Swimbaits – How and When to Use Them
By P.J. Pahygiannis
Is there anything worse than being in a tournament throwing a swimbait and having countless bass come up and nudge the bottom of it? What about a bass who warily follows your swimbait back to the boat only to pounce on it just as your bait is coming out of the water?
The reward for your efforts when it comes to throwing a swimbait for a day could be amazing. Taking the chance to throw a swimbait on your home body of water for a day can be very rewarding, but only if you’re committed to catching the biggest bass in the lake. Then again, your chances may go up slightly if your home waters contain large trout or other large baitfish, which require even bigger swimbaits to imitate them.
According to three-time Bassmaster winner and Bassmaster Elite Series competitor James Niggemeyer, when it comes to swimbaits, he has this to say about why they work so well. “It has a tremendous visual appeal to bass and has the ability to draw fish from long distances to strike because of its natural look and action. Why swimbaits work so well when it comes to catching big bass is that it works well in deeper water on structure when used with a lead head like a Strike King Redfish Magic Flats jig head. I have done well with it and it’s become really popular lately on an umbrella rig. I tend to use a keeper called a Change-up or a weighted hook when I need it to be more weedless.”
Former Bassmaster Elite series competitor and Bassmaster Open champion Paul Hirosky thinks that the swimbait is beautiful in many different ways. “Here comes the beauty of the swimbait. Fewer but bigger bites, the ‘money’ bites. No wasting time catching, culling, re-rigging with smaller fish. Swimbaits let you cover water quickly at different depths while appealing to the biggest fish in the area.”
Niggemeyer and Hirosky both talked about what parts of the country and what conditions swimbaits work the best in.
Both anglers agreed that they will work in clear to moderately stained water. “The Shadalicious is very versatile for a lot of applications, though it is best in clear to moderately stained water,” Niggemeyer said. He also says swimbaits are really good in all stages of the spawn.
In many of the waters around Hirosky’s home in Pennsylvania, he has also found some of the same success that he had with swimbaits back in the western states, even though Pennsylvania does not have the numbers or the size of Trophy bass that the western states he visited do.
“After I was exposed to swimbaits in California at a few Elite Series stops I couldn't wait to get home to PA and try them. Within days of getting home I was catching them here with the same baits as out in Cali. So they do have applications just about everywhere when you need a big bite.”
Why are they better?
Swimbaits definitely have an advantage over some of the more traditional baits. “I think it helped boost the weights in some of the tournaments and made more guys big fish hunters instead of numbers catchers,” Hirosky said.
The way a swimbait looks and moves is a large and important factor as well. “It has great action, realistic look, a wide variety of colors and is made of a nice plastic material for which this bait is designed for,” Niggemeyer said, while referring to the Strike king Shadalicious.
Swimbaits are another important tool when it comes to having the power to draw bass out of crystal clear water. “It’s one of the best baitfish imitators in clear water and when fish are keyed on bait,” Niggemeyer said.
The right combination
To effectively use and get the most out of swimbaits it takes the right equipment. You need equipment that can handle the size of the swimbait you’re throwing, but can also handle the cover in which you’re fishing.
Hirosky does not use just one combination when it comes to throwing swimbaits. “There are lots of different combos I use, based on size and conditions, but I will give you the most common. I use a seven-foot six inch Medium-Heavy All-Star rod with a Chronarch reel, and fifteen-pound Seaguar Fluorocarbon line.”
There is not just one set-up that is correct for fishing swimbaits. There are several that are on the market that have different actions and purposes when it comes to swimbait fishing. “I use a seven-foot St. Croix Legend Tournament Medium rod, Ardent Edge Elite reel (6:5 to1 gear ratio) and anywhere between twelve and twenty-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon line depending on the size and cover I am fishing around,” says Niggemeyer.
Successes and Memories
When it comes to where Hirosky has had his most successes and has had the best luck with swimbaits, it all goes back to the 2007 Bassmaster Elite series event on Clear Lake. “I still think it goes back to the second day of the Elites Series event on Clear Lake, when I just stopped resisting and halfway through the day started throwing that thing around and totally committed to it. That was kind of like the ‘first kiss’ moment for me that I'll never forget.”
