Swimbait fishing is probably one of the most efficient ways to catch a good bounty. But before you learn how to fish swimbait, you need to know everything about the concept. So, what is swimbait fishing? Swimbaits are a loosely defined class of fishing lures that imitate fish. The term “swimbait” gets used quite a bit and can encompass a lot of different lures, and there probably is no officially correct definition. However, it is often used to indicate plastic "paddle tail" lures, regardless of size or appearance. They are usually different from crankbaits by the way they generate lure action.
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Fishing big swimbaits is testing on one’s patience levels, as the action is always slow. A lot of credit goes to the number of things the big fish learnt in the process of growing to that size! It’s the natural appearance and the swimming action of a swimbait that gets these big fish to bite.
The Idea and Evolution of Swimbait Fishing
Swimbait fishing is no secret anymore and swimbaits always stand true on weedy lakes, one of the few lures that will come through the vegetation and still attract quality bites. They were originally designed to imitate the planted rainbow trout in Southern California reservoirs that Largemouth Bass and Striped Bass fed on. They were larger and more lifelike imitations than most available mass-produced lures.
While baitfish-shaped soft plastic swimbaits indeed have been assembling fish for many years, evolution sure has occurred in terms of swimbait designs and rigging options through the first decade of the 21st Century, and swimbait fishing has become far more conventional.
Another development was the design of various hooks which came with the swimbaits. Various manufacturers have different concepts of how to do the same job, even though many swimbait hooks are similar in the notion, notwithstanding the fact that finding the best hook for any given swimbait and situation calls for a bit of trial and error. Among the important considerations are the amount of weight, the diameter of the wire and the size of the bend, whilst the best hook depends on the diameter and softness of the bait, nature of the cover, the depth, mood and size of the fish.
Avid swimbaiters pride themselves in going after that coveted “one bite” over the course of the day, willing, in fact, to throw numbers out the window and scoff at any other finesse tactics. Big swimbaits are thrown on broomstick rods and robust reels worthy of taming local tuna. A lot of the baits themselves cost as much as the rod, the reel or in some cases, the whole combo.
Types of Swimbaits
Swimbaits are designed differently, to mimic various species that fish preys on. Some are rubber "paddle tail" lures that appear to swim when the tail flutters during the retrieve. Some are jointed baits that wave like a flag in the water when retrieved, without any obvious mechanism to generate motion. Some are large jointed crankbaits or crankbait/plastic lure hybrids. But there's quite a bit to know about rigging swimbaits right for varying conditions.
While mostly the mimicry is consistent to fishes, there are few which also mimic rodents, small waterfowl or turtles.
In the most mainstream fashion, swimbait designs can be categorized as Hard-Bodied, Soft-Bodied and Paddle Tails. Each of these is then broken down into sub-categories. Let’s take a look at the list of these categories and their sub-parts to understand them better:
Hard Body Swimbaits
The detailing for hard body swimbaits doesn’t end with their extreme likeness to naturality, but also their action in the water. This, in addition to their large profile, is what makes them appealing to large fish. It’s no surprise that these are quite pricey owing to the amount of effort that goes into their details. Some of the hard body versions have a lip in the front of the lure to create the swimming action, while others don’t have the lip.
- Double/Multi-jointed: These have a wider and a smoother swimming action, as they are made up of three or more body sections that are all hinged together. In case of a longer version, it will have more joints. Some of the best multi-jointed models are SproBBZ-1, X2 Slammer, Bulls Shad.
- Single jointed: These are made up of two solid body parts, which are attached by a hinging connection which allows the bait to have a swimming action in the water. The hinge could be placed in the mid-section or closer to the tail, depending on the kind of movement to be initiated by the bait.
- Glide baits: These are elongated versions of a single-jointed hard swimbait. Being longer gives the bait a wider “S-shaped” swimming action. They work great for the ‘stop and go’ tactic.
Soft Body Swimbaits
The soft body swimbait has probably grown in popularity more than any other bait over the past 5 years. Before they started showing up on the rods of tournament anglers around the world, several years ago, only a handful of tackle companies made them. Some are hollow, some segmented, and some have boot tails. The one common aspect of all of them is that they have found their way into the tackle boxes of most anglers.
These big, heavy, solid-rubber lure with soft body give them a more realistic feel when engulfed by a fish, allowing you more time to set the hook. To withstand the wear and tear from fighting fish, the rubber is reinforced. The eyelet for tying the line in some cases are further up on the head as compared to being at the tip of the nose, as it makes it easier to drag along the bottom.
Paddle Tail Swimbaits
A type of soft swimbaits, smaller in size, paddle tail swimbaits are similar to soft plastic worms where they come in packages of multiple baits. While they all perform very similarly to one another when in the water, the style of the hook, affects its performance. You need to get your own hooks and rig them yourself. Hook types of these lures are swimbait hook, swimbait jighead type hook or straight shank hook.
Paddle tail swimbaits are ideal for fishing in heavily weeded areas because they can be rigged weedless. Choosing size and colour of the swimbait plays a major role in catching the fish’s attention. Lures that use high detailing in clear or slightly stained waters yield the best results. The best possible way would be to try and match the natural prey available in the waters you are fishing in.
In stained waters, the lure’s natural colours are dulled through the eyes of the fish, so matching the natural prey isn’t that vital. However, when has choosing bright colours not grasped the attention? It’s the same concept here as well.
When it comes down to choosing the right type of bait for swimbait fishing, especially hard body vs soft body swimbaits, you need to take into account the waters you’re fishing in, the type of fish you’re looking to catch, etc.
How to Fish Swimbait
Technically, most swimbaits are fished similarly to the way you would fish a crankbait, which is, in a straight retrieve. Again, similar to crankbaits, an additional erratic action to break up the repetitive motion can go a long way and help entice bites.
