Soft swimbaits took the fishing world by storm a number of years ago. They instantly became a game changer. Primarily thought of as bass baits, their alluring and seductive tail cadence – coupled with a true-to-life profile – made fish and anglers alike take notice.
Although the original ‘chuck and wind’ tactic still holds water in terms of catching fish, new rigging modifications are opening the door to improved tactics and multiple fish species. In terms of swimbaits, this ‘fish trap’ is constantly evolving and being built better, and that means great news for those that are looking to put more fish in the boat.
We all know the fish catching qualities of spinnerbaits. Same goes for swimbaits. Intuitive anglers recognized the effectiveness each of these baits had on their own and a marriage of sorts was made between the two.
Partnering a spinnerbait and swimbait offers flash, realistic body shape, and an intrinsic action from the back end that is ripe for catching fish. And this bait doesn’t stop with bass.
Sheldon Hatch, an Eastern Ontario walleye tournament angler and owner of Ezelo Angling Adventures, is a big proponent of the spinner-swimbait, especially for chasing walleye. “When trolling or casting spinnerbaits in or over timber, removing the skirt and replacing it with a swimbait works extremely well. My best success has come with the Berkley Hollow Belly and Ripple Shad when utilizing this technique and both come in some great walleye colours.”
This tactic is also effective on other toothy critters, namely northern pike and muskie. Experiment with different blade combinations, size and style of swimbaits, and retrieve speeds. To get the full action from the tail, a slow to medium pace generally works best.
I’ve had great success by slow rolling this rig along bottom for hunkered down smallmouth and largemouth bass. Helicoptering it alongside deep structure areas is also a proven tactic.
Soft stick baits rigged wacky style are a favourite pairing out on the water. But who out there has done the same with a swimbait? Tim Allard, fishing partner and Panfish Editor for Ontario OUT OF DOORS magazine, shed some light on this new – and overlooked – rigging adaptation.
“Something a little different I do with swimbaits is wacky rig them. It’s a slow, finesse approach that not a lot of fish have seen. It’s also a great way to re-use swimbaits after their noses have ripped beyond repair from catching fish with traditional rigging methods. I stumbled on this technique a few springs ago while fishing pike. We had a follow come in that wouldn’t bite. I grabbed the nearest rod that had a swimbait tied on, however, the nose had come loose from the keeper barb and was only skin hooked in its back. I flipped it out to the pike. As the weighted swimbait hook dragged the bait down I gave it a slight shake with the rod tip. The action was a broken-back twitch that the nearby northern couldn’t resist. Since that day this technique has caught me plenty of these toothy critters,” Tim explained.
“I also like this set-up as a throw-back tactic for conditioned smallies. I use a skinner swimbait between 4- and 5-inches, such as a Yamamoto Swim Senko or Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper. The boot-tail action of a swimbait gives the fall a different vibration than traditional stickbaits, which can help fool highly pressured fish. To make this presentation work use a shank-weighted hook, so it sinks quickly enough to get the tail kicking. Hold the rod high and occasionally twitch it to impart a crippled minnow quiver. Sometimes I’ll let it sink to the bottom, twitching throughout its descent. In other instances I’ll slowly yo-yo the bait in the subsurface to replicate a wounded baitfish that can’t regain its equilibrium. This approach works well when smallies are feeding-up on pelagic species like shad. Towards the end of a feeding frenzy when bronzebacks are settling down and picking off the remaining wounded this wacky swimbait will help put a few more in the boat.”
When largemouth bass are hunkered down amongst submergent grass, a proven tactic is to work a swim jig through the open water to draw fish out. Regular plastics certainly work, but combining a jig with a swimbait makes this tandem even more of a fish magnet.
The speed a swim jig is best retrieved works particularly well in conjunction with a swimbait, allowing the perfect tail thump while retrieve rate remains at a constant depth. The fact that the profile replicates a fleeing baitfish is the icing on the cake.
When fish are finicky stick with 3 or 4-inch baits. Hot days and ramped up fish dictate a size increase to 5-inches. To attain a better hooking percentage, I remove the weed guard entirely, leaving the wide gap hook exposed for the best bite. However, if the water you are fishing is particularly snag infested, a few strands of the guard are best left untouched.
Although this rig excels when working weed largemouth, it also has its place in the walleye and smallmouth anglers’ box – especially when those two species are relating to expansive sand flats.
Supersize your jig and swimbait to take on northern pike and muskie.
We all know the advantages a Texas-rig offers in terms of its weedless qualities. For snag-infested waters, there may be no better rig. Plastic craws, worms, and creature baits generally get the nod, but for those looking to upgrade sound and action with this vertical tactic, swimbaits are a proven choice.
I’ve had great success with this rig when targeting largemouth bass tucked in amongst thick weed edges, especially when working water depths greater than five feet. This increase in water gives the bait more depth to showcase its swimming action, facilitating added attention and greater bites.
Deep docks are another structure spot that screams Texas-rigged swimbait.
Largemouth bass are not the only gamefish to take a shining to this bait, as walleye anglers are readily recognizing. “Swimbaits have been a great technique for walleye when I need to go weedless and work tight to the green stuff or timber. The 3″ and 4″ baits Texas-rigged and pitched along the weeds or just over new growth has been a great producer over the past couple of years when I just cant get any other baits into walleye with out snagging up. I like to use a 1, 1/0, or 2/0-thin wire wide gap hook with different colour bullet weights that are pegged to the line. Some times I will have the weight 6 to 12- inches in front of the swim bait to change the action as I rip it through the weeds. I have also noticed by playing around with the weight size and location you can really change the fall action of the bait on the pause which can make finicky walleye strike,” said Hatch.
Wide gap hooks are a necessity whatever your chosen quarry and don’t be afraid to experiment out on the water. Although I have yet to try it, my hunch is that this rig would be highly effective on early spring lake trout when they are up shallow and feeding.
A finesse approach to catching fish, the drop shot rig is a proven tactic that often yields big results. To add increased attraction, vibration, and a variation on profile, teaming this rig up with a swimbait is a smart choice.
Swimbaits come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, giving this rig the ability to target panfish, bass, or larger gamefish – especially when your quarry is holding tight to bottom.
Rigging should be dictated by water depth and fish specie, in terms of weight, hook and swimbait configuration. For perch, crappie or bluegill, a 1 to 1.5- inch swimbait gets the nod, whereas a 3 or 4- inch plastic works best for bass or walleye. Upgrade if chasing larger prey and always match your hook to the size of the swimbait you are throwing.
Subtle lifts and drops, intermingled with short pulls, will be enough to get the paddle tail quivering and appearing alive. For greater action, work the drop shot in a Carolina rig fashion – utilizing long sweeps of the rod to get the swimbait swimming and appearing more active. This tactic is a winner when fish are fired up.
Swimbaits deserve a place in every anglers tackle box. In terms of versatility, this soft plastic minnow imitator is a true multi-faceted fish catcher. Add these rigs to your repertoire this season – and keep the landing net close at hand.
By Justin Hoffman – www.justinhoffmanoutdoors.com