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Stickbait Briusers
Put the jigs and lizards away, and try this exciting
technique for springtime bass.

BY ANDY CRAWFORD

While many anglers are pitching jigs and plastic lizards to spawning fish, Morgan City’s Ivy St. Romain is snatching bass off their beds with stickbaits.
While many anglers are pitching jigs and plastic lizards to spawning fish, Morgan City’s Ivy St. Romain is snatching bass off their beds with stickbaits.

The man could have been mistaken for a penitent. Almost.

He was on his knees, softly speaking to no visible being, but his head was not bowed and his eyes were not closed.

And he was not before a church altar.

Ivy St. Romain was kneeling on the front deck of his 19-foot Skeeter, and in one hand he held a medium-action rod.

And the words he spoke were not to God, but to his prey.

“Come on, big bass. Show up. Come on, where are you?” St. Romain said insistently.

It was all enough to make others think he had gone over the deep edge, but the veteran angler was unapologetic.

“You’ve got to talk to the fish,” he chuckled. “I always talk to them.”

As for the kneeling? Yep, he has a reason for that, too.

“In clear water, I’ll always stay low, low, low to the water,” he said. “That way, they can’t see me.”

Keeping a low profile is especially important when the bass are on their beds, but there’s also another reason for remaining low to the water.

“The angle of the cast lets you get under all those limbs and stuff, and work a lot more water,” the Morgan City angler and owner of Ivy’s Tackle Box said.

Many times bass will spawn next to submerged cypress trees with moss-draped and low-hanging limbs, and casts from standing anglers are difficult to make.

St. Romain’s sidearm cast sent his lure flying just above the water level and just under the reach of moss and limbs to likely spawning sites.

The lure he was using wasn’t a jig, lizard or spinnerbait, though.

St. Romain was going after bass with stickbaits, lures he said are almost guaranteed to drive spawning bass crazy.

“They just can’t stand to have that bait over their beds,” he said.

His three main tools for this job are Red Fins, Rogues and Boy Howdys, with a decided preference for the Red Fins.

“They float higher in the water,” St. Romain said. “When I stop it, it pops back to the top quicker.

“The Rogue pulls under and comes back to the top slower.”

St. Romain’s favorite stickbait is a Red Fin, but his box includes a variety of other lures in case conditions change. Among those he will turn to are Rogues and Boy Howdys.
St. Romain’s favorite stickbait is a Red Fin, but his box includes a variety of other lures in case conditions change. Among those he will turn to are Rogues and Boy Howdys.

These distinctions are important to his strategy; he prefers to fish very slowly, and wants the bait to sit on top of the water and aggravate fish into biting.

“Those fish are on their beds, and they’re not going to be too aggressive. They want it slow, slow,” St. Romain explained. “A lot of people make the mistake of fishing too fast, and they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around the bait.”

Such attention is necessary because fish will often give small indications they are looking at the lure.

“You can see the fish before it hits,” St. Romain said.

Basically, his technique is simple — he tosses the lure right next to the bank or next to a tree, and then he retrieves it back to the boat.

But he doesn’t use the standard jerk, jerk, jerk, pause retrieve many anglers use.

“Probably the worst thing people do when fishing a stickbait is moving it too fast and too much,” St. Romain said. “Just let it sit there a minute, because when that bait hits the water, the fish knows it’s in the area.”

Because many fish bed right next to the bank, in very shallow water, this angler makes every effort to put the bait on the water gently.

“Especially when the fish are on the bed, you don’t want to let the bait splash down. You want to do what I call a feather cast — just let the bait ease down,” he said.

Once the bait is in the water, he allows the ripples emanating from the lure to flatten while he watches the lure carefully.

If there’s a fish right on the bank, it might grab the lure or simply check out what it is.

In the latter case, the bass usually causes a small swirl or ripple that alerts St. Romain that the fish is there.

“Did you see that? There’s a fish right there,” he said after the smallest of swirls appeared just to the side of his gold Red Fin. “It’ll come back.”

He gave the stickbait a very gentle jerk, making the lure twitch slightly but not move out of the spot.

Then he allowed the bait to remain stationary again.

Seconds later, the hook-draped lure disappeared in a swirl, and the first fish of the day was brought to boat.

It was a small buck bass, but St. Romain was encouraged that it cooperated so well.

Even when he is fighting a fish, St. Romain keeps on eye on the banks. That’s because spawning bass will give themselves away by swirling the water. When he sees movement, he makes a mental note and makes sure that he works a stickbait over the spot before he leaves.
Even when he is fighting a fish, St. Romain keeps on eye on the banks. That’s because spawning bass will give themselves away by swirling the water. When he sees movement, he makes a mental note and makes sure that he works a stickbait over the spot before he leaves.

Quickly, the angler was back on his knees and watching his Red Fin settle onto the water.

But St. Romain didn’t focus too narrowly on the bait — he used his peripheral vision to check for other fish rolling on beds.

And he’s mastered the art of spotting spawning fish along the banks and in the trees.

“There’s one,” he said, as if to prove the point. “Did you see it?”

He quickly reeled in his lure and sent it in the direction of a cypress tree about 5 feet off the bank. The lure lightly touched down, and the ripples quickly subsided.

St. Romain showed his patience, not moving the lure as the seconds stretched out.

Then, a crease in the water appeared just behind the lure, as the bedded bass made a pass at the lure.

