Build The Best Swim Jig Outfit, From Rod To LureBuild The Best Swim Jig Outfit, From Rod To Lure Bassmaster Elite Series anglers Jason Christie and Steve Kennedy know swim jigs are potent bass catchers. But unleashing that power requires the perfect balance of rod, reel, line, and lure. Here’s how they fish theirs.
By Pete M. Anderson
When most bass anglers dream of the quintessential place to fish, they envision a quiet stretch of shallow water filled with heavy cover such as aquatic vegetation, brush, and laydowns. That perfect scenario hasn’t changed much over the years. Neither have the lures they’d use to attack it — with a couple notable additions. One of those is a swim jig.
Built like the traditional bottom-bouncing version — lead head, hook, skirt, and trailer — swim jigs are fished around cover and high in the water column. “It’s a subtle spinnerbait,” said Bassmaster Elite Series angler Jason Christie, who used one to win the 2014 Elite Series stop at Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle with 72 pounds and 3 ounces. He said swim jigs are perfect in clear water, where a natural looking lure that moves fast will generate reaction strikes from bass that can’t get a good look at it. “That is where a swim jig really shines,” he said. And they aren’t dull in dirty water, either.
Fellow Bassmaster Elite Series angler, Steve Kennedy, also is familiar with the power of swim jigs, especially when it comes to catching big bass. “Every lake we fish has a year class [of bass] that we all are fishing for,” he said. “So, one bigger fish will separate you [from the field]. Two or three and you’re in top 10.” He used a swim jig to catch more than a couple of those in 2017, when he won the Elite Series tournament on Dardanelle with 63 pounds and 12 ounces.
Christie’s biggest bass on a swim jig was a largemouth that weighed about 8 pounds. But he doesn’t see swim jigs as a one-species wonder. He uses them to catch plenty of smallmouth, too. “A lot of those smallies up North hang with and act like largies,” he said.
Kennedy finds the best swim jig bite during post spawn, when the water is between 68 and 75 degrees, the shad spawn is on, and bass are ready to chase. But that’s not the only time he picks one up. It works anytime and anyplace where bass are holed up in heavy cover. He’ll even reach for one when the water is cold. He’s seen it produce when the water temperature is in the 40s, as long as it coincides with a strong warming trend that is inviting bass to shallow water.
With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why Christie and Kennedy frequently fish swim jigs. Through that amount of use, each has developed a perfect setup for fishing them, making them even more productive. Knowing and applying those details will improve your swim jig fishing. So, here are their perfect outfits — rod, reel, line, and lure — for fishing swim jigs.
Water clarity determines which of two ways that Christie fishes a swim jig. When the water is clear, he’ll make long casts, swimming it back a couple of feet deep. All bass have to do is see it to eat it, so he moves it fast. As water clarity diminishes, he shortens his casts to pitches, making it easier to keep his swim jig moving slowly while remaining high in the water column. He said a swim jig will catch bass in really dirty water, but you need to fish it in shallow water, where bass have a better chance of feeling its presence.
Each of Christie’s swim-jig presentations demand a specific rod. When he’s casting a swim jig, he uses a 7-foot 3-inch Falcon rod. “I keep the rod at about 11 o’clock, keeping [the swim jig] really high in the [water] column,” he said. “Most of the bites you’ll get aren’t visible bites. I want [a rod] with a little bit of [a slower-action] tip to let the fish get my jig in its mouth.” That delay as the rod loads up gives bass time to inhale the jig and turn sideways before the hook moves on the set.
Christie’s second swim jig rod is Falcon’s Cara pitching and swimbait rod, which also measure 7 feet and 3 inches. The rod sports a faster tip than his casting rod. “A lot of these bites I can see, so I can give them a half second [to inhale the swim jig before setting the hook],” he said.
Kennedy keeps things simple, employing one rod for his swim jig fishing. “My favorite setup is a 7-and-a-half-foot extra-heavy rod,” he said. It matches his swim-jig approach: heavy gear for heavy-weight bass in heavy cover.
