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Swim Lessons: Get the Most Out of Your Swim Jig this Spring

Crankbaits wobble, jerkbaits suspend and spinnerbaits spin. But if your jig doesn't swim, you're missing out.

Swim Lessons: Get the Most Out of Your Swim Jig this Spring

Will Davis Jr. (right) notes he fishes a swim jig faster than most, opting for a reel with an 8.1:1 retrieve ratio. (Photo courtesy of WIll Davis)

We'll likely never know the identity of the first angler who swam a jig and caught a bass doing it. He or she was probably simply winding the bait back to the boat after what started as an unsuccessful cast. But whoever it was that discovered jigs could swim started a new bass fishing revolution.

No less an angler than the legendary Billy Westmoreland regularly swam a hair jig and pork trailer (a "fly and rind," as he called it) in the depths of gin-clear Dale Hollow Lake in search of big smallmouths. But that's not the same swimming technique we're covering here.

This is all about swimming a jig and soft-plastic trailer for shallow (8 feet or less) bass. It's a technique that's been refined a lot since the 1970s and has really gained prominence in the past decade. Today, if you're not well-versed in swim jigs, you're just not getting all you can out of this versatile bait.

Angle with 2 bass
Will Davis believes a swim jig is only as good as its components, as evidenced by the jigs that carry his name. (Photo courtesy of WIll Davis)

IN THE BEGINNING

William Davis is a lifelong angler, a lure designer and manufacturer and the true father of modern swim jig fishing. Admittedly, he wasn’t the first to swim a jig—that must’ve happened shortly after the jig was invented—but he was the first to manufacture a jig designed specifically for swimming, and he did it when he was still in high school.

William started Davis Bait Company in Sylacauga, Ala., in 1978, when he was just 16 years old. One of the first products he produced was a swim jig, and he’s been making them ever since. "Back in 1977," Davis says, "I was fishing Lake Martin, near my home, and crawling a jig through shoreline cover. Fishing was slow, but I got a good bite after I started reeling my bait in to make another cast. When that happened again I knew I was onto something."

That “something” was swimming a jig, and although many others have stumbled upon the method, too, Davis went to work on it. He created the baits, carefully selected his rod, reel, line and trailers, and turned the retrieve into an actual technique. Some might even call it a bass fishing philosophy.

"A jig-and-trailer is just about the perfect bass lure," Davis says. "It mimics a lot of bass forage, from baitfish to crawfish. It can be fished from top to bottom. It can be fished fast or slow. Your hook-up percentage is high if you use the right gear. And it catches big fish. When you’re swimming a jig, you eliminate the one thing most people don’t like about jig fishing—the slowness. But when you swim a jig, you can cover a lot of water fast."

If that sounds like the perfect spring lure, it is. When asked about some of the best swim jig anglers he knows, Davis mentions tournament standouts Bill Lowen, Greg Vinson and Russ Lane. He also mentions his son, Will Jr. The younger Davis is 30 years old and an up-and-comer on the tournament trail.

In a few years, you’ll likely hear his name mentioned among the top pros. In fact, he won the 2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, earning a slot in the 2023 Bassmaster Classic.




QUALITY COUNTS

As the elder Davis sees it, there are six things to look for in a swim jig:

  1. Balance. It must swim straight in the water.
  2. A good weed guard that’s not too stiff and not too light. It must fend off grass and brush without reducing hook-ups.
  3. A premium hook. Davis swim jigs feature Gamakatsu hooks with a 30-degree bend to maximize hook-up rates.
  4. A full skirt to increase buoyancy. A thin skirt causes the bait to sink faster and run deeper than you generally want it to run.
  5. A good trailer keeper to hold your trailer in place so you can fish the bait without spending a lot of time fussing with it.
  6. A powder-coat finish on the jig head that’s durable and resists chipping.

Naturally, Davis jigs meet all these criteria because Davis helped to create the standard more than 40 years ago. Today, Davis Bait Company offers a swim jig for every situation. The show pony of the lineup is the latest offering, the Beast, which features a premium forged hook and a weed guard for the kind of cover that bass seem to frequent.

