Say you want to fish reaction baits, finesse and traditional Texas-rigging in the same trip. How many baits is that? Three? Maybe more?

That's what some folks would say and, technically, they wouldn't be wrong. However, mastering the complexities of a simple lure - the soft plastic stickbait - can narrow that roster down to a handful of plastic bags.

Simple in form, but complex in capability - that's the soft plastic stickbait. From straightforward Texas-rigging to wacky-style, Carolina-rigging, drop-shotting and even weightless topwater presentations, few plastics can claim the level of diversity that stickbaits afford.

Common models of this simple worm include Yamamoto Senkos, Yum Dingers, Zoom Mag Finesse Worms, Wave Tiki Sticks, Berkley Sinking Minnow, Lunch Money Trick Sticks and TriggerX Flutter Worms. Each follow the same general shape, and anglers ultimately gravitate toward the ones with which they develop the most confidence.

As with all bait categories, equipping yourself with a range of color options enables you to adjust to conditions - water clarity, temperature, wind, cloud cover - and fish behavior. Keeping multiple stickbait sizes handy furthers that flexibility. Five- to 6-inch baits are most common, but matching smaller forage may require downsizing to a 3-incher, while other instances may call for a heftier meal in the 7-inch range.

"I like to have many options when it comes to a stick bait," said Bassmaster pro and Senko expert Matt Greenblatt. "I always have a green pumpkin, watermelon red flake and black/blue flake in the boat both in 5-inch and 6-inch. These three colors I have found will work in any lake in any condition. The size and color can change from morning to afternoon, so I always have a good supply of many colors and sizes."

 

Texas hold 'em

Probably the most diverse method for fishing soft stickbaits, this basic arrangement works well for pitching to bed fish, probing laydowns or skipping under docks. Greenblatt said the soft stickbait's inherent undulating action really rings the dinner bell for bass.

"The Senko, when rigged weightless, is almost too much for bass," he said. "The slow fall with the slight side-to-side wiggle drives even the most sluggish bass wild."

What's great about this tactic is that you can instantly switch from a surface presentation to subsurface to dead sticking by simply adjusting your retrieve speed.

Most soft stick worms are dense enough to reach bottom on their own in shallow water of about 6 feet or less. However, when retrieved at a moderate speed with a high rod tip and frequent twitches, the bait will remain at the surface. With upward rod strokes, you can emulate the nose-up walking action of a topwater plug, but if a fish boils or strikes and misses, killing the bait makes it fall like wounded prey. Resume the action subsurface, and a stickbait now works the mid-depths.

Greenblatt fishes his Texas-rigged stickbaits on 15-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon, which he says improves his casting distance.

"When casting a weightless stickbait, it doesn't weigh very much and Seaguar line allows me to get the max distance with such a light weight," he said. "The low stretch of fluorocarbon is also important. If, by chance, you have slack in the line when setting the hook (i.e. the fish moves toward you or the line is over a stump or hung in grass), the line will make up for this and the hook will still penetrate."

One of the most exciting ways to fish a Texas-rigged stickbait is to skip it across lily pads. A good example of reaction presentations, skipping keeps the bait moving across the pads to imitate a variety of forage from snakes, to frogs, to lizards, to aquatic insects. With no contour points like a lizard or creature bait, a stick is less likely to grab a patch of tangled weeds, or bunch up in the notch of a lily pad.

Cast deep into the pads, keep your rod tip high and retrieve with frequent upward rod twitches. Dancing the bait across the vegetation and through the little gaps between pads gives bass plenty of notice that something's moving overhead, but they get only a brief glimpse of the passing prey. This forces the fish to make a decision and act decisively.

Don't be surprised to see a green head bumping the pads in an effort to knock your stickbait into the water. And try not to scream like a little girl if the pads suddenly erupt in a flurry of appetite and attitude. That's pretty much what you're trying to entice.

Similar to the pad skipping strategy, sliding a stickbait across weed mats - hydrilla, milfoil, etc. - will bring hungry bass charging through the vegetation to body slam what they perceive to be a snake out for a stroll. And similar to the open-water tactics, killing the bait over breaks in vegetation makes it fall into these "windows" through which bass watch for vulnerable forage. If a weed window looks particularly promising, switch to a flipping technique and drop your stickbait repeatedly into the target zone.

Offset wide gap (OWG) hooks offer more bite, and they make it easier to keep the bait in place. However, a straight round-bend worm hook maintains a streamlined profile that helps you hop and skip the bait over pads and other stiff weeds with minimal snagging. Hooks that protrude farther from the bait often grab weeds, and that temporary pause can displace your bait and mar the presentation. For longer bait life, use a pegging style hook like the Owner TwistLock or Daiichi's Hitchhiker.

Now, in some cases, digging down into the salad is a good way to tempt your quarry. When this is the objective, fit that Texas-rigged stickbait with a 1/16- to ¼-ounce bullet weight, and watch how easily it comes through the vegetation. Look for many of your strikes to occur right when the worm pops out of the weeds.

