“What swimbait should I use and why?” is one question that I get asked quite often. Well, to be absolutely honest, in order to answer that question there are a few factors to take into consideration. First, you must ascertain what forage fish lives in the water where you plan to fish and then what time of the year you’ll be fishing the body of water.
Where I live the majority of what the bass are feeding on year-round ranges between Threadfin Shad, Bluegills, Sunfish, baby bass, Crappie, Golden Shiners, crawdads, and Rainbow Trout. So one of the first things I need to do before finding a swimbait to match the hatch, is to determine what time of the year it is before choosing a swimbait size and color pattern. During the fall and winter months, most of the lakes here in San Diego stock Rainbow Trout between 6″ and 18″ so matching that hatch is crucial if you want to have any swimbait success. In swimbait fishing during these seasons the size of the prey that is predominant is important for two reasons. First, it is always important to match the size and color of what the bass are currently feeding on because they tend to program themselves to feed on one particular forage at a time and hone their hunting ability as they do; it is just how their mind works to survive. Secondly, during the winter and early spring months where the days are much shorter and the water is much cooler, a bass’ metabolism slows down and it tends to not feed as much during the day. But when they do feed they spend their energy on catching one larger meal that might take well over four to five days digest. So they may only hunt once or twice a week in cold season conditions.
I have witnessed large bass in cold winter waters look as if they were dead and barely moving, remaining very lethargic throughout the day. That being said there are fewer windows of opportunity due to colder conditions; the bass are almost in a hibernation mode waiting for a bright sunny day to warm their body and spark their metabolism and get them to feel like feeding. Their digestive system slows down and so does their desire to feed, but when they do, they will eat that one big meal and digest it slowly.
As the seasons change and the days get longer and warmer during the Summer and Fall months, the waters also warm. This increase in temperature boosts the bass’ metabolism and they will feed more often. Sometimes they’ll hunt several times per hour, but when they do they tend to feed on much smaller forage 1″-5″ in size which is a much easier meal to digest.
They expend lots of energy chasing smaller fish so they have to eat more often to replenish their fuel supply. Some of the forage fish such as Threadfin Shad, panfish, and baby bass, which are abundent after the Spring spawn, are high on the bass’ list of what they will feed on. So it is very important to match the size of these smaller baits first as well as the the color of what you believe the bass are currently feeding on. To explain this better imagine it’s a hot Summer day and you just went to the gym, or ran a race and afterword your going to want to re-fuel and eat a few small meals so your body can break down the foods quickly. If you eat too much too quickly you’ll load up your system and become sluggish and tired. Your body urges you to eat smaller meals throughout the day. The bass goes through the same motions during the warmer Summer and Fall months and its body urges it to feed on smaller meals throughout the day that its metabolism can easily break down.
If your lunker hunting with these smaller swimbaits during the warmer Summer and Fall months and your going through numbers of bass, but have yet to catch a lunker, don’t automatically switch to a larger swimbait. Try to think where the lunker bass are holding. They may not be right on the surface busting on the shad like the smaller bass, but may be 10′-15′ below the ball of shad waiting for an injured shad to fall to them or waiting to eat one of the small 4″-6″ baby bass chasing the shad on the surface. I find in the Summer on some of the hottest days the bigger bass will be low-light feeders, feeding in the early morning, or on cloudy days on the surface, or deep in the mouth of a cove during the heat of the day. Docks and sunken trees are a few other areas of low-light and shade where these monster bass could be hiding in ambush.
Something to also pay close attention to is the speed of the bait, I prefer a slow-medium retrieve during the colder months and a fast retrieve during the warmer months with lots of ripping and jerking the smaller lures to entice a bight. The water temperatures definitely dictates the lure speed and retrieve style, so slow and steady in colder water and fast with some erratic small fish evasion movement.
So downsizing swimbaits in that 3″-5″ size during for the Summer and Fall months is going to be a great decision that will allow you to catch more bass and still have that chance for a trophy bass, while during the colder months that larger swimbait for those cold lurking lunkers should be a great choice.