Every fisherman dreams of that once in a lifetime bass. The true trophy hunters pursue them around the country and spend thousands of dollars on rods, reels, boats and fish finders just to locate and get out to where the big boys lurk. All this to present to them a bait that costs just a few dollars.
Poppers, spinners, buzzbaits, worms, and jigs are all immensely popular choices but none seem to perform more consistently than swimbaits, especially in waters that are overfished or known for finicky bass. Their natural motion makes them perfectly trigger a bass’ predator instincts.
Swimbaits are touchy compared to some of the more popular lures. There is a method to the cast and retrieval that is vital to good success. Not to mention selecting the right size, shape, and color of swimbait to get a fish interested. Even then, you aren’t going to get the hard-hitting action you do with some baits, but if you are after the huge bass you must be persistent.
So, let's break it down to the proper selection and use of one of the best and most overlooked tools in your tackle box!
Swimbaits can be broken down into two primary categories; hard baits and soft baits. There are multiple types of baits in each category and each can be bought as either a mimic that looks like a specific food, or an attractor that simply attempts to get the bass’ attention through flash, color, or vibration.
Single jointed baits have a single hinged section often in the middle of the bait but larger baits may place the hinge near the tail. These are the original hard swimbaits and have decent action. The single moving part makes them a little more rugged and easier to cast.
The more modern option (though still quite old) is a hard bait that has multiple joints to allow for a more fluid action. More moving parts means a more difficult cast and the retrieval is a little more specific. The main criticism of these baits is the multiple jointed sections make the fish look less realistic.
Glide baits are a newer trend in the fishing world and are, in essence, a single jointed swimbait that is longer than a traditional single-jointed lure with a swooped shape to better mimic swimming. Their shape and length do emulate natural movement well but their size limits them to the largest bass. Some of these baits have a soft tail for added movement.
With a solid rubber body, these baits are durable and affordable and with a thinner tail, they get decent movement. Not all these baits come pre-rigged with a hook but can often be rigged with either a treble hook or single barb. A variant of this bait has the hook facing upward in an effort to prevent snagging.
Similar to a solid body bait but without a hook or eyelet, these baits are meant to be matched to a jig head. The swimming action is generally good and they are much easier to cast than other more complicated setups. They are also very affordable to fish and quite effective when used correctly.
These can either be a solid body bait or jig head setup but have a contoured tail made to provide a lot of action and vibration in the water. When nothing is producing for you, these can be a solid option to draw out a reluctant bass. They are easy to fish and are much cheaper than other options.
These are really a subset of solid body baits but with a hollow body to make the bait feel more natural when a bass bites and getting a deeper hook set. Many of these can also be rigged to be weedless, and big bass love big weed patches.
Catching bass is more than luck, it’s having the right tool for the job. Understanding your bait and its uses is a vital step in bass fishing success.
There are several points to consider that will take your bass game to the next level. Always pay attention to the water and the weather, they will be your primary guide in which bait to use but the below points will provide some simple guidance.
If you know what the bass in the area are eating, it’s time to match up your lure but it can often be hard to know exactly what food they may be going after. You can make an educated guess if you know the water you are fishing on but sometimes you are better going standard shad patterns.
If the water is murky, make sure you are using a bait that makes some vibration or sound, you can’t always get the lure to the bass but you can help bring the bass to the lure.
There is a ton of science and advice on choosing a bait color, you could read page after page on the topic. For a general guideline, choose bright colors when visibility is poor like muddy water, overcast conditions, or nighttime. Pick a more subdued color if you are fishing in clear water.
If you want big bass use big lures if you want a lot of bass use a smaller lure. Generally, the average baitfish is around 4 or 5 inches in size and that is a solid number to shoot for. If you want the biggest bass, look more in the 7-inch range. Make sure you are fishing a rod and reel that can handle the size and weight of the lure you choose.
If nothing else is producing, opt for a smaller bait. The only thing worse than not catching a big bass is not catching any bass.
Some swimbaits are designed to fish shallower than others. A few are even good topwater lures. Fish deeper the more sunny and warmer it is and keep your shallow and topwater lures for the early morning or late evening.
If you are fishing in colder waters, opt for a larger lure. At this point a bass will want the most calories it can get for the energy it burns to catch its prey. Large bass may ignore smaller lures while waiting for a bigger meal.
If you want the big bass on warmer days, fish big baits. When fish are at rest, they will rest with the larger fish more toward the bottom and smaller fish higher in the water column. If you want the big bass, you need a lure that the smaller bass higher in the water will ignore.
Not only does the weather affect your color choice, it can affect the size and material of the lure you are fishing. If it’s windy, you want to opt for a heavier lure than you would in calmer weather. It's sometimes hard to cast multi-jointed lures in high wind without them getting tangled in your line. You may need to change your casting style to prevent this.
