Swimbait Secrets Of The Pros

Drag it on the bottom like a dead fish. Stuff weights in its belly or add hooks. Whatever you do, fish your swimbaits like nobody else to keep those lures worth their price tag. (February 2008).

Photo by Chris Shaffer.

Western U.S. anglers consider a few boats on one end of a lake to be too many anglers. But in Japan, wall-to-wall anglers on the shore and in boats are constant obstacles to locating great bass fishing.

Matt Paino, a tackle company rep, saw this phenomenon in person after traveling to Japan and seeing the race to catch world-class bass with swimbaits. Although the frenzy was a little unsettling, he brought back several valuable tips on how to overcome fishing pressure.


Topping the list is drop-shotting larger swimbaits, such as a 6-inch suspending Optimum, Paino said. The feat is accomplished by casting the swimbait and slowly dragging it in, shaking as you would when drop-shotting a worm.

"You are slowing down your approach. The swimbait is going to be in the zone a lot longer," said Paino, whose swimbait company has sold well over 1 million swimbaits worldwide. "You are holding your rod at 11 o'clock and shaking it. How quickly you move it changes depending on the situation."

Guys are drop-shotting swimbaits all over the West now, said Paino. A lot of guys like to do it when the shad are balling up, but it can work any time of year.

Drop-shotting swimbaits is one of several techniques that anglers are being forced to learn to keep up with the swimbait revolution. Altering swimbaits has become the main tactic for many successful swimbait anglers.



While doing so properly is still a secret to the masses, a small group of anglers report success by adding weight to their baits.

It's best to add a quarter to three-quarters of an ounce of weight to rubber and plastic swimbaits, said Randy McAbee, one of the top anglers in the West on the FLW Circuit.

"For me, it's probably weight," said McAbee, who has won five tournaments in the past two years. "That's how I catch more fish with swimbaits. You have to add and modify the weight to get them down.

"The fish are always looking up at them, but they are never looking down at them. Before swimbait fishing was really popular, they'd see something swimming and they'd go up and grab. But now they are more conditioned to that."

The swimbait craze began more than 20 years ago in Southern California. The technique stayed pinned to the region until a few years ago, when anglers throughout the West began tossing the lures. As the fad spread, bass in states to the north have become conditioned to trout-like swimbaits. But the fishing pressure in Northern California, Oregon and Washington has been minimal compared to Southern California.

Regardless of where they fish swimbaits in the West, anglers have to try new techniques, alter baits and toss the expensive swimbaits in areas they normally wouldn't, said tournament pro Gary Dobyns.

"You can't worry about losing $40 baits anymore," he said. "You are going to have to fish that swimbait through the rocks and trees and you are going to lose some.

"That's part of the game. You've got to fish it in the places you don't want to because you don't want to lose the bait. But it's what you are going to have to do to catch fish."


Trailer hooks have become another vital part of increasing success with swimbaits. Historically, anglers littered the baits with large treble hooks, some on multiple portions of the bait. Due to immense fishing pressure on well-known bass waters, standard trailer hooks can decrease catch rates.

"Those fish are conditioned now," said Dobyns. "We were putting an extra three trebles on the swimbaits, but the fish won't bite it anymore. "We have to use smaller hooks. We can't modify it the way we were."

Dobyns recommended that anglers use lighter line and fish the way that SoCal guys do.

"We're going to have to fish them uphill, through brush -- heck, in places we would have never fished them before."

The days of throwing them, reeling them right across the top and watching bass jump all over them are gone, he said. "They don't do that stuff anymore."



Swimbaits -- especially the better-looking models like the Huddleston and Castaic Platinum baits -- still convince trophy bass to feed. The difference between now and a few years ago is most of the trophy bass have seen every swimbait on the planet cruise by their faces, repeatedly. These bass are educated.

As an angler, you'll find success by presenting a swimbait to the bass in a way they haven't seen before says Steve La Russa, who has successfully managed a popular West Coast tackle shop for several years.

"It is getting a lot tougher to catch fish on swimbaits," said La Russa, "but guys are still doing it every day. Guys are throwing a lot more swimbaits as a rule now. Instead of just a few days doing it, everyone is throwing them. Right now, it's ridiculous how many swimbaits we sell. I try to still think outside of the box."

