There are many resources available to today's bass angler. However, when one wants to venture into the world of big baits, information can be scarce. In many ways, it is the nature of the beast. Knowledge gained chasing after these giant fish is held close to heart. I don't pretend to be an expert, but I would like to relay my experience thus far in this exciting facet of bass fishing.
I believe that you should pursue the knowledge that will catch fish on your own, but it will help if you have suitable gear in hand when that monster decides to bite. From here on out, when I refer to swimbaits, what I am talking about will be large baits over 5 inches in length and weighing no less than 2 ounces. While there are many swimbaits smaller than this, they are not the target of my writing, nor something that I feel attracts larger fish and the bigger baits. I will mention specific gear because I am familiar with it and believe in it. I am not sponsored by any company I mention and am not seeking to be sponsored either.
Your gear should work as a unit, not separate pieces. No one thing is more or less important than any other gear element. Too often, I see people costing themselves fish due to inadequate equipment. It can even be seen with anglers as high as the Elite level. Read the following sentence carefully. Your flipping stick is not a swimbait rod! Sure, it might "work" (which is a term used very loosely here), but it is in no way ideal for any swimbait other than tiny baits. This brings us to our first topic: Rods.
I have many swimbait rods of varying length, power, and action. I will list three basic swimbait rod types.
Small Bait Rod
This is the rod that I will turn to for throwing smaller plastic baits that weigh up to about 2.5 ounces and hard baits up to 8 inches in length. You are looking for a 7-foot 6-inch, or 8-foot rod considered a medium-heavy power. This designation is for swimbait rods, meaning that even though it is medium-heavy, it is still much more potent than a medium-heavy worm/jig rod. Fast action is ideal for the soft baits, and a slightly more moderate action is desirable for the hard baits, but a compromise can be found. The two rods I have experience with that I like in this class are the GLoomis BBR964C Backbounce Rod and the Okuma Big Bait Rod 7-foot 11-inch medium-heavy. These rods work well for baits like Mattlures bluegill, trout, baby bass, the 3:16 Mission fish (5-7 inch), 3:16 Wake Jr., and Baby Bass.
Big Bait Rod
This is the meat and potatoes rod of the swimbait sticks. You can get away with throwing the smaller baits mentioned above, the "average" size swimbaits, and even some of the monstrous 10+ inch baits. If there is one rod to get, it will be this one, assuming you want the ability to throw some reasonably large baits when you start.
I prefer a 7-foot 11-inch or longer rod for this rod, but there are a few 7-foot 6-inch to 7-foot 9-inch rods that also perform well. These rods have a more moderate tip that helps cast the large baits and keep the hooks planted once you hook up. As versatile as this rod can be, it is ideally suited for 6-to 8-inch soft baits weighing up to about 6 ounces and hard baits up to about 10 inches in length, although the weights of hard baits can vary depending upon bulk and building material.
I will throw a 12-inch wood bait on this rod, but it is not ideal for large polyurethane baits larger than about 9 inches. I use the Shimano Crucial Swimbait Cast Rod 7-foot 11-inch heavy the most out of this group. I have also recommended the Okuma Big Bait Rod 7-foot 11-inch heavy and 7-foot 6-inch heavy. These are great rods for the price, along with another rod by Redington, the 7911, a 7-foot 9-inch rod.
Giant Bait Rod
This is for the big dogs, the 10+ inch baits. It is a broomstick with a reel seat. I use the 7-foot 6-inch Okuma extra heavy big bait rod. The Shimano Crucial 7-foot 11-inch extra heavy performs well also. When I want to throw a 3:16 Armageddon or Wake Bait, this is the rod I use. Also useful for the giant plastics like the 10 inch Castaic SBT or 12 inch Castaic Hardhead baits and the 10 inch Stocker Trout. This is a 5-inch Senko compared to one of my 3:16 Armageddons. That is a big bait that weighs almost 8 ounces; you need a real stout rod!
That takes care of the rods, now onto reels. Too often, people use a low profile baitcaster that they have laying around and are shocked when the anti-reverse breaks or the gears themselves get trashed from all of the stress of big baits and big fish. That typically means reels initially designed for inshore and saltwater applications.
For the small bait rod, a 300 series round reel is excellent. Something like a Shimano Calcutta TE 300, Shimano Cardiff 300, or Daiwa Luna 300. 20-pound mono or fluorocarbon works great with a tight but not buttoned-down drag.
For all other swimbaits, I prefer a 400 size reel. The Shimano Calcutta TE 400, Shimano Calcutta 400B, or Shimano Cardiff 400A are great. These are all durable reels, and you should be comfortable using whichever one you can afford. The more expensive reels are indeed nice but aren't necessarily required. I have the relatively inexpensive Cardiff, and it has lasted through thousands of casts and many fish over the last year and a half with no complaints. I also own the other two, and they are excellent reels that, if properly maintained, will last a very long time. I prefer to fish these reels with 25- to 30-pound test mono with the drag very tight, which brings us to the last piece of our machine.
Some people prefer to use braid for swimbaits, and I am not one of them. I believe that the stretch of monofilament is quite beneficial, and the abrasion resistance is unmatched. In the weights listed above, I use P-Line CXX X-TRA STRONG on all my rigs. This is the perfect swimbait line—excellent abrasion resistance, excellent breaking strength, and the stretch that I like.
Swimbaits can be a fantastic world to step into for the people who are tired of doing the same old thing and catching the same little fish. Frustrating most of the time, heartbreaking sometimes, and every once in a while, the most exhilarating experience in bass fishing. If you have the desire to pursue these big fish and the determination to stick to your guns without a bite for many trips, you may be rewarded with that fish of a lifetime. Hopefully, you will have the right gear at hand.
Jay Lillpop is a purely recreational 22-year-old bass fisherman living in Northern California.