“Come on, fish, take it,” the angler muttered. “Take it.”

After a few more seconds of letting the lure sit idle, St. Romain barely nudged the Red Fin.

The fish again boiled on the lure, but didn’t touch it.

Finally, the lure was retrieved and St. Romain moved on.

But the angler wasn’t concerned.

“When you sight a fish like this, you make a mental note which tree is holding the fish so you can come back and keep working them,” he explained. “I make a big loop and come back later.”

Most times, a fish can eventually be pestered into crunching one of his three stickbaits.

St. Romain begins a spawn-fishing trip like most other anglers — by finding likely spawning grounds.

In his part of the state, that means locating dead-end canals with pretty water, but St. Romain also has one other requirement.

“I like a canal with steep banks and slopes every now and then,” he explained.

What this does is narrows down where he needs to focus his attention.

“I can pinpoint where they’ll be hanging,” St. Romain said. “They don’t like to bed up on those steep banks.”

As he trolls along, he fan-casts, but St. Romain is intently searching the banks.

“I’m looking at the bank all the time, looking for any movement,” he said.

The movement that he wants to see is caused by bedding bass swirling around on the beds.

“They won’t give you much of a sign. They’ll just roll on the bed,” St. Romain.

When he sees a sign that a bass is on its bed, he makes a mental note and, as quickly as possible, gets his bait over to that area.

St. Romain spends much of his time on his knees while fishing spawners with stickbaits. The reasons are simple — bass in clear water can’t see him and he can more easily cast his lures under overhanging branches.
St. Romain spends much of his time on his knees while fishing spawners with stickbaits. The reasons are simple — bass in clear water can’t see him and he can more easily cast his lures under overhanging branches.

He softly casts the lure so that it settles just above where he suspects the bed lies, then he waits.

“What you’re looking for is for that fish to move again. If he does, barely twitch it,” St. Romain explained.

While some anglers avoid casting right on top of a bedding bass, this fisherman said he’s learned that such a move doesn’t matter — when they’re locked up.

“They’re on the beds, so they won’t move,” St. Romain said. “If you throw it too close, they’ll move, but they’ll come back.

“So leave it.”

If letting the bait sit or barely twitching the lure doesn’t produce a hit, St. Romain doesn’t give up. Like any good angler, he adjusts.

“I’ve already aggravated him twice and he didn’t take it, so I’ll try something different,” St. Romain said after working a particular fish for several minutes.

This could mean simply speeding up his retrieve of his Red Fin, or it could mean switching lures.

If he feels that a slower-rising stickbait will force strikes, he pulls a Rogue out of his box.

But before he ties it on, he removes the split ring from the front of the lure and ties his line directly to the bait.

“It sinks lower than a Red Fin anyway, so if you put a split ring on the nose, it will actually sink lower than normal,” St. Romain said.

To maintain the action that a split ring allows, St. Romain ties a loop knot when using a Rogue.

If moving from a Red Fin to a Rogue doesn’t do the job, or if there’s a little chop on the water, St. Romain moves to a third stickbait — a Boy Howdy.

This lure has metal propellers on each end of the lure, a feature that produces lots of noise and drives bass crazy.

St. Romain’s technique when using Boy Howdys differs markedly from that employed for Red Fins and Rogues.

Whereas his other stickbaits are allowed to sit and are barely moved for fairly long periods between erratic twitches, St. Romain likes to use a patterned retrieve with Boy Howdys.

“I’ll cast it next to the bank, make some noise away from the bank and stop,” St. Romain said.

This stop-and-go retrieve is continued back to the boat, but it is not an erratic movement.

“I move it in rhythm, either 3s, 3s, 3s or 2s, 2s, 2s and stop,” St. Romain said.

In other words, he gives the lure two or three sharp jerks in a row to produce a racket, and then he lets the lure sit for a few seconds.

“The strike comes when I stop it or when I start it again,” he said.

His color preference for each of the lures is generally gold, which he said produces the right amount of flash in the early mornings and late evenings, when he believes the technique is most effective.

“When the sun comes out, they’ll stack up next to wood,” St. Romain said.

When the skies are overcast, however, he might stay with stickbaits.

He also doesn’t change to other lures until the bass quit crunching the hard-plastic lures, even if the sun is glaring down.

A color change is called for, however.

“When the conditions go to direct sunlight, I’ll go with silver,” St. Romain said.

No matter which lure is chosen, however, there are some hook changes he makes before hitting the water for a tournament.

For Red Fins and Boy Howdys, he switches to Excalibur Rotating Hooks to increase the odds of successfully getting bass to the boat.

“The hooks rotate up into the fish,” St. Romain explained.

Rogues already have these hooks, so no change is necessary.

However, for all of the baits, he uses two different-sized hooks.

“I like to downsize the middle hook,” St. Romain said. “A lot of times those hooks will foul, and just that one little hook will eliminate that.”

To further increase the odds of a hook-up, he uses a 6-foot, 6-inch, medium-action rod.

The length of the rod helps St. Romain avoid spooking fish by making short casts mandated by shorter rods.

“I like that longer rod because when I’m in clear water it gives me that extra distance,” he said.

And the action of the rod provides enough give that hooks aren’t ripped from fish’s mouths.

“A lot of the time, the fish are hitting the bait going in the opposite direction (from the boat), and I don’t want anything stiff that I can pull the hook out of its mouth,” St. Romain said.