Swimbait Fishing for BassPublished on 05/17/2023 · 9 min readLooking to land some big bass this season? If so, you won't want to miss these tips on swimbait fishing from Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist!
Photo by Michal Dziekons
Born in the California Delta, fishing oversized swimbaits is arguably the most popular trend in bass fishing. When fishing in gin-clear water, anglers need to present bass with realistic-looking lures that create lifelike action. Large swimbaits displace a lot of water, drawing the attention of nearby bass. Big bass are likely to follow large swimbaits and investigate them, whether in search of a meal or to ensure that their environment will remain safe. Fishing big swimbaits with realistic swimming action is one of the most exciting ways to catch trophy largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Swimbait fishing requires specialized gear. Often it is recommended that anglers experiment by fishing with a relatively small and inexpensive swimbait like a River2Sea S-waver 168 or a Megabass 6' Magdraft on their existing bass gear before taking the plunge and purchasing a dedicated swimbait setup.
When it comes to fishing big swimbaits, there is a significant learning curve compared to other more conventional bass fishing techniques. It is recommended that even experienced anglers dedicate a season to exclusively fishing these oversized lures. Especially at the beginning, you will be getting fewer bites, but the fish that end up catching will be larger.
Because of the high demand for big baits, swimbaits are going to be expensive. There are lots of garage-based bait makers making lures that sell out soon as they’re released. They tend to be great producers, but there are less expensive options available that will still catch big fish.
In this guide, I am going to outline the rods, reels, and baits that will be needed to fish swimbaits, along with some tips and tricks to use in order to make the most of this exciting bass fishing application.
Generally, swimbait rods will be around 8ft long. When it comes to rod power, it can be confusing because there’s no clear industry standard. One brand's medium heavy might be another brand's extra heavy. It’s important to pay attention to the weight ratings on swimbait rods and their intended purpose in order to ensure that you’re getting a suitable rod for the application. Since the majority of swimbaits include treble hooks, swimbait rods tend to use a moderate or moderate-fast action. Dobyn’s Fury 795c is a great rod for smaller treble hooked baits between 1-3oz, and Dobyn’s Fury 806c is a great rod for larger, hard-body swimbaits between 3-6oz.
200-300 size reels will be suitable with enough line capacity to manage long casts with heavy-diameter line. Some anglers use round baitcasting reels for their increased line capacity, but plenty of others (like myself) use low-profile casting reels that still hold plenty of line for long casts. For the most part, you’ll be using reels with lower gear ratios between 5:5:1 and 7:1:1. The 13 Fishing Concept A3 is an excellent all-purpose low-profile reel for swimbaits. The Daiwa Lexa 300 is another solid option.
Line preferences can vary widely. Braided line is often used with a fluorocarbon or mono leader. The problem that some anglers encounter is that when a backlash occurs, the force of the lure at the end of the line will snap where the line and leader meet and you might end up losing an expensive bait. Fluorocarbon line is more sensitive than mono and is great for fishing deeper in the water column. Mono or braid float and work well for topwater, and copolymer has closer to neutral buoyancy. It is a great all-purpose option for swimbaiting.
Soft body swimbaits are most effective for fishing towards the bottom of the water column. Because of this, they shine during the pre-spawn period before bass are active up shallow. In the summer when the temperatures are 80+ degrees and bass are sluggish, is another time when soft plastic swimbaits are highly productive.
Jig hook swimbaits require different gear compared to treble hooked baits, so in order to make the most of them, it’ll be important to put together a dedicated setup. Some feature a solid body with an exposed top hook. Others come with a hollow belly with a swimbait hook rigged inside, making for a weedless presentation. For smaller swimbaits that use jig-style hooks, 13 Fishing’s Defy Black 2 Swimbait Rod would be a good fit. For heavier lures, Millerod’s 7’10” Extra Heavy Swimbait Rod would be better suited for the application.
Since fluorocarbon sinks, it will be the best line to be used with soft swimbaits. Sunline Assassin 17lb would be perfect for smaller soft baits, while Sunline Assassin 25lb would be a great option for anglers using heavier lures.
Both wedge and boot tail baits can come with either treble or jig hooks. Below I am going to offer an explanation of when each style will be the most effective.
Wedge tail swimbaits provide a subtle action at slow speeds. This makes them perfect for fishing pre-spawn and in the hottest part of the summer when bass are going to be sluggish. Savage Gear’s Pulse Tail Shiner LT is weedless and features a jig hook, making it a perfect lure for that time of year. Pre-spawn, casting wedge tail swimbaits out deep and slowly retrieving them towards the bank is a great way to catch bass. The LIVETARGET Golden Shiner 8in Swimbait is a great option for that spring transition.
