratic staccato type retrieve produces great results.

It’s not hard to see why casting stickbaits is growing in popularity as it’s a highly visual way of targeting SBT and seeing a fish explode on a lure at or just below the surface is an exhilarating experience. Even when planning a day of trolling for tuna it’s a great idea to have a couple of rods rigged for casting and when the opportunity presents itself you’ll be well prepared.

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