Soft Stickbait Strategies for Post Spawn Tidal Potomac Bass
By Capt. Brent Nelson


Hunter Nelson and his friend Victoria Seng hold four of the thirty bass they caught on a early June day, at the mouth of Mattawoman Creek, using the authors stickbait techniques.  All fish were released alive after photo.

My son's trance-like routine on every cast was interrupted abruptly as his friend screamed, "Get the net!" Victoria's Gator Rod bent in a throbbing arch while drag on her reel whined steadily. "It's a big one," she squeeled as a mean and moody 3-pound largemouth bass erupted from the submerged vegetation. Before Hunter could reach the net, another largemouth nailed his soft stickbait as the outgoing tide gained momentum. The two University of Maryland grad students fought and landed their fish admirably as the fog lifted from Mattawoman Creek.

This scene repeated itself throughout that day during the June post-spawn window that some anglers claim is one of the toughest times to fish for bass on tidal rivers. Bass that spawned in the nearby creek are now recovering from the rigors of nesting and baby making. Many have migrated to the mouth of the creek to recuperate adjacent to deeper water where some may spend their summer on the main river. A few fish will favor hard, rocky cover, while many rest and feed near scattered clumps of submerged milfoil and hydrilla.

To seasoned and savvy bass anglers, there's hardly a storage locker or tackle bag that doesn't contain a variety of soft stickbaits. The first of these soft-plastic worms, roughly shaped like a ballpoint pen, was the Senko, designed by the Yamamoto Bait Company in California. That lure became an overnight sensation, and now there are plenty of lure companies offering their own versions, each touting their own colors, textures, salt and scent content, and sink rates. Case Plastics makes a great stickbait called the Magic Stik. The Wacko, Zero, Berkley's Gulp Sinking Minnow, and Kinami Flash are all reliable alternatives.

One reason the soft stickbait is so effective is the way it shivers or flutters as it sinks in its subtle horizontal fall. A bass reacts positively to this bait thinking it's a dying minnow or crawfish.

The big advantage to fishing a stickbait is that you can decide exactly how deep you want to fish it. I Texas-rig them on a 3/0 Mustad Ultra Point tube hook and fish them on a 7-foot, medium-action Gator rod so I can make longer casts, and depending on what I want to do with the bait, I’ll either use a fluorocarbon line or Suffix Elite monofilament, usually in 14- to 17-pound test. On particularly tough high-pressure days with bluebird skies, I'll even go with a wacky-rigged Magic Stik on 6-pound test. Wacky rigging is simply hooking the bait through the middle allowing for even more fluttering action.

The Tidal Post Spawn Formula
My go-to strategy for post-spawn tidal bass is finding selected secondary points and coves in front of major spawning creeks with submerged aquatic vegetation as mentioned above. Submerged vegetation is the key and I'll look for clumps on the perimeter of the bed, preferably adjacent to deeper water leading to the main river.

A Texas-rigged 5 1/2-inch watermelon Case Magic Stik on 17-pound Suffix fluorocarbon is the key. Fluorocarbon line sinks and gets the Stik deeper into the water column as does a heavy tube hook in the scattered clumps of submerged weeds. This hook-and-line combination still allows the Stik to fall in the horizontal position. Fish the outside or inside edges of the grass bed, depending on the tides. Make long casts and allow the bait to get down in the water column. Don't be in a rush! Pull the bait with the rod from the 10 o’clock to the eleven o’clock position. After you make your cast, keep a loose but controlled line, and stay in contact with the lure while it sinks. It takes practice, but this is when a large percentage of the strikes will occur. You also must have patience, because the lure sinks very slowly. Allow the bait to settle and reel in the slack. When you feel the "peck" or pick-up of a hungry bass, set the hook and cross his eyes with a quick upward snap of the wrists.

Many times during this seasonal period, bluegills will be spawning in these same locations. Post-spawn bass are known to favor a bluegill diet in June. Using a stickbait with blues and gold flake that imitates a bluegill can be a successful strategy.

Give the soft stickbait a try, the next time you face tough post-spawn conditions on tidal waters. I think you'll be glad you did. After you get used to fishing this unique lure, you'll discover it has great fish-catching abilities. Be patient with it, and I know you'll catch more fish.