Small Swimbaits for Big Bass

Fishing Lures
Brands like Keitech have a host of different small swimbaits and in many great colors to match the forage.
Brands like Keitech have a host of different small swimbaits in many great colors to match the forage.

When the topic of swimbait fishing comes up, many immediately think of giant trout imitating baits that require heavy, specialized gear just to cast them. However, there is much more to swimbait fishing, and small swimbaits have become one of the hottest ways to catch bass.

The small swimbaits have the same action and ability to imitate baitfish as the bigger baits do, but they are small enough to be fished with standard bass tackle. They can appeal to bass of all sizes, including big largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, and they work in many different situations.


How Small Are We Talking?

The size of swimbaits you are using and whether or not you consider them big or not likely depends on where you live and your experience with swimbaits. Still, anything less than four inches long should be universally accepted as a small swimbait.

Countless brands produce them, including the popular Keitech FAT Swing Impact and similar baits from other companies. Z-Man also has some great options in that size range, including the Diesel MinnowZ and Slim SwimZ, which produce fish for anglers who use them.

With the popularity of this style of fishing, there are no rods designed specifically for them, including this model from G. Loomis.
With the popularity of this style of fishing, there are no rods explicitly designed for them, including this model from G. Loomis.

These baits are often fished on basic round ball jigheads as light as 1/8-ounce or as heavy as 3/8-ounce. The jigheads in this range will have hooks that are small enough to rig a small swimbait without hindering the action yet big enough to tangle with large bass. Deciding between different sizes of jigheads primarily depends on the depth you are planning to fish, but going to heavier or lighter sizes will also affect the bait's action. It can alter the natural rolling motion as the lure is retrieved. It's always good to experiment with different jigheads and sizes to dial in the bite for that day.

As with all fishing lures, selecting the right color can be simplified down to matching the color to what the bass are eating and paying attention to water clarity. This is a highly visual technique where bass can see the bait from a long distance and begin to track it before pouncing, so relatively clear water is essential. Light penetration from the sky conditions and depth are other factors to consider. Solid colors do best in deeper water and on cloudy days, while translucent and more natural hues excel on calm days, in ultra-clear water and when the sun is shining bright.

Small Swimbait Gear

Since the small swimbaits are generally fished on lightweight heads, spinning tackle is a great choice, and a medium-action rod around seven feet long will be a solid choice to fish them effectively and still make great casts. Paired with a quality spinning reel, you can't go wrong. They can also be fished on lightweight baitcasting setups, including crankbait rods, with a light fluorocarbon line and a reel capable of casting a light bait a reasonable distance.

Professional angler Luke Clausen relies heavily on small swimbaits as the water gets cold each fall and uses them well into winter.
Spotted bass love small swimbaits.

Fishing a small swimbait requires a rod, reel, and line setup that can cast them effectively a long distance. Finding the right pairing for you will increase your odds of landing fish since a longer casting distance will allow you to cover more water effectively and enable the bait to get further down into the water column. A quality braided line like Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green with a fluorocarbon leader will give you excellent casting distance and the feel to detect light bites.

When and Where to Fish Small Swimbaits

There is no textbook answer as to when and where to fish these little swimbaits, but there are certain situations where they are a great choice. These include times of the year when baitfish are small such as late fall and well into winter. Matching the size of the forage with a small swimbait is a surefire way to get bites when the fish are eating tiny shad and other baitfish.

While these small baits will surely catch largemouth bass, they are exceptional for smallmouth and spotted bass. If you are fishing clear water with either of these two species present, a small swimbait is always a good choice.

Other prime times for small swimbaits are during extreme temperatures, both in the dead of summer when fish are lethargic and during frigid temperatures when the bass are also not as active.

Fishing Small Swimbaits

Spotted bass love small swimbaits.
Professional angler Luke Clausen relies heavily on small swimbaits as the water gets cold each fall and uses them well into winter. 

Since the baits are designed to "swim" and appear like a small fish, much of the work and action of the bait is built right in, and simply casting and retrieving the bait is the only requirement. A standard straight retrieve is needed to get the bait to kick and swim through the water column. One adjustment is to vary your speed from a slow crawl to a much quicker retrieve, but there is a fine line for speed, as fishing them too fast will often cause the bait to roll and appear unnatural.

These small baits are so good at imitating small shad, finding baitfish activity is another sign of when to use them. They can be fished at virtually any depth, and watching your electronics and counting the bait down to the depth of the baitfish and bass activity is a great way to connect with bass on small swimbaits. As obvious as it sounds, being around active fish is the best way to ensure success when swimbait fishing, as these baits' natural action and diminutive size will do the rest of the work. Putting yourself in the right areas with the help of your electronics is the single best way to have success with small swimbaits.

The small swimbait has become a staple for bass anglers everywhere. They work just as well as the bigger models and appeal to bass looking for an easy meal from a small baitfish. Fishing these baits is a great way to get bites in tough conditions, but it is also a gateway to bigger swimbaits and more advanced ways to use swimbaits of all sizes.

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