by M.L. Anderson
There are almost as many kinds of swimbaits as there are fishermen: everything from a Creme Lit’l Fishie to a 15-inch plastic trout qualifies as a swimbait. When it comes to Yamamoto products, the D-Shad, Swim Senko, Hula Swimmer, Heart-Tail, and even the Kut Tail worm can all be fished as swimbaits. The huge variety of sizes, shapes, and colors means that you can find a swimbait to match the dominant prey in your fishing hole. This past year at Lake Pleasant in Arizona, a pearl white (364) or a smoke shad (958) D-Shad has produced fish literally all year long. It all depends on how you rig them and how you fish them. This goes for the big trout and bluegill baits as well.
At Pleasant, bass may already be on the beds in February, especially because we’ve had such a warm winter. But no matter where they are, February is a transition time for bass. They could be deep, shallow, or both. The smaller fluke-type swimbait is perfect for this because you can fish it at any depth by simply changing the way you rig it. If the bass are shallow, just tie a hook straight to your line and twitch it. Use spinning gear and braided line for best results, then just cast to shore and twitch it back. Points are always a good bet, but so are steeper banks like those in the river. We’ve had a lot of luck counting D-Shads down along bluff banks. Just watch the line – when you see it twitch or go off sideways, set the hook! If the bass are deeper, rig the D-Shad on a big dart head jig and swim it along close to the bottom. You can also tie them on a Carolina rig and drag it over humps and down channels. If the fish are biting short, add a trailer hook by siding a big treble hook over the main hook. Make sure you rig it so that the main hook points toward the opening between two of the trebles. The hook opposite that can be stuck into the bait, leaving two nice trailer hooks – it’ll get those short-strikers every time.
Those big trout-shaped swimbaits are big-fish baits in lakes that are stocked with trout. The bass really go on the feed at stocking time, and you can catch trophy fish on those huge baits. Trout are usually stocked in the winter, so you’ll want to fish the swimbait slowly. If you can’t get enough action out of the tail at slow speeds, try trimming some plastic off right where the bait is at the narrowest to make it more flexible. If you have a pool, swim the bait very slowly on the bottom and watch the tail. Trim just a tiny bit at a time until you get it right. This time of year you’ll want to fish main lake points, and swim it slowly near the bottom. Cover the points from a variety of angles and don’t forget to fish the sides as well as the end.
You can catch bass on big swimbaits right through to post spawn – they are a great reaction bait for those big females that have moved off the beds but aren’t really deep yet. You can slow-roll a giant swimbait in ten feet of water and pretty much fish it like a crankbait. The difference is, if you jerk too hard you’ll miss the fish. Try just reeling faster and turning your body quickly to pull the rod to the side. The best rod is one designed for big swimbaits – an 8-footer with a long butt and heavy action. A little softness in the tip will help you throw the bait more easily.
During the spawn, finding fish is predictable – the fact that they are spawning eliminates a lot of water right away. Try backing off and look for secondary points and feeding flats adjacent to spawning areas. We usually start off in the backs of coves and have a look around, then back off and start fishing secondary points and make our way out toward the main lake. Those cruiser fish in the shallows will often be willing to move a little farther to get a big swimbait. It can be hard to target spawners, but with cruisers you don’t have to be so accurate.
Whether you’re throwing a big swimbait or a D-Shad, you see bass following as you reel one in, that’s a sure sign that you need to stick around and fish that area a little more thoroughly. Some guys stick every fish in the livewell until they’re done with the area. The belief is that if you let one go, it releases pheromones that warn other fish away. I have no idea if that is true, but as long as it’s legal, putting fish in the livewell can’t hurt.
One of the great things about throwing a small swimbait like a D-Shad or a fluke is that you can make a ton of casts – they are much faster to fish than say, a Spook. You can really cover water. The key is to choose a color and size that matches what the bass feed on where you are. On our lakes, that’s mostly small shad, but some of our lakes are stocked with trout, and most have bluegills and crappie. There are even gizzard shad in some of the Arizona lakes now.
No matter which swimbait you choose, make sure you use the best hooks and terminal tackle you can find. If you’ve just spent $30 on a big plastic trout, why would you use cheap stuff to tie it on with? As for line, with the small swimbaits we always use braid with a fluorocarbon leader – that set-up has practically no stretch, which makes for great hooksets. But for the big huge trout baits we often just use really heavy mono – it lets you fish the bait slowly, and since it’s so thick it doesn’t stretch a whole heck of a lot. But you can certainly use fluorocarbon or braid on those as well. Just make sure you check your line constantly. Any nick or roughness should have you instantly cutting off the bait and re-tying. The right rod can also really make a difference. A rod designed specifically for the size and weight of your swimbait is crucial. A fast reel will help you keep up with big Bertha once she’s on, too.
The biggest mistake people make with a big swimbait is playing it safe. Yes, those big swimbaits cost a ton of money, and yes, they can get snagged. But you have to get it where the fish are to catch them, and sometimes the fish are in the trees. Or the rocks. Or whatever. Take a deep breath, throw it in there, and expect a bite on every cast. Faint heart never won fair maid. Or fair lunker. Swimbaits are an excellent way to catch a really big fish, so go for broke.