Christie matches his reels to his rods. He uses an 8.3:1 Lew’s Super Duty baitcasting reel on his pitching rod. He slows down a bit when casting a swim jig, choosing one with a 7.5:1 gear ratio. Some of the difference can be attributed to line management. The time he saves retrieving his jig at the end of a pitch can be applied to making more pitches, and thus more chances for bites, during the course of a day.
At first glance, it looks like Kennedy choses a reel that’s slower than either of Christie’s choices. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Kennedy’s Shimano reels feature a 6:1 gear ratio and spools that are larger in diameter than most others. The latter means more line is retrieved on each revolution, matching the retrieve speed of reels with faster gear ratios but smaller spools.
Christie matches his line — pound test and material — to the presentation. He uses braided line, either 30- or 50-pound test Sunline, when casting a swim jig. It has nearly no stretch, providing sensitivity and solid hooksets, even at the end of a long cast. And he goes without a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader, feeling bass don’t watch line as much as many anglers believe.
Christie uses 25-pound test Sunline fluorocarbon line on his pitching rod. “It’s one of those deals where I am going to see them bite, and I’m going to hit them as hard as I can, and I don’t want the line to break,” he said. “Everything has gotten so crisp — the rods, the braid with no stretch — something has to give.” Fluorocarbon line has slightly more stretch than braid, providing the cushion he wants. A slower-action rod provides that cushion when casting. “And when you get them that high [in the water column], they aren’t going to drag you down into the cover,” he said. So, there’s no need to turn to more abrasion resistant braided line.
Kennedy combines line materials, adding a few feet of 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader to a 65-pound test main line. Besides blending into the surroundings better, he feels the heavy fluorocarbon leader is needed to thwart breaking off bass on hooksets and better managing the heavier swim jigs that he usually throws. “When you get those big bites, you can’t afford for anything to go wrong,” he said.
Jig and trailer
Many anglers gravitate toward lighter weight swim jigs, believing they are easier to keep closer to the surface. Kennedy goes in the opposite direction. “I’m typically swimming a 5/8- or 3/4-ounce jig,” he said. “It’s more of a flipping style jig. It comes through [cover] really well. The key to it is the drop. Most jigs don’t fall fast enough. They don’t get that reaction strike.”
Kennedy can rattle off several tournaments when he finished well with a heavy jig, swimming it quickly in between abrupt stops. “You’ll be swimming it high, fast, and hard, and when you kill it, all you see is mouth,” he said. “It’s like dropping it in a bucket. I liken it to the Crazy Ivan maneuver from the movie ‘The Hunt for Red October.’ You get a bass tracking behind it, but he won’t hit it up high. And then when it dives, he has to eat it or give up his position underneath it.”
The vertical movements that Kennedy adds to his swim jig retrieves are part of today’s tournament fishing game. “Nothing we do is just throw and reel,” he said. “Finding the cadence that [the bass] want is part of the game. It’s not the same every day. It’s not even the same hour to hour.”
Christie also isn’t particular about the type of jig he swims, as long as it weighs at least ½ ounce. “As long as you get the weight right, I think it is all about the same,” he said. He prefers a heavier jig for several reasons. “I like to move it a little bit quicker, and you have more control,” he said. “I can make that jig go up and down — bounce — with a heavier weight.” Like Kennedy, he feels that pushes bass to strike. To help them find his swim jig in dirty water, he adds rattles. Every time the jig points down or up, he said, the rattle clicks, giving bass an audible clue to its location.
Christie only uses three colors of swim jigs: green pumpkin, black and blue, and white. One of those will work in every situation, he said. He dresses each with a matching Yum Craw Chunk. He said it has a good swimming action — when one leg is up, the other one is down. “At slow speeds it’s kicking, and at high speeds it doesn’t get overrun with water and blow out,” he said.
Kennedy adds a white Zoom Super Chunk trailer to his white swim jig. That trailer might not kick as much as others on the market, but that’s okay with him. He qualifies his choice in other ways. “The jig looks like a shad, and each tail [on the chunk] looks like a shad,” he said. “It looks like a little school [of shad]. That bigger profile helps attract bigger bass.”
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