What is a swimbait and why does it work so well? Well, as fisherman, we want nothing more than to always catch fish each trip to our favorite lake or stream and have a chance at hooking and landing that trophy fish of a lifetime. I have been on this quest for over 40 years and it never changes. I want to catch more bass with the goal of finding and landing that one true elusive giant bass, that for most of the year is just a myth, that giant fish you dream about day and night. And there is no better way to accomplish this task and finding that mystic bass than by using a swimbait. It is that one lure that most represents the larger food that the monsters of our lakes and streams feed on. It is by far one of the most productive lures for covering water throughly to find where that trophy size bass lives and hunts and when it comes to trying to match the hatch, or in some cases, matching the prey in which these giants are feeding upon, the swimbait is the perfect tool for the job. In this article I’m going to focus on the soft plastic swimbait.
With a swimbait I look for three things: the shape of the bait, the internal and external rigging system, and the paint job or colors added to the plastic. These three things are basically what gives the swimbait the ability to imitate life and trick the fish into biting. If one of these features is incorrect or missing, your swimbait will not be as effective thus your hook up ratios may be very low.
Soft plastic swimbaits are made out of plastisol, which is the main material for making soft plastic swimbaits. Once the plastisol is heated up to around 325 degrees, colors, glitter, and salt may be added to the mixture to give a bait a desired look, and texture. Then it can be hand poured ,or injected into the swimbait molds and allowed to cool. Every swimbait manufacturer may use a different brand of plastisol, or a different recipe of softeners or hardeners that will give the baits a different feel and swimming action in the water. Their procedures for heating up and pouring the plastisols can vary as well and even the machines they use can make a difference in how the swimbaits are poured, or injected. These are a few of the reasons why one swimbait may look, feel, and swim differently from all other brands of swimbaits on the market.
The tail design of the swimbait is something to pay very close attention to since with most swimbaits this is the motion engine of the swimbait and where vibration from the bait is started. And that vibration of the tail needs to be as life-like as possible to fool the fish and its lateral line system into thinking that this is a real fish. If the bait does not swim right, the fish may not bite. There are two basic designs of swimbait tails on the market today: the “wedge” style tail and the “boot” tail. The wedge-style tail, which is more of a balanced tail design, will give the lure an S-motion swimming action and, depending on its size, will determine how much S-motion. The smaller the wedge tail the less S-motion out of the swimbait and the larger the wedge tail the more S-motion out of the swimbait (see pic.5). With the larger tails the swimbait head and body will shake so much that you can see and feel the vibration through the rod tip. The girth of the swimbait will also determine how much side to side movement will be allowed. Keep in mind in low-light conditions, stained and dirty water the swimbait vibration is a huge key to a swimbaits success since it is displacing water which a fish will feel through its lateral line system and give it the ability to hunt that swimbait.
The “boot” tail design is one of the oldest swimbait tail designs. It is an unbalanced design which will give the swimbait more of a rocking motion than an S-motion. It too gives the swimbait more motion depending on its size of the tail and generally it will give upward lift to the rear of the swimbait. This lift, which wants to lift and push the head of the swimbait down, is what creates the uneven rocking motion. Some swimbait manufacturers have designed the heads to be more oval shaped and flatter. This helps with boot-tail designed lures to take that energy from the tail that is moving towards the head and distribute it outward toward the sides of the bait. The combinations of tail sizes and body shapes go on and on.
There are some soft plastic swimbaits that use a diving bill under the head of the bait help generate energy to create S-motion to power the swimbait as well as swimbaits that have hard U-shaped wings in the middle of the bait to simulate side to side swimming motion. These baits typically have straight tails and have very natural fish shaped bodies.
In the clear water, during bright light periods, a subtle swimming swimbait is what I prefer to use, it seems to work better for me than a harder kicking swimbait. I believe in this situation that the bass are watching and waiting for the right opportunity to ambush the trout, or in this case hopefully my swimbait. A subtle swimming swimbait with a rip or jerk thrown into the retrieve occasionally can trigger the bass into biting. If you watch a live trout in the lake this motion is very similar to how the trout swims when a big bass is in close proximity. When I have used a hard-tail kicking swimbait in this same situation with very clear water, I have found the bass to be very curious and follow the swimmer and maybe taste the tail but not commit and attack the swimmer head first.
In a low-light situation, or dirty water, the bass uses its sense of hearing and lateral line system more than its vision for hunting its prey. I have found that a noisy larger tailed swimbait is a good match for this situation versus the small subtle-tail swimming swimbaits in this environment. The bass seem to always be a little more aggressive when searching for a lure in low-light and dirty water. So as you can see the water conditions play a huge factor in determining which style of swimbait tail to choose from. Once again a little homework on the water you plan to fish is needed to determine which lure to use.