 

Wacky rigging

Simple as it gets, wacky rigs simply impale a hook through the middle of a stickbait. When the bait falls, the laws of physics - particularly the one stating that two objects cannot simultaneously occupy the same space - impart an incredibly lifelike action on the worm.

"The key to the wacky rig is the two tails that move," said 2003 Bassmaster Classic winner Mike Iaconelli. "On the tip-up, as you go from 3 o'clock to 12 and as you tip that bait up, you have the tails that wiggle each way. On the fall, you have the bait shimmering and wiggling."

This slow-sinking presentation is ideal for suspended fish, but it's also a great option for bass holding under docks or around bridge pilings. Anglers can alter their presentations with frequent rod twitches for erratic wiggling – much like a live wiggler worm does when dropped into the water – or a mostly flat rod posture for a subtle fall in which water displacement keep the bait squirming.

Bites vary from lethargic slurps to psychotic slams, depending on bass mood. Nevertheless, a hook positioned in the middle of a bait will quickly tear that bait under the pressure of a bite. That matters not to a fish, but you'll save money on baits by getting more life out of each one with an O ring. Slipped over the stickbait, this simple plastic donut provides a place to secure your bait without actually puncturing its mass. Tuck your hook under the O ring, position it so the bait hangs below the bend and you have a secure rig with no loss of hooking ability. Companies like Do-It Fishing (www.do-itfishing.com) offer Wacky Tools to facilitate O-ring installation.

Wacky hook choices vary, but sometimes, the bass will determine what's best. T.J. Stallings is an avid bass angler who handles the marketing for TTI-Blakemore - makers of Daiichi Bleeding Bait Hooks. About 8 years ago, he developed a Catch and Release Hook that makes wacky rigging easier on the fish. Essentially a circle hook for wacky baits, this model helps prevent deep hooking.

"I figured there would be 10-percent released fish mortality because the fish really inhale those (wacky) baits," Stalling said. "Then multiply that number by at least 40 anglers a day, and that amounts to a lot of fish. Most anglers will miss their first fish and then realize it's a circle hook. Hook up ratio is about 90 percent after they quit setting the hook."

Around heavier vegetation, hooks with weed guards like Gamakatsu's Finesse Wide Gap Weedless hooks will keep the salad from marring your presentation and impeding hook sets.

 

Flick it

Now, if you want that wacky worm to sink a little faster in deeper water, or if wind and/or current threaten to sweep your bait off target, consider a weighted presentation. Impaling slender nail weights or peg weights in a worm's head or tail pulls the bait down with the heavier end leading.

That's a viable presentation, but what if you want the worm to fall in a more horizontal orientation? For this, we turn to the innovation of Japanese bass anglers whose mastery of finesse fishing has spawned a tantalizing tactic known as the flick shake.

With products made by Buckeye Lures, Gamakatsu, Jackall and others, variations are many, but Iaconelli described the flick shake as essentially a tungsten or a lead ball on the shank of a finesse wide-gap hook right below the eye. Noting that the flick shake is an evolution of the earlier wacky-rig techniques, Iaconelli said this finesse tactic takes a good thing and makes it even better.

"This is a technique that lets us fish a wacky rig deeper, and it's going to let us give it more inherent action," he said. "This allows us to get that bait in front of fish that never see (a traditional wacky rig).

"The key to a wacky rig is that the pivot point is in the middle of the bait. That's where you got that spring action. With the flick shake, you have that pivot point in the middle, but on the fall, you have a tungsten or lead weight that's pulling that bait down. What that's doing is enhancing the action of the tail. With a traditional wacky rig, you only had that action on the tip-up. Now you have it on the tip-up, and on the fall, (the weighted hook) is going to pull it down."

As Iaconelli said, an unweighted stickbait may be just the thing for fishing submerged timber or other structure in a dozen or more feet, but waiting for the bait to descend was always an excruciating test of patience. Now, with a flick shake hook of the right weight, he can deliver his wacky presentation to deeper fish in a matter of seconds.

And if bottom presentations are needed, the flick shake design puts the hook's weighted eye angled down, while the worm and the hook's business end face the fish. A little wiggle and hop here and there creates the appearance of struggling forage, and that usually closes the sale on an interested bass.

 

Best of the rest

For presenting baits over ledges, along rocks, shell beds or wood, anglers may opt for craws or creature baits. However, when fish are highly pressured, or when they've turned lethargic under changing weather or slow current, the subtle look of a more easily captured prey can be just the ticket. A stickbait's profile fits this scenario well, and if the fish are really persnickety, drop down to a 3-inch version of Senkos, Tiki Sticks or Dingers.

On a dropshot, smaller stickbaits can be deadly for deep smallmouth, while full-size baits rigged wacky style often appeal to the bigger green fish. And for those patient bottom presentations, don't hesitate to rig a 5- or 6-inch stick bait on a ¼- to ½-ounce shaky head, and let the bait do the dance.

For such a simple piece of plastic, the soft stickbait brings a lot to the table. However you choose to fish your slender plastic, "stick" with it until you dial in what the fish want.