Angle with 2 bass
Will Davis believes a swim jig is only as good as its components, as evidenced by the jigs that carry his name. (Photo courtesy of WIll Davis)

TAIL WAGGING THE DOG

With the right swim jig tied on, the angler’s next task is selecting the best soft-plastic trailer for the situation. The Davises believe in keeping it simple. Each of them relies on just three trailer styles for all his swim jig fishing.

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For Senior, it’s a Big Bite Baits Pro Swimmer 3.8 paddletail swimbait when he wants his lure to imitate a shad, a NetBait Paca Chunk when he wants an emphatic kicking action (usually in warm weather) and a homemade twin-tail grub, which gets the call most of the time. For those same three scenarios, Junior opts for the Pro Swimmer, a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog and a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Ramtail, respectively.

In the spring, both tend to go with the Pro Swimmer and twin-tail more than a trailer with a wild, kicking action, but if the water’s warm enough and the fish are active enough, they’ll certainly try the Paca Chunk and Fighting Frog.

Their trailers’ colors complement the jigs, and they favor a black-and-blue Beast for a lot of their swim jig fishing. "Black-and-blue is ideal if the water’s stained," Davis Jr. says, "but if it’s clear, I like a bream-colored jig and trailer. If shad are active, a white jig and trailer is my go-to."

DANCE IT

The Davis boys don’t just swim a jig, they make their jigs dance by shaking the rod tip vigorously throughout the retrieve, especially when using a chunk or twin-tail trailer. They call it “dancing” a jig, but a legion of other swim jiggers call it the “Alabama shake” since the retrieve—like the swim jig itself—seems to have originated in the Heart of Dixie.

“I dance the jig about 90 percent of the time,” Davis Sr. says, and Will’s numbers are similar. Junior dances a swim jig whenever he’s fishing around trees or grass, but prefers a steady, do-nothing retrieve when using a paddletail trailer to mimic a shad.

Ultimately, of course, the fish are always right, and the Davises will experiment with their retrieves until they determine just the right pace and pulse for that day and time. What might surprise a lot of anglers just getting started with swim jigs is that 90 percent of the Davises’ strikes come when fishing the jig within sight—just inches or maybe a couple of feet below the surface.

THE RIGHT GEAR

Swimming a jig is not for the faint of heart or the light of tackle. The Davises beef up their gear when throwing a swim jig and believe that going too light is one reason beginners struggle with learning the technique.

“Unless the water’s extremely clear,” Davis Sr. says, “I throw a swim jig on 65-pound-test Daiwa J-Braid. I spool it on a Daiwa Tatula SV TW casting reel with a 7.1:1 gear ratio and 7-foot 4-inch, medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula rod that has plenty of backbone and a fast tip."

Will’s choices are much the same, but he likes the faster Tatula SV TW (8.1:1). "I probably fish a swim jig a little faster than most," Will says, "and the higher gear ratio helps."

During the retrieve, both anglers keep their rods high—10 o’clock or so. They’re constantly shaking the rod tip as the bait comes through or over cover like grass and wood, but when the bait clears the cover, they stop it and let it fall, often into the mouth of a good fish.

The "shake" might seem subtle when watching the Davises’ hands, but if you look at the rod tip, it’s moving 6 inches or more up and down, back and forth, while the jig pulses as it moves through the water. It’s an attention getter.

SINK OR SWIM

Short or missed strikes can be the bane of swim jiggers.

Like anyone who has ever thrown a swim jig, both William and WIll Davis have experienced their share of missed fish over the years, but offer a couple tricks that can increase your hookup percentages. "If a bass misses my jig," says Davis Sr., "I kill it and let it fall to the bottom. Then I like to hop it very gently. Most of the time, that bass will come back and eat it."

Junior’s tip says a lot about his fishing style. He’s a power fisherman and likes to fish his swim jig fast. "I prefer short casts to really long ones—25 yards rather than 50 yards," Will says. "And I keep my trolling motor on high and cover a lot of water until I find the fish. I focus on the best-looking cover and might only make three casts in a hundred feet. Shorter casts keep your line length short, letting you put more power into the hookset, resulting in more hooked fish than with longer casts."

These tactics have reaped lots of rewards for the Davises, and they’ll work for you, too.

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