Your traditional swimbait guy is going to go to a point and fish it. You have to mix it up. Vary the retrieve. Instead of just reeling it in, twitch it. Reeling it in and twitching it a little bit will really cause a reaction from bass, said La Russa.


step in the right direction is mastering the notion of focusing on the middle portion of the water column, rather than the surface and bottom as most anglers do. Trophy bass are accustomed to seeing swimbaits gliding on the surface and being twitched along the bottom. Yet anglers often ignore the mid-section, as well as places where many people would never think of tossing them, like in trees, tules and rocks.

"The average guy is going to throw swimbaits in the top 20 feet of water," adds La Russa. "Use your skills to put it in an area that many guys won't because they don't have the confidence to, and because they are afraid to lose the bait. That's where you are going to be successful."


Some anglers

-- like veteran bass guide John Gray, who focuses on smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass in the West -- apply even more unorthodox techniques.

Gray fishes swimbaits the same way he fishes a Texas-rigged worm.

"I just drag it along the bottom," he said.

Ever seen a wounded or dying fish that flops along the bottom for three or four feet, and then stops? That's exactly how he works his big bait.

"They're irresistible that way. It's because it's such easy prey for a big bass," he said.

Gray said he doesn't know why more guys don't fish them this way. They need to try it.

"I want the bass thinking it's looking at a kokanee or trout that's been attacked by a bass or a brown or whatever, and is just trying to escape. He's hurt, wounded, and I'm trying imitate that with my swimbait."


Another fad that's quickly gaining popularity is using swimbaits other than trout-imitation-style baits. They aren't the only swimbaits that are effective. Most waters in the West contain shad, shiners, minnows, pike minnows, kokanee, smaller trout and other forage. Anglers are quickly learning that casting imitations along these lines is a sure way to hook bass as well.

"A lot of the articles written are talking about swimbaits as a trout imitation," said Paino. "But that's not just the case anymore. Guys in areas that don't have trout in lakes are adapting to lakes that have shad and shiners. A swimbait doesn't have to be a trout to catch bass."



Many anglers are intimidated by swimbaits, which tend to be larger than any bass bait they've thrown in the past.

"Guys even wonder if a bass will eat the swimbait," says Kent Brown, a popular seminar speaker in the West and pro bass angler. "The average bass guy is totally intimidated by the swimbait.

"For one thing, the average bass guy doesn't even own a rod to throw the bait. Guys use a striper rod or a bigger rod and are trying to improvise, but you can't do that."

Choosing enough backbone in a rod to handle swimbaits is imperative. Yet fishing them with confidence is equally important.

"One thing that I've been doing a lot of in my seminars is really starting guys in the whole swimbait deal by finesse swimbait fishing," Brown said. "It's baby-swimbait fishing, it's the small 3- to 5- or 6-inch baits.

"A lot of times, the anglers will take the next step, and the next step might be a more expensive bait, maybe 5 to 10 inches long. But if you don't have a lot of experience with big swimbaits, the best way to learn is to start out small."

The surest way to generate success with swimbaits is to build confidence. More bites tend to come with smaller baits. You can start with smaller, less expensive swimbaits and gradually increase in price and size as your ability to fish them improves.

"The easiest way to build confidence is to get some bites," said Brown. "Go out there and make 1,500 casts with a swimbait in the course of the day. You might have days where you won't get a bite, but you'll get more with the smaller swimbaits.

"But when a 10-pounder turns a Huddleston inside out, the lights go on, and you'll want to throw a swimbait all the time."


Why haven't most anglers applied techniques that Paino, Dobyns, McAbee, La Russa, Gray and Brown talk about? There's a good reason -- they haven't had to. Simply casting and retrieving has always worked in the past.

Unfortunately, as more anglers heave swimbaits on a daily basis, bass will continue to smarten up. You'll always need to find an approach that these fish haven't seen before, unless you target waters that aren't overrun by anglers, or in portions of the West that aren't overfished by tournament bass anglers.

A few years ago, the concepts the Japanese use to surmount overwhelming fishing pressure would seem foreign in the U.S. Now these methods are slowly catching on, as anglers on the West Coast look for techniques bass haven't figured out yet.


Award-winning author Chris Shaffer has sold more than 40,000 fishing books. He can be reached online at cshaffer@fishingcalifornia.net

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