Sticking it to whiting on top
  |  First Published: March 2015

In the concluding instalment of his two-part primer on the basics of topwater luring for yellowfin, sand or silver whiting, Starlo examines the rise of the stickbait, and also lifts the lid on some tricky twists for hooking more of these great fish.

Last month in this column, I outlined the basics of surface or topwater fishing for sand and yellowfin whiting, mainly using small, cup-faced poppers. I explained that this was one of the deadliest and most exciting new forms of southern estuary fishing to come along in the last decade or so.

In that column, I also touched briefly on the use of ‘walk-the-dog’ style surface stickbaits, but promised to tell you more about them this month, as well as sharing some other advances in topwater whiting fishing. So, here we go!

To be honest, these days I hardly ever use poppers for whiting unless the water is badly chopped up by wind. Today, I much prefer to throw floating stick baits. In the places where I fish, bigger whiting (which are quite old fish) have now seen a lot of poppers, and I find they can be rather suspicious of them. Stick baits are more subtle and sneaky and seem able to go on catching these more ‘educated’ whiting season after season.

The trick with surface stick baits lies in achieving that deadly walk-the-dog action, with the lure bobbing, weaving and zig-zagging from side to side. Each brand and model of stick bait requires a slightly different retrieve to achieve its best action, but the basic method is to constantly crank the reel handle at a slow to medium pace while bouncing or flicking the rod tip with a regular, mechanical cadence, rather like one of those metronomes musicians use to maintain the beat.

You can either angle the rod down towards the water (best when standing on the deck of a boat) or upwards at 45° (when wading or sitting in a kayak). You’ll need to experiment a little to get it right but when you do, you’ll know!

My theory is that cup-faced poppers provide a sonic imitation of another whiting or bream slurping and sucking noisily at a fleeing prawn, while stickbaits mimic the prawn itself. Poppers rely on an ‘uneducated’ or fired-up fish tracking the sound to its source and then not stopping to question why the phantom predator and its prey have suddenly merged into one small dollop of plastic. However, as already mentioned, I’m increasingly finding that this particular deception is no longer as effective as it once was. By representing the prey item itself, 50-85mm stickbaits have given topwater whiting (and bream) fishing a whole new lease on life.

The other big breakthrough for me this past season has been the adoption of small, wickedly sharp ‘assist’ hooks, rigged to dangle from the tail of my stick bait. These little singles on their short droppers have significantly increased my hook-up rate, especially on more hesitant or uncommitted whiting (and bream) that might only make one quick nip at the back of the lure before fading from sight.

I began by using Ecogear’s replacement hook sets for their brilliant ZX series of metal blades. These are superb bits of kit, but a tad expensive, and also prone to an occasional failure when the non-eyed, flatted shank hooks pull free of their connection knot or snell. So, I’ve begun making my own. I’m damned if I can find hooks quite as good as the ones Ecogear use in their ZX replacement kits, but I’m getting close, and definitely hooking more whiting than I did back in my treble-only days.

Like all forms of modern sport fishing, I’m sure that targeting topwater whiting will continue to evolve over coming seasons. But the one thing that won’t change is the incredible thrill of seeing a lit-up, elbow-slapper of a whiting streak up from the bottom to climb all over your dancing surface lure! If you haven’t tried it yet, you really need to, and the good news is that there’s still enough time (and warm water) left this year to have a crack!

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