Stickworm Fishing with Stephen BrowningStickworm Fishing with Stephen Browning Despite its homely appearance, the stickworm appeals to both bass and anglers no matter when or where it is applied.
By John Neporadny Jr.
They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and that’s especially true when stickworm fishing.
The tube bait has been considered the Plain Jane of soft plastics for years, but at least the lure is adorned with a frilly skirt whereas the ordinary stickworm looks like nothing more than a stubby stick on a hook. Yet despite its homely appearance, the stickworm appeals to both bass and anglers no matter when or where it is applied.
“It has a lot of versatility to it and it is a bait that you can throw year-round,” Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning says of the stickworm. “You can Texas rig it without a weight and Texas rig it with a weight or use it as a wacky worm or on your drop shot. A stickworm kind of fits into every category of soft plastic baits. It has a lot of potential just about any time of the year.” Browning has also caught several fish on a Carolina-rigged stickworm.
Gary Yamamoto created the first stickworm and named it the Senko and now numerous lure manufacturers offer some type of stickworm. Browning’s favorite model is the 5-inch ZinkerZ made of Elaztech material and loaded with salt so it will fall slowly when rigged without a weight. The Arkansas pro selects stickworms in dark hues for stained to murky water and natural colors such as watermelon or green pumpkin for clear water. If he had to pick one color for all applications, Browning said he would choose black/blue laminate.
Browning favors flipping and pitching the ZinkerZ whenever he encounters heavy fishing pressure. “It is a very subtle approach and I feel the fish will react to it a little more so than a bait that has appendages or a curly tail,” he says. “You can flip it in heavy or dense cover, around rocks, laydowns and boat docks. It also makes a great bed fish bait.”
A tube bait used to be Browning’s choice for flipping a subtle lure to heavy cover, but he switched to the stickworm when he discovered it delivered better hookups. Browning noticed he lost too many fish on the Texas-rigged tube when the bait would ball up on the hook during the hook set but he never experienced that problem while setting the hook with the Texas-rigged stickworm.
The three-time B.A.S.S. winner rigs the ZinkerZ Texas style with a 5/16-ounce tungsten worm weight and a 4/0 or 5/0 Mustad Sure Grip straight shank hook. If the fish continue to ignore his offering, Browning will switch to a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce weight to trigger a reaction strike. “If I can get them to bite a bigger, faster moving bait I feel like I can cover more water,” he says. However he will drop down to a 3/16-ounce weight to present a slower fall to picky fish. Browning flips the lure to heavy cover with a 7 1/2-foot St. Croix Legend Extreme rod and Team Lew’s Lite Speed Spool baitcast reel filled with 16- or 20-pound test Gamma Fluorocarbon line.
A simple retrieve works best for Browning when he flips the ZinkerZ to cover. “I just let it hit the bottom and shake it twice and then just reel it in and make another flip,” says Browning.
Trying to impart too much action is a common mistake Browning sees anglers make when fishing a stickworm. “It really doesn’t have a lot of action but in clear water you can see when it falls it kind of spirals down,” he says. “So it has a little bit of action on the fall.”
So the simplicity of the stickworm makes it an ideal lure for beginners. “The best thing is you don’t have to do a lot with it,” Browning says. “If you can learn how to pitch and flip with it you will be in great shape because you don’t have to put a lot of action into the bait itself.”
The versatility of the stickworm allows Browning to fish it in shallow and deep water. If he is fishing water with visibility of 18 inches to 2 feet, Browning will probe the depths with a ZinkerZ on a Texas or Carolina rig.
The ZinkerZ served Browning well in his second-place finish at the 2013 Bassmaster Central Open at Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi and during a third-place performance in the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Sunshine Showdown on the Harris Chain in Florida. During the Open, Browning flipped the ZinkerZ to the edges of lily pads in sloughs to catch most of his fish. In the Elite event, the Arkansas angler pitched the ZinkerZ on a 7-11 St. Croix Extreme heavy action flipping stick into holes in the Kissimmee grass where he hit the base of every reed for bedding bass. The ZinkerZ also produced some keepers for Browning in his two Bassmaster Central Open victories in 2013 and 2014 on the Red River in Louisiana where he pitched the stickworms to isolated logs and stumps.
The stickworm produces both numbers of bass and quality fish for Browning. “I have caught some great old big ones on it,” he says. “I have caught some 7- and 8-pound fish flipping it, especially down in Florida.”
The B.A.S.S. veteran considers the ZinkerZ a “clutch bait” for him. “It is one of those baits that will get you out of a hole,” he says. “If you are in a bind and you know you are around some fish and they are not biting, it is a great go-to bait to fill a limit or get one started. Once you start getting a little confidence in it, it will be on your front deck.”
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