How to Catch Sticklebacks | The 3 Best Ways

When I was a kid there was nothing more enjoyable than going fishing. The first thing I ever learned was how to catch sticklebacks. One of the first fish I ever caught was the small but mighty stickleback. It truly is a prehistoric-looking fish that doesn’t grow any bigger than a couple of inches long. These fish were once in abundance, but like so many species they are a bit harder to come by nowadays.

Catching sticklebacks is a perfect pastime for kids and will surely keep them off their game consoles for a few hours, can’t be bad! If you know where to look there are still enough of them to be caught and can provide hours of fun.

What is a Stickleback?

A stickleback is a small freshwater fish that doesn’t get any bigger than a couple of inches long and lives between 3 and 5 years. They are generally made up of dark shades of green and brown in colour with a silver belly. This makes for good camouflage. Believe me, they can be hard to spot if you don’t look hard enough. When it is spawning season the male’s belly will turn a vibrant red colour to attract a mate and warn off males.

We have 3 types of stickleback here in the UK.

The 3 types we have are the 3 spined sticklebacks, the 6 spined sticklebacks and the 15 spined sticklebacks. The 3 and the 6 spined are both freshwater fish that you are more likely to encounter. The 15 spined one is a marine species and can only be found in the sea.

The stickleback you are most likely to catch will be the 3 spined fish. The 6 spined stickleback is a lot rarer and harder to find.

Where Can I Find Sticklebacks?

Sticklebacks can be found pretty much anywhere, from the tiniest of brooks up to the biggest of lakes. As long as the water is clean and doesn’t have a tendency of drying up there is a chance of finding them. I find brooks and small streams are some of the best places for catching sticklebacks.

They are masters of camouflage so you may have to look hard to find them. Look amongst weeds and vegetation, this is their favoured habitat where they can hide away from predators.

How to Catch Sticklebacks

There are 3 ways in which you can catch sticklebacks, a net, a rod and line, or a minnow trap.

A Net

When you think about catching sticklebacks, everyone visualises kids with little nets. This is probably one of the best ways of catching them to be fair. This can provide kids and adults with hours of fun in the great outdoors. The only problem you will have is how fast sticklebacks can be. Try sneaking up on them with the net already in the water and swipe the net with a minimum amount of disturbance.

A Rod and Line

It is also possible to catch sticklebacks on a rod and line. If you are trying to catch them in small brooks and ditches then try swapping the rod for a small thin tree branch. A willow branch is perfect. A rod would be too long. Tie some 2lb line to the end of the branch and attach a size 22 hook to the other end. Add a small worm to the hook and you are good to go.

Make a Minnow Trap

Making a minnow trap is a very simple and easy way of catching sticklebacks. The good thing with a minnow trap is it is virtually free to make and you can leave it in the water overnight. Just be sure not to leave it unattended too long, this will cause stress to the fish and they could end up dying.

Other Fish you Might Catch

When you are out trying to catch sticklebacks there are several other mini species of fish you may come across in the UK.

In the larger bodies of water you may well come across fry. Fry are basically the babies of other fish. These could be anything from roach, rudd, and perch to larger species such as chub, barbel,, and even baby pike. In the smaller waters such as ditches, brooks, and small streams there may only be the mini species of fish that live there.

The 3 most common mini species apart from sticklebacks are, minnows, stone loach, and bullheads. Minnows are usually quite noticeable and tend to swim in mid-water. Whereas bullheads and stone loaches tend to hide under rocks and vegetation and are a lot harder to spot with the naked eye. They will come out to feed though and are quite catchable.

What Do Sticklebacks Eat?

In general, sticklebacks are primarily a predator. This means they will ambush small insects, daphnia, baby tadpoles, freshwater shrimp, and small fry. When I was a kid I used to find the smallest of worms and catch sticklebacks on them. If it moves, and is small enough for them to eat, then the sticklebacks will eat it.


Learning how to catch sticklebacks and other mini species can prove a great way of spending time with your kids. You may be surprised how much nature you will come across down at the water’s edge. So make yourself a minnow trap, grab a net, or get your rod and line and go get yourself some sticklebacks. Above all else enjoy yourselves.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big do sticklebacks get?

Sticklebacks are one of our smaller species of fish. They will only grow to a maximum of 7 cm and weigh about 1 gram.

Can I catch sticklebacks in a river?

Yes, you will certainly find sticklebacks in rivers. They tend to hang out in the shallower water at the river’s edge. Try swiping a net around underwater vegetation and reedbeds.

Should I put sticklebacks back afterward?

Once you have caught your sticklebacks it is best practice to release them straight back afterward. You can actually keep them in an aquarium but only do this if you know about fish keeping.

Do sticklebacks have a red belly?

Yes, when it is spawning season the male stickleback’s chest will turn a bright red colour. This is to attract females and warn off the male fish.

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