The Small-Swimbait Revelation
September 28, 2010
Four- to 6-inch swimbaits catch all sizes of bass, don't require beefy rods and won't wear you out. (May 2009)
Ed Proulx tossed a baby BaitSmith Bass and caught this 8 1/2-pounder. Try to "match the hatch" by determining what bass are feeding on. It could be shad, bluegills, trout or even baby bass.
Photo by Andrew Parsons.
I'll admit it -- I was a swimbait skeptic. Not that I didn't think they'd catch fish. I just didn't think I'd get enough bites on them to make the effort worthwhile. A couple of incidents over the last few years, though, changed all that.
The first happened in a 2004 pro-am tournament when my boater, Brian Barthman, proceeded to stick one bass after another on a 6-inch 3:16 Mission Fish. That day opened my eyes to how many quality bites these lures could garner under the right conditions.
My second revelation occurred three years later. I was fishing a team tournament with a friend, Russ Stansbury. A fellow angler introduced him to a new 6-inch swimbait known as a Baitsmith. On the tourney's first day, Stansbury caught a goggle-eyed 9.48-pounder.
But it was Day 2, however, that sealed the deal. On his third cast that morning, Russ caught an 11 1/2-pounder on the Baitsmith. Around noon, he stuck a 14.59-pounder on the same lure. We ended the day with 44.31 pounds, won the tournament and set the record for the heaviest five-fish limit ever weighed in during a Clear Lake event.
Along with his three kickers, Russ caught several more in the 5- to 6-pound range, reinforcing the fact that these baits can produce the fish of a lifetime but also numbers of solid bass as well. I had seen the light.
Obviously, I'm not the only one who has been won over to small swimbaits. Downsized versions have exploded in popularity over the last several years. Tournament anglers increasingly rely on them for quality, and those out for fun discover how productive they really can be.
We interviewed some of the leaders of this small-swimbait revolution. We compiled their views on why these lures are so effective and learned how even casual anglers can work them into their arsenals.
Lure designer Matt Servant, pro Bill Siemantel of "The Big Bass Zone," Baitsmith co-founder Eric Smith, and trophy hunter Matt Allen offer their thoughts on how to use these baits to increase the number of quality bass you're catching. And, in case you were wondering, these lures are also deadly on those sometimes-elusive post-spawners, particularly the larger females that have recently left their nests.
LITTLE BIG BAITS
Bill Siemantel is a highly successful tournament angler and big-bass specialist. He said that average anglers have been discouraged from trying swimbaits because of popular misconceptions.
"Fishermen have been misled to think you need Florida-strain largemouths and stocked trout for swimbaits to work," he said.
In Siemantel's view, that's far from the truth. He advises that even trophy-seekers shouldn't limit themselves to humongous offerings.
"Bass eat bluegills and other bass," he said. And for those still leery of throwing downsized models, Siemantel offers this thought: "The worst thing that's going to happen is you're going to end up seeing the biggest fish in the lake following your lure."
Matt Servant is well known in big-bait circles for his lifelike creations -- his best known being the Matt Lures Bluegill. In his opinion, many anglers underestimate the productivity of swimbaits, especially smaller ones, in terms of the number of bites they can attract.
"A good, small swimbait can work better than a crankbait or spinnerbait," he said. He also notes that swimbaits of reduced size can have productive windows that last all day, whereas big baits often have much smaller ones.
These baits have also been dogged by the persistent myth that they were designed exclusively for the low-percentage, high-reward big bass.
Eric Smith lives in Idaho, where forage typically runs 3 to 5 inches in length. That's one of the reasons he developed the Baitsmith.
"If I was to pick one size of lure, it would be in the 5- to 6-inch range," he said. "You get more bites throughout the day on the smaller lures. You'll still get the big bites, but you won't get worn out like you will from throwing the bigger baits."
Matt Allen has 35 bass of over 10 pounds to his credit, including a behemoth of 17 pounds, 2 ounces. He attributes the growing popularity of smaller swimbaits to a couple of factors.
"Competitive anglers understand that swimbaits are catching the quality fish you need to win tournaments," he said.
He adds that casual anglers have also taken to smaller versions. They're not forced to buy brand-new rod and reel setups from the get-go. As a result, they're more willing to give them a chance.
Allen has a few small-swimbait principles:
- Matching the hatch is important. Look at the season and what the fish are eating.</li.
- Take water conditions into consideration, too. "Wedge-tail baits like the Baitsmith and 6-inch Huddleston don't move as much water and work better when it's clear. Boot-tail designs like the 6-inch Osprey Tournament Talon work better in murkier water."
What all these anglers agree on is that, in general, one lure can't do it all. It's best to be able to work both the top and bottom of the water column, and ideally the mid-depths as well. Choosing the best bait to "match the hatch," identifying top locations, presenting the lures in a fish-tempting mode, and making sure your tackle has the moxie to get the big dawgs to the net are important as well.
According to Matt Servant, much of your swimbait decision boils down to what you're observing while you're on the water.
"After the bass spawn, there are lots of fingerling bass around. When the bluegills are off their beds, lakes are teeming with small fish. And in the summer months, trout are usually not stocked in most bass lakes," he said. "I'm not saying that trout-imitating baits won't work, but I still like to match the hatch."
Generally, bluegills are in every lake that has bass. "If you truly match the forage, you'll outfish anything. When bass are feeding on bluegills and you throw a bluegill bait, you'll get lots of bites," Servant said.
And just where on their favorite waters should anglers use these baits, particularly wh
en first trying to develop confidence in them?
And is the post-spawn, with its notoriously finicky biters, even worth a try?
There are few more devoted students of the bass-fishing game than Siemantel. He's found that an "uphill" style of fishing -- in other words, casting from shallow to deep -- works best. One interested fish will draw in more, creating what he calls a "daisy chain" effect, with the result that bass will form aggressively feeding "wolf packs."
"The post-spawn is a great time to daisy chain fish," he said. "Bring in a 4-inch bait, like the BBZ-1 Shad, nice and steady and you're going to get hammered."
JSJ Bait Co. creates the Snack Size Ghost Trout, an excellent choice when your bass feed on planter trout.
Photo courtesy of JSJ Bait Co.
Siemantel said there is another oddity of post-spawn bass. For unexplained reasons, they're attracted to structures that form T-shapes -- things like buoy lines, trees, pipes and docks. Big females will suspend beside these T's. By staying patient and remaining a good distance away, Siemantel has found he's able to catch these skittish bass.
As far as a basic swimbait arsenal, Matt Allen feels that if you're going to give it a fair shake, you should carry a couple of different models.
"Everybody needs a wake bait," he said. "I started fishing the JSJ Snack Size Trout in 2008 and really like it."
Although it's not a true wake bait, it is a floater, and by working it in a sharp, erratic fashion, it provides a different presentation than almost any other lure on the market.
"You also need a sinking swimbait," Allen said. "You can vary where it is in the water column by controlling your retrieve."
In terms of favored post-spawn locales, Allen said he looks for areas where they were spawning and from there, searches for points or the deep edges of flats.
"I almost always start off with a wake bait in the morning," said Allen. "If I can get bass to eat them, I'll throw them all day."
If the bass won't keep chewing on his surface lures, Allen goes to sinking models like the Baitsmith or Osprey Tournament Talon. Nevertheless, he'll periodically throw a wake bait to see if their interest in topwater has been rekindled.
Allen is also a fan of the Basstrix Paddletail, which he rigs on a 4/0 or 5/0 Bladerunner hook.