A major part of retrieving your bait would depend on the whether it sinks or floats. Topwater lures are mostly floating models, as they create the appearance of a dying fish that is slowly swimming to the surface and is floating along. This is a meal which doesn’t require a ton of effort to catch and hence is hard to resist by a hungry fish. This tactic best works in calm water conditions say during an early morning or a late afternoon.
Next are the sinking and diving models of swimbaits which are used for deeper action, occasionally even dragged along the bottom. This tactic doesn’t work in open water when a fish has plenty of time to hone in on the bait from a distance and realize it’s unnatural. The best way would be to target a cover or a structure such as weedy waters, as luring them out of cover to attack quickly reduces the time it has to investigate the lure.
Swimbait Gear: Rods, Reels, Lines
Since the popularity of swimbait fishing, every rod manufacturer has jumped on the bandwagon, to offer a special swimbait rod design. While a good reel spooled with the adequate line is important, it’s not as crucial as the rod. Small paddle tail swimbaits and even hard body swimbaits can be cast with a regular baitcasting or spinning rods. However, all rods aren’t specifically rated to fish big swimbait and will not be able to handle it as they are not equipped with the ‘backbone’ required to cast them, will resort to breaking.
These rods need to be long, powerful sticks that can launch heavy baits a great distance and set the hook properly. Remember, targeting the bigger fish means tougher mouths and an extra hookset power to get the hooks to puncture their skin. In case you decide to throw a wide range of varying weights then you will need more than one rod. Most casual anglers suffice with a rod rated for 1-5 ounces, which basically means it can be used to cast swimbait lures weighing in that range.
Baitcasting reels are good for handling big swimbait lures. While any good quality bait caster can handle the task, most swimbait fishermen opt for heavier reels. They need to undergo a whole lot of stress while pulling big baits and fighting heavy fish. However heavier spinning reels in the 6000 - 10000 series range can also do the job.
The line choice for heavy lures should start with a minimum of seventeen-pound test monofilament line and ideally range between twenty - twenty-five pound. Work on or near the surface when using monofilament since it floats, if you want to go deeper then use fluorocarbon line. However, if you plan to mix it up and go both shallow and deep and don’t have extra spool then go with mono.
Tips for Fishing with Swimbaits
Catching big swimbaits definitely works from the bank. Again, while the bites are mostly few and spaced out, when they do come, they can be from some of the biggest fish in the lake. The process is less complicated, keeping in mind the following four factors:
Playing the Conditions
When you throw in the lure, do not get discouraged after just a few minutes. It is a waiting time. There are pockets of conditions where the fish show themselves and are more disposed to biting. Good scenarios would comprise of clear water broken up with light penetration, sunset, overcast, wind. Apart from this, is your expertise of retrieving. This would keep changing depending on the conditions. Some regular experimenting on your part and you should be good to go.
Choose the Right Fishing Tackle
It is better to start out throwing big swimbaits, using slow sinks or floaters and fish them fast. This encourages the bait to stay up near the surface and you can speed up your retrieve to avoid any possible hang-ups. As and when a certain comfort level sets in with style, you can add in twitches and pauses and try to turn followers into biters.
Know the Terrain
Knowledge of what is under the water can give you a general idea where to target casts, depending on the various conditions for the best opportunity to find big ones from the bank.
Stalk while on the Move
Make sure to scout the area, when you move up and down the lake. Many times when a fish follows your swimbait but not bite, go back later to that spot. Always be on the lookout to have more success with big swimbaits.
Umbrella Rig for Swimbait Fishing
Another great application of the smaller paddle tail swimbaits is in Umbrella Rig. This rig is used to mimic a school of baitfish. No matter how gawky and inelegant the umbrella rig might look on dry land, it completely metamorphoses itself into an extraordinary true to life imitation of a small school of baitfish when underwater.
Based on the type of fish you are aiming for, you might want to swathe your umbrella rig with weedless plastics, swimbaits on small jig heads or flashy metal spoons. Let’s go through some tips on how to fish with casting umbrella rigs, in particular though to single swimbait fishing:
Experiment with bait size and shape. The baits you choose really matter, so feel free to experiment with different sizes and colours of baits, but always try to match the hatch.
- Spin the fish out: In the variation of the umbrella rig – with the willow leaf blades – a spinner could help slow down the rig and help in locking the bass on its target. It’s a fact that deep, cold-water bass are especially susceptible to spinners.
- Fish deeper: The umbrella rig has the advantage of drawing fish in from far away. In order to capitalize on its drawing power, try fishing a bit lower in the depths, but keep the rig above any snags.
- Let it fall: Do not fall for the assumption that with a castable umbrella rig, you need to emulate trolling, instead try letting the rig pendulum down a drop, which has proven to be highly effective.
- Fish it near cover: In order to get to fishes that exist near large stumps and brush piles, you’re going to have put in the extra effort in getting good line-ups on your dead grass edges etc. which can be tricky to do without being stuck.
- Slow your roll: While you could catch fish on an umbrella rig by just winding it, the best of anglers like to mix up the retrieve motion by changing the speed, mixing in some twitches or pops since these changes of pace are what often turn followers into strikes.
Swimbait Fishing is now so popular that it has carved out its own special niche in the world of fishing. Ardent anglers have become so addicted to hooking monster fish that they desire to be equipped with an armoury of tackle and swimbaits are turning out to be a top choice for them.
Even with all these great techniques and the vast amount of knowledge, it’s still better to experiment and try to figure out new ways to utilize swimbaits. The next time you find yourself throwing a swimbait, keep these things in mind while trying to come up with some new swimbait presentations that may help you catch more fish.