Most of the lakes I fish here in Southern California stock rainbow trout from hatcheries here in the state. These Rainbow Trout are the primary reason the bass I fish for and catch here in Southern California have the massive size they do. These trout are high in protein, easy to digest, and at times very easy for the bass to catch due to the trout being transplanted into a very foreign environment where the bass live and rule and have a huge advantage in ambushing the trout. The lakes here get stocked an average 25,000-30,000 lbs. of trout per year and if you average the trout size at two pounds a piece that’s about 13,000-15,000 trout that are stocked between November and April. So when I need a lure to match the hatch, to catch some of the true giants of the lake, I need a swimbait that will imitate as closely as possible the Rainbow Trout that are being stocked into the lakes.
Matching the size of the trout that are being stocked in the lakes, or streams is very important. I have found in my years of using swimbaits that if I don’t match the size of what the bass are feeding on, I will get lots of followers and very few takers. I am someone who at the end of a day fishing takes a few minutes to take some notes on what happened during that day. I am a firm believer in statistics and I always try to review my past notes carefully to help remind myself of what the bass were doing on average during similar stockings, weather, moon phases, lake conditions, etc. And my statistics show a huge success rate in large bass catches when I have matched the size and color of the rainbow trout that are being stocked. For example, we have the Department of Fish and Game stock a few of our lakes with 5″-8″ rainbow trout and when I used swimbaits that were the 6″ or 8″ range I had lots of success compared to using swimbaits in the 10″-12″ range and vice versa when the lakes stocked the 10″-14″ sized trout.
Another huge factor in choosing a swimbait is the color of the water where you plan to fish. Here in So Cal. most of the lakes I fish have very clear water so the visibility is really good. This makes finding a picture perfect paint job on my swimbait a must if I want to trick those lunker bass into taking my artificial swimmer. As you can see by the picture above, the swimbait need a life-like paint job. When the trout are stocked, they will be one color and that color can change as they get adjusted to their new environment. So my advice is to do some homework and try to take a look at what some of the trout fisherman are catching. This can really help in choosing the proper color and size of what the bass are chasing and eating at the moment. Keep in mind the trout will change colors due to weather, water temperatures, oxygen, and what foods they can find to eat. So pay close attention to this because sometimes a slight different strain of Rainbow Trout will have different characteristic colors. I find where I live the DFG trout that are stocked are very small and have lots silver to their scale color, while the bigger trout that are stocked, normally from cold-water hatcheries, have more of the pink and green colors with lots of dark green, brown, or black dots throughout the body.
The little details for me have made a difference in helping me catch some of the largest bass of my fishing career. The little things I’ve done include adding glass eyes and red gills, maybe a touch of paint here or there, or a new larger tail. These are a few of the alterations that I have done at times to give my swimbaits that added edge towards making them look as life-like as possible and different from what all other swimbait fisherman are using. I have always been a firm believer here in Southern California where pressure on these small lakes is tremendous and lots of people have been fishing the same style of swimbait, showing the bass the same lure over and over that finding a way to separate myself from the rest of the pack is crucial. This does not mean that the bait was not designed to catch fish. I just believe anyway that I can enhance the bait where the bass will take a second look because it looks a little more realistic than the stock lure he’s seen over and over give me good odds of getting the fish to bite on these highly pressured waters I fish.
There are two ways that soft plastic baits match the color of the prey: one is painting the bait and the second is mixing colors into the plastic during the hand pour process. I have found that on the highly pressured clear waters here in So.Cal that the painted swimbaits look much more realistic than the hand poured swimbaits do. You will normally see this in the price you pay for the painted bait too since the paint is another expensive process that has to be added after the bait is poured or injected.
This does not in anyway mean that the hand-poured swimbaits don’t catch fish; it all depends on what company did the hand pour to how well they will look. I have caught hundreds of quality bass on hand poured baits, in low light conditions, or dirty water. And for the lower price of the baits I tend to fish them in the cover more not as chicken as I might with a more expensive painted bait. And some hand pour companies are really good at pouring a very light, almost transparent, bait which actually works better sometimes under clearwater very bright-light conditions. This “ghost” pattern hand pour, if poured to the colors you desire, can really put a hurting on the fish. I have had plenty of days where this was my go to bait, especially in the deeper clearwaters down to 30′, 40′ even 50′.
In conclusion, pay very close attention to what season it is and what your fish are feeding on and try to match that prey as much as possible. Once this is done you can start to look for lure-making companies that make the sizes and colors of swimbaits you need and then it’s more about the rigging and fine details to give you the best chances to