June 01, 2023
The blazing sun was causing me to wilt by mid-afternoon, and the offshore bite I’d been pursuing on my first bass-fishing visit to this small reservoir just wasn't coming together. Hoping to avoid the "skunk" with a change in strategy, I spied an oasis of green bushes on a distant shoreline that gave me hope for saving the day. After a short run and idle onto the flat, I fumbled through the rod locker in search of a 3/8-ounce jig-and-plastic-trailer combo on which my hopes now rested.
The move to shallow water paid off, with three bass in the 3- to 5-pound class boated and released within 30 minutes. The jig in shallow cover saved the day; however, the jig in this case never touched the lake's bottom.
Instead, I watched the suddenness of each strike occur as the jig was retrieved at a fast clip just under the surface of the water—the kind of excitement that goes hand-in-hand swim jig bass fishing.
NO FLASH, NO PROBLEM
I used to wrongly assume that any bass lure retrieved horizontally through the water needed to rattle, flash or vibrate in order to get the bass’ attention. The swim jig does none of that, which is precisely what makes it so effective, especially in clear water under bright skies and with low wind. The subtle, natural movement of the jig and trailer offers no negative cues to hinder the bass from attacking it under these conditions.
Additionally, the weedless nature of the swim jig makes it uniquely qualified to efficiently track through the thickest of cover—especially wood cover—and elicit a response from bass hunkered down in the shade during the brightest part of the day. Though my primary application for a swim jig is to work around wood cover, these same principles for locating bass with the jig apply to docks, lily pads and other aquatic vegetation. What follows is a breakdown of how this bait can produce for you all summer long.
AREAS OF INTEREST
It's well established that the majority of bass in most lakes will start to move away from the shoreline immediately after the spawn as they start to school up offshore. However, there is a smaller population of bass that will remain shallow, as long as they have adequate cover to hold them. As mentioned, I most often utilize a swim jig to target bass in wood cover (scattered buckbrush, willow bushes, etc.), as the wood offers bass excellent shade to ambush their primary shallow-water forage—bluegills.
Key areas within a lake for shallow bass in summer will typically be on or near the main body of the lake. If drawing up the perfect swim jig scenario in the summer, gradually tapering flats and points with scattered bushes in 2 to 4 feet of water are ideal. If these flats are in proximity to deeper water of 8 to 10 feet, so much the better. Another high-percentage area for bass in the summer months is any isolated wood cover located in the extreme back ends of small, shallow pockets just off the main lake. Also worth noting: Since bass need a line of sight to track the quiet movement of the swim jig, water clarity of around 12 to 18 inches is ideal, thus eliminating areas of the lake that are overly muddy.
SWIM JIG ANATOMY
Obviously, any jig can be swum on the retrieve, but the tapered head and forward line tie designed to track horizontally through the water are what separates a swim jig from other jigs. Swim jigs designated as "heavy cover" will have a heavier weed guard and a beefed-up hook intended to wrestle bass away from cover without bending or flexing. Since the jig is most often retrieved within a foot or two of the surface, jig heads of 3/8- to 1/2-ounce are preferred.
A plastic trailer is a must, as it increases the overall profile of the jig and provides the primary action to the lure during the retrieve. Trailer options range from twin-tail grubs and craws to small paddle tails. The choice in trailer style varies by angler, but twin-tail grubs offer the least amount of movement, which is sometimes preferable in extremely clear water. Craw-style trailers and paddle tails offer more "kick." Trimming a swim jig's skirt to the bend in the hook will keep it from impeding the action of the plastic trailer, as well as provide more bounce and flair to the skirt during the retrieve.
Color choice can vary, too, though I typically start with a white jig and trailer, even when the primary forage is bluegills. White is very visible to the bass and allows me to see the lure from a distance to observe their response to it. Therefore, if the bass are flashing at the white jig but not committing, changing to a shade like green pumpkin or watermelon will often do the trick. Black/blue combos are often the choice in slightly off-color or tannic water, so a handful of jigs and trailers in various colors gives you options to experiment and adjust on the fly.
