A sting in the tail
  |  First Published: May 2007

You’ve been trolling for well over an hour now and nothing has happened. The calm morning is becoming brighter as the sun rises in the sky. Prime time is passing and your angling instincts are telling you it’s going to be a slow morning…any strike now may be the only chance you get.

The electric motor continues to cut silently through the water until finally it happens. Your line tightens and the rod buckles over as the fish you’ve been searching for all morning takes the bait in its mouth. You experience a massive adrenaline surge, but then sheer disappointment as the line goes slack. Reeling in, all you’re left with is a dead, scaled bait and no fish.

If, on the other hand, your livebait had been rigged with a stinger hook, things may have turned out differently. With a stinger hook, there’s no need to guess how much line to feed out before striking. You can set the hook immediately, safe in the knowledge that if the fish has the bait in its mouth, there is a very high chance that everything’s going to come up tight.

The fish in question could be a mulloway, big lake trout or even a kingfish depending on the situation. It doesn’t matter: the stinger rig can be used anytime you are fishing with livebait to give yourself the best opportunity for a secure and solid hookup.


When securing livebaits only with normal suicide hooks there is a chance that when a fish strikes the hooks will turn into the bait instead of lodging in the mouth of the target species. This greatly reduces the chances of an effective hook up.

The stinger rig employs a treble hook to overcome the likelihood of a missed strike. Basically a treble hook is attached to the end of a short trace coming off a standard suicide hook. The best way to attach the suicide hook to the main line is to snell it on, ensuring enough tag end is left over to attach the treble on the end.

The suicide hook is the tow point and placed through the harder part of the jaw (above the lips) of the baitfish. One point of the treble is then placed into the body of the baitfish usually somewhere level with the vent (that’s the bum for those of you not familiar with piscatorial anatomy). Attacks on the head bring the front hook into play, while the treble provides two exposed barbs ready for attacks from the rear.

The length of the line tag, and the size of the two hooks, depends on the size of the bait being used. The stinger rig works for all manner of live baits, from galaxids and gudgeon for trout, to mullet and salmon for mulloway and kingfish. It is important to select the correct hook sizes for the size of the bait you are using and the fish you intend catching. Similarly, the length of line between the suicide hook and the stinger (the tag) should allow the stinger hook to be set in the correct place with the line liying neatly along the bait without too much slack.

Fine gauge, yet strong, chemically sharpened hooks are best for this type of rig. Heavy hooks take more force to penetrate the target fish’s mouth and interfere with the natural movement of the livebait. A lightweight hook is less of a burden for the livebait to carry and the longer your bait remains fit and healthy, the longer it will be attractive to your target species.

A good tip is to tie up a few rigs before you go fishing and store them in zip-lock bags ready for when you need them. The first reason for this is that you can match the rigs to the size of the livebait you are using if they vary in size. Secondly it’s not the sort of rig you’ll want to be tying when the fish are on. It can take a little time to tie up and the less knots you need to tie when your mate is hooked up next to you the better.

When to use the stinger rig

The stinger is best used for slow trolling livebaits or when suspending them under a float. Using stinger rigs when bottom fishing can be frustrating because the extra hooks often get snagged on the bottom or on weed when the livebait tries to hide itself. On a clear bottom, this problem is lessened and the rig can be used.

If you are anchoring a livebait to the bottom in such a way, it’s best to reverse the hooks to avoid drowning the bait. Place the main suicide hook in the wrist of the tail and one of the treble points into the back of the fish behind the head. This allows the fish to swim in an upright position just off the bottom.

When trolling lures its usually best to hold the rod to keep in touch with the lure and strike when necessary. With the stinger rig, however, a long medium action rod can be used to let the fish hook itself. The reel is fished with the strike drag set (no free spool or bait runner on) and when the target species hits the rod doubles over and the fish is usually hooked.

As well as relieving the angler from having to make the nervous decision of when to strike, another benefit of being able to fish a stinger hooked livebait in the rod holder is that you are free to stand and throw a lure as you slowly troll along. This covers all bases allowing you to cover more ground and add bonus fish to your bag.

Using a downrigger to fish a deep livebait can be a good technique when trolling the livebait with a stinger hook. This applies to trout as well as other species like kings and mulloway. When there is a heap of other boats dragging lures around on the surface, slowing down and putting out a stinger rigged livebait on a downrigger allows you to have a different offering for the fish compared to the rest of the pack.

A final point is that it’s best not to use a stinger hook if small or undersize fish are a problem because it can make releasing fish difficult due to two hooks lodging in the fish.

So, give a stinger hook a try if you’re looking to increase your hook-up rates when livebaiting for big, elusive fish. You’ll almost certainly be pleased with the results.

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