If you are fishing weed beds or other locations with a lot of snags, opt for a lure without a treble hook. Some full body and other soft baits can be rigged to fish weedless. Baits that are rigged with the hook on the top are another great choice.
If we wanted something easy to fish, we would all be using a worm on a hook with a bobber but sometimes that just doesn’t work and it’s a whole lot less fun. With any bait, you have to take the time to learn to fish it successfully.
Swimbaits are far from the simplest baits to learn to fish but can be mastered in a short time with a little practice. Don’t be daunted to give them a solid try, with a little patience they can be a very productive lure. Here are a few simple tips to get you going in the right direction:
Not every rod and reel will work well with a swimbait, especially the larger, heavier ones. If you are using the smaller baits under 4 inches, most spinning reels will be fine but if you opt for larger baits it’s time to consider a baitcaster. Always check your rod’s recommendations to make sure it can handle the weight of your lure.
A sloppy cast with some swimbaits is a sure-fire way to get the line wrapped around the hook and no bass in the world is going to bite a fish that swims backwards while laying on its side. This is a matter of practice and using a rod you are familiar with.
Each swimbait has its own action and that means that the speed of your retrieval will be vital in making it better mimic a real fish. There is a range of speeds for each bait that will produce a good effect, some are more finicky than others. Find clear water where you can watch the retrieval and see how different speeds work. (I have been known to use a swimming pool when no one was around to see.)
Once you know the speed at which the action starts on your swimbait, fish it at the slowest speed it works at. This gives the bass a little more time to decide to strike. Keep your rod tip down so your retrieve isn’t at a steep angle that can make the swim more awkwardly.
Know the way the baitfish that bass are feeding on behave. When fishing a shallow bait, it should act like a wounded or dying fish. When fishing deep, remember that a fish will often stick close to the bottom or structure for protection.
Make sure to use a rod that is rated for the swimbait you’re using. Some swimbaits can weigh in excess of 2 ounces. You’ll need a rod that can adequately cast larger lures. Make sure to check the lure weight rating of the rod you intend to use. Also, you’ll probably want to go with a medium to medium fast action rod. A rod with to fast an action can rip a treble hook out of a fish’s mouth. This is why you often find crankbait specialist using slower action rods.
If you are using a weighted swimbait and aren’t getting any hits, use it like a jig. Drop it near structure and bounce it off the bottom. Not every swimbait will work well for this but it can be another trick in the book to make the best of an unproductive day.
If you are fishing during pre-spawn for bass, know what other fish in the lake are in their spawning phase. In most lakes, shad will be a primary source for females wanting to put on weight. Get a bait that mimics the local hatch and your chances will improve!
It's very easy to fall into a trance and just cast/retrieve over and over. Keep your pace organic. Remember that most fish won’t swim straight at a constant pace. Pop your rod tip down every so often or stop reeling and let the bait do its own thing. You will end up with a much more enticing presentation.
I love a good mimic bait and have been surprised at the level of innovation in materials and colors. Live Target lures have a dozen or so freshwater patterns that look so much like the real thing you could end up catching fishermen instead of fish. Special attention has been paid to the colors, proportions, patterns and overall size to make these a killer bait for large bass.
Another mimic pattern that is a constant producer. Shad are a good choice for most any water body in the U.S. and this is one of the best shad representations on the market. Fish this in clear water for the best effect. This is a small lure and great for fishing with small tackle. If you aren’t getting hits on anything else, give this one a shot!
Somewhere between a mimic and an attractor, the Havoc is a solid bait for provoking that predator instinct. They come in 3, 4 and 5 and 1/2 inch lengths. They are affordable and very productive. Keep a few in your box for those days when the bass aren’t feeding well. The sick fish can provoke a strike even from bass that are passing on other meals.
If you are looking for a hard lure with some crazy action, this is the one! Even at slow retrieves, this lure has some of the best motion of any hard swimbait on the market. With a variety of colors to suit pretty much any fishing situation, you can get one for your needs every time. This is a great producing lure in most any water, especially the more natural colorations.
For an attractor pattern that kills, check out the one in blue chrome and orange. In murky Spring waters, this is a solid lure for producing mid-sized and larger bass. Keep the retrieve slow and let it float from time to time. It isn’t the most realistic swimming bait but with the included rattle, it is a great attractor to draw bass out of cover and off the nest. Definitely a good tool to keep in the toolbox.
Swimbaits aren’t an everyday/every time bait and they aren’t the go-to option for most situations but, when used correctly, they can produce when other lures are doing nothing. Having a good selection can almost ensure you have the right bait for the right time.
Keep it slow and be patient, pay attention to how your bait is moving, keep it in the water and you stand a good shot at drawing out that trophy bass that so many people have spent thousands of dollars looking for. Good luck and tight lines!