Like a lot of upper Midwest bass anglers, I started to experiment with soft-bodied swimbaits about 3 years ago, thanks in part to information made available to us by publications such as In-Fisherman and Bassmaster magazine. Hoping to get an edge on the tournament field, I’ve invested considerable time playing with soft swimbaits. Developing confidence in the soft swimbait should be pretty simple for most anglers, as fishing a swimbait is just like swimming a jig or grub/jig combination, which are both age-old presentations in most places. Ease of use is probably the hallmark of soft swimbaits and, when I talk about soft swimbaits, I mean soft plastic bodies rigged on a jig head. The most effective retrieve is also the simplest. Just cast it out, count it down and reel it in. The equipment used to fish these swimbaits is just as simple.
But for bass anglers in the northern regions, that dream can turn to an expensive nightmare in the form of muskies, Northern pike or walleyes; these toothy critters have a tremendous affinity for swimbaits. So I wanted to find a soft swimbait that was reliable when targeting largemouth bass, yet was still cheap enough to use in waters infested with Northern pike. I also wanted to find a bait that was so simple to use that my clients on guide trips could learn to use it quickly.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I would gladly sacrifice a $30.00 swimbait to catch a 50-inch musky, but that’s a rarity. You generally catch those 2 to 4-pound northern pike, the occasional 20-plus-inch walleye and the 30-inch musky. But with some soft swimbaits running from $24.99 up to $49.99 they get too expensive to use if toothy critters are just going to keep destroying them. So I switched to a more economical soft swimbait.
Both casting and spinning combinations work for fishing this bait. Because I’m generally looking for casting distance as opposed to accuracy when using a swimbait, I’ve settled on a spinning rod/reel combination. This is not a finesse technique; a moderately priced rod works just fine for this technique. So if you have to purchase a new rod for soft swimbaits, you can save a little money by buying a rod priced in that mid-range. My favorite rod for this presentation is a Quantum Tour Edition rod (model TES704F), which is a 7-foot, medium action rod, with a fast taper, built on a HSX54 hi-strain graphite blank. Unfortunately, it is no longer in production, but the new Quantum Energy PT spinning rod in 7-foot or 7.5-foot looks like it will also work great for soft swimbaits. A medium action rod with a fast taper seems to give me more casting distance. And when fighting a good fish at boat side on a short line, a medium action rod acts as a shock absorber, making it more forgiving of any mistakes you may make. Fished with a braided line a medium action rod has more than enough power to make good hook sets and control a fish.
No cost savings here. You need to use the best reel you can afford. This technique requires a high quality reel, as it’s going to get a hard workout. Substantial performance demands can be placed on a reel when you consider the long casts, heavy hook-sets, use of braided line and lots of reeling. I like a large reel for this presentation, mainly for the additional line capacity a large spooled reel has to offer. The reel I’ve been using is the Energy PT, made by Quantum, in size 30. One of the things I learned early on, after losing a number of fish, is that you have to tighten down your drag as tight as you can get it, so tight that there is absolutely no slippage. This will allow you to make powerful hook-sets even if you get bit at the end of a long cast. And powerful hook-sets are necessary to drive home the large 3/0 and 5/0 hooks that these jig heads have. But one of the consequences of a tight drag is that you need to back-reel when fighting a fish. So whichever reel you choose, make sure it has a reliable and strategically located anti-reverse switch, which will allow you to back reel when fighting a fish.
I’ve found that braided super lines in the 10 to 15-pound range work best for me when using this technique. Monofilament lines have too much stretch and fluorocarbon lines in the 10 to 15-pound range are hard to manage when used on a spinning reel. Any of the major braided line brands (Sufix, Power Pro or FireLine) will work just fine.
Let’s talk about the jig heads first. The way you control the depth the swimbaits run at is by the speed of your retrieve and the weight of the jig head. I’ve found that I use ½ oz. and ¾ oz. jig heads most of the time. Even when using a ¾ oz. jig head, it’s amazing how high a large swimbait will rise in the water column as your retrieval speeds increase. I’ve settled on 3 different brands of jig heads. The first is Owner’s saltwater Bullet Jig head in ½ oz. with a 3/0 hook and a ¾ oz. with a 5/0 hook. The second style is the Lunker City saltwater Fin-S Head in ½ oz. with a 2/0 hook and ½ oz. and ¾ oz. with 4/0 hooks. The Owner and Lunker City jig heads are unpainted. For a painted head I’ve started using the Northland Fishing Tackle Mimic Minnow jig head in ¾ oz. I’ve found it necessary to have a good selection of jig heads available, as the different brands of plastic bodies work better when matched with a certain style and weight of jig heads.
Of all the jig bodies I’ve tried it seems the pogy style body in 4-inch and 6-inch is the most productive. I’m sure it has something to do with that big flat oversized tail vibrating back there that triggers such aggressive strikes. For shear numbers of fish the most productive brand has been the 4-inch Cotee Cracker Shad (it has a foil imbedded in the body that adds sound and flash). The other bodies I use quite often are the 4-inch and 6-inch Shaker by Lunker City and two baits by Berkley. Both Berkley baits are out of the saltwater line, the 4-inch Gulp Pogy and the 5-inch Power Bait Swim Shad. Each of the above companies have baits in a wide range of colors; I’ve tried to stay with the more natural colors. I’m beginning to think that the action is more important than the color.
There are a number of pre-rigged swimbaits on the market today. The only ones I’ve used are the WildEye Swim Shad by Storm Lures, in the 3-inch and 4-inch lengths. They worked well and are priced at around $2.99 for 6 baits. These pre-rigged baits seem to work better when fishing in shallow water, as they are not weighted as heavy as I would like and tend to rise in the water column when retrieved.
There is really no trick to fishing any of the soft swimbaits; it’s a lot like fishing a rattle-trap, cast and reel, cast and reel. The only tip I can add, is to use fishing glue when putting the plastic body on the jig head. This will keep the body in place through all types of abuse. Once glued to the jig head you can rip the bait through almost anything and the body will stay in place. It will also let you catch a couple of toothy critters without having to change the soft body each time.
As always, stay safe and we hope to see you on the water.
by Wayne Ek