When bass are active and aggressive, it’s time to start throwing boot tail swimbaits. The Megabass 8in Megdraft is one of the less expensive and more notable boot tails and is excellent for new swimbait anglers to start off with. These will also be most effective when fished on a steady retrieve; the action comes from the tail and there’s no need to add rod twitches.
Glide baits are one of the biggest categories of swimbaits. There are many small bait makers with their unique takes on the glide bait, and there are plenty of bigger brands also making great glides. Glide baits feature a single joint, and glide back and forth as they’re being retrieved. Using a fluorocarbon line can increase sensitivity and keep a glide bait lower in the water column, while copolymer and mono lines keep them up a little bit higher.
Glide baits come in two general profiles: those that imitate trout, and those designed to imitate bluegills or shad. The long and thin profile of a trout glide has a more subtle and slow back-and-forth movement, while a shad glide can be more erratic and trigger aggressive reaction strikes.
There are two main categories of glide baits available: those designed to fish around cover, and those that excel at fishing more open water. The best glide bait for your conditions will depend on whether you’re fishing in shallow water around lots of weeds and structure or deeper water without many obstructions.
Open Water Glide Baits
In large bodies of water, huge glide baits with wide, gliding action are one of the best ways to catch trophy bass. For swimbait anglers, setups dedicated to fishing open-water glide baits will include their longest rods and their reels with the greatest line capacity. These rods will also feature a slower action blank in order to manage large fish during a long fight. Some anglers prefer using fluorocarbon due to its invisibility and the sensitivity it offers, while others prefer the slower sink rate of a mono or copolymer line.
During the pre-spawn period before grass, weeds, and lily pads have the chance to come in, is a perfect time to fish with these unique lures. Open water glides are large, but they aren’t a particularly erratic lure, so fish that are still sluggish will still be willing to bite. Another excellent way to use them is during the fall transition. As bass are more spread out throughout their environment, open-water glide baits are a phenomenal way to cover water.
As their name suggests, cover glides are designed for fishing around cover like weeds, laydowns, and boat docks. They tend to feature a slow sink rate, allowing them to gracefully navigate around cover without getting caught up in a down tree or patch of lily pads. They suspend just under the surface of the water, offering bass an easy meal. For fishing cover glides, you’ll need to be making shorter and more precise casts, so a slightly shorter rod and a 200-size reel will ideal.
The most effective way to catch bass using cover glides is by casting them out, just past a piece of cover where bass are sure to be hiding. On a slow retrieve, swim the lure just past the outside edge of said cover, pause it, then give it a sharp pop, and that’s how bass anglers will catch the majority of their cover glide fish. The Savage Gear Jointed Glide Swimmer or 3D Shine Glide are great hard swimbaits for fishing around heavy cover.
Wakebaits rest on the surface of the water and imitate a number of terrestrial creatures that sometimes find themselves swimming in the water. Usually, they are designed to imitate a rodent such as a rat, but they also can take the form of various baitfish. Bass are opportunistic feeders, and while rats aren’t exactly a staple in their diet, they make a substantial meal for hungry fish. After a storm or in flooded conditions is when wakebaits will be the most deadly. While big swimbaits aren’t always ideal for fishing smaller urban bodies of water, fishing a rat in a spillway or small pond after a downpour is a great way to catch some bigger fish.
Most wakes include a bill in front, and feature a single joint. There are also wake baits that don’t feature a bill that can be fished more like a glide bait that’s fished on the surface and either can work on the same setups. A stout rod with a moderate fast action will have the backbone needed to manage fish through the grass and will also offer anglers a good amount of accuracy. Rods that are between 7’6” and 7’9” will be good for most wakes between 2-3oz while longer rods will be more suited for larger lures. A reel with a gear ratio of 6:1:1 to around 7:1:1 will be the sweet spot. For lures around 2oz, the Daiwa Tatula 200 reel paired with a Tatula Series Swimbait Rod would be an excellent setup.
In the summer, when water temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees, it is prime time to be fishing a wake. Casting them out and slowly retrieving them parallel to the bank is a great way to use a wakebait. They excel when fished around points where hiding bass can ambush unsuspecting rodents.
In the fall, my favorite tactic for covering a lot of water and catching giants is to use a rat or baitfish profile wakebait. As the weather begins to cool down, largemouth bass begin to spread out in search of prey as they bulk up and prepare for the winter. There is nothing more exciting to me than watching big bites from aggressive bass as they engulf topwater baits.
Now that I’ve laid out the basics needed for swimbait fishing, you are well on your way to catching your new personal best! Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.