Niggemeyer still remembers his biggest limit on a swimbait very well. “Usually they play a role or have complimented my bag in some way, however if I recall correctly I caught like a twenty-one or twenty-two pound bag in a BASS Elite event on day two on Guntersville; all on swimbaits. The biggest was around six pounds.”
Ever since swimbaits showed their power on Clear Lake back when the Elite Series visited there in 2007, hundreds, if not thousands of swimbaits have appeared on the market. When deciding what type of swimbait to throw and choosing between hard swimbaits, soft swimbaits, or hollow-belly swimbaits, it can be a tough choice.
“I don't like hard swimbaits. I don't know why, but I just don't. As far as hollow-belly versus other soft swimbaits, it's just a matter of conditions, and what I am trying to accomplish, and where I am fishing, geographically and on a given body of water. My favorite is the Basstrix,” Hirosky says.
James Niggemeyer favors the Strike king Shadalicious as his swimbait of choice. Three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half inches are my favorite sizes, though I have caught fish on all sizes. The Shadalicious is my favorite swim bait. I like the head and tail shake, or wobble, as it’s reeled through the water. My favorite colors are Green Gizzard and Blue Gizzard,” Niggemeyer says.
When choosing which size swimbait to throw on any given day, it’s best to base it on the size of the bass you are looking to catch. “Size to me is a function of the size of fish you want to catch. Every step-up in size increases the odds of bigger bites but eliminates a percentage of smaller bites. That's not saying small baits don't catch giant bass sometimes,” said Hirosky.
When choosing which color swimbait to throw once you get out on the lake, the conditions should dictate your choice. “Color is a function of water clarity, forage, or effect. An example is using the Mattlures Bluegill for spawning bass. Swim it through the bed or sit it there and it is awesome. Most of the time I am trying to replicate the local shad on the lake,” Hirosky said.
When it comes to choosing what weight swimbait you should use, it depends on depth, and how much action you want the bait to have. “I like to use the lightest amount possible to give the lure the most mobility and action. Something like a 1/8, 3/32, 1/4 all the way to 3/8th ounce being the heaviest. Typically I use heavier for deeper depths and structure,” says Niggemeyer.
When you find what type of cover the bass are holding to on the particular day that you are fishing swimbaits, it’s possible to catch some huge bass. Hirosky’s biggest five-bass limit caught in a tournament on a swimbait weighed an amazing twenty-five pounds.
“I fish swimbaits just about anywhere and everywhere. Above grass, around wood, scattered pads, open water, docks, even for smallmouth. Generally I fish them in less than twelve feet of water but have caught schoolers over open water in forty-plus feet. They are great from pre-spawn right through the fall. It is easier to say when not to use try them. My least success seems to be during post-frontal conditions and in muddy water,” says Hirosky.
If you can put all the pieces of the puzzle together and find the right combination, swimbaits can be deadly. “In the spring you can fish it for pre-spawn fish all the way to post-spawn for fry-guarding fish. Works well around the shad spawn and bluegill beds also. Fall...it’s great for fish that have made the fall migration to the backs of creeks and are chasing shad,” says Niggemeyer.
Anglers are tinkerers by nature, and Paul Hirosky is just that. After he started fishing Hollow-belly swimbaits he came up with a few modifications. “I like to cut a slit in the head and put a lead tube head in it, 3/8 or ½ ounce and glue it back closed. It casts a mile and I use it for schoolers or to work down steep banks and bluffs. I like to add little thin glass rattles inserted into the plastic. Especially if the water is a little more stained. I will attach a thin plastic tube (like you get with a can of WD-40) to a can of aerosolized fish-scent like Bang shad-scent and spray it into the back of a hollow swimbait. The scent stays longer and trickles out.”
Swimbaits are here to stay, but it takes a strong will by the fisherman to use them to the exclusion of the smaller bite. My thanks to James Niggemeyer and to Paul Hirosky for providing so much valuable information.