Though the swim jig is an excellent lure for drawing strikes in open water, the real power of the lure is its ability to draw reaction strikes from inactive bass holding tight to cover. The concept of a "reaction strike" is to trigger bass to eat out of instinct rather than hunger. This is often accomplished with an abrupt change of direction or speed of the lure when the swim jig collides with the fish-holding cover.
This erratic action appeals to their predatory instinct to attack anything that’s vulnerable, so look to impart that action as often as possible during the retrieve. For example, when fishing the swim jig around shallow vegetation, rip the lure free when it becomes entangled in the stems and leaves. In shallow wood, deflecting the jig aggressively off the branches will provide the appearance of a disoriented and susceptible baitfish.
A tactic that's served me well around shallow wood is to make a long cast beyond the cover and use the rod tip to direct the line right through the top of the bushes when possible. If the bush is too thick to penetrate, direct the jig so it collides with an outer limb on the shady side of the bush. As the jig impacts the cover, give it a short, 1- to 2-second pause in the midst of the shade before resuming the retrieve.
When swimming the jig in summer, the clearer the water, the faster the speed of your retrieve should be. This isn’t a matter of reeling as fast as possible; however, a faster pace imitates the fleeing panic of a bluegill trying to get off the flat post-haste, further taking advantage of the bass’ predatory instinct. Surging the rod tip periodically will flair the jig skirt and add to the erratic action of the lure in between the cover. Many anglers will keep the rod tip at roughly the 10 o’clock position and gently shake the tip to impart a subtle but continuous lifelike quiver to the jig’s skirt during the retrieve.
Successful swim jigging involves grinding it out in the shallows, making hundreds of casts in search of the key cover attributes that are holding the bass. Specific targets to focus on will be anything offering an increased amount of shadow in the water, such as a smattering of leafy bushes amidst a stretch of dead ones, or brush tops with horizontal limbs as opposed to more vertical limb structures. As the pattern emerges, seek these same characteristics for the cover type in as many areas throughout the lake as possible.
Keep your eyes peeled for the presence of bluegill pods in and around the various types of cover, as bass will always be very near their food source. In the anecdote recounted at the outset, the presence of bluegill loitering under leafy green bushes as I dropped the trolling motor to start fishing immediately bolstered my confidence in the area.
Consider, also, that bass can be surprisingly shallow—even during the brightest part of the day. In addition to lounging bluegills, another attractor that draws bass into 1 to 2 feet of water is dragonflies hovering around the shallow bushes at midday. This is evidenced by bass occasionally jumping out of the water to capture them in midair. These ultra-shallow bass are often in small wolf packs and not prone to staying in the area for long periods of time. Therefore, a stick-and-move approach when covering water with the swim jig can pay dividends.
The swim jig bite is addictive. Dedicated anglers are often willing to go hours without a bite in search of that sudden flurry of action that results in a few solid bass in extremely shallow water. The strikes are very often visual and accentuated by the bass’ reckless abandon in their attempt to capture the fast-moving prey.
- Rod, reel and line recommendations for swim jigs
Fishing a swim jig is a power game, so gear up accordingly. For the rod, I prefer a 7-foot to 7-foot 3-inch length. Shorter rods reduce the ability to move line quickly from a hard-charging bass, and casting accuracy can suffer if the rod is too long. Rods with a medium-heavy power rating have enough strength in the midsection for a good hookset and can muscle a heavy bass away from cover, yet they maintain a soft enough tip to assist with casting accuracy, which is critical when trying to thread the needle in cover.
Bass attacking a swim jig in shallow water can only move laterally after the initial hookset, which often has them charging directly at the boat. Therefore, faster reel speeds of 7:1 or 8:1 will accelerate the line pickup to assist with keeping pressure on a fast-moving bass.
The choice of line material leaves room for angler preference, as both heavy fluorocarbon and braid can work well. Fluorocarbon offers the advantage of lower visibility than braid in clear water and comes cleanly through woody cover without catching or digging into the branches. Braid has the advantage of having no stretch, a welcome attribute when driving the hook home at the end of a long cast. If opting for fluorocarbon, 15- to 20-pound-test weights are necessary. Braided line of 30- to 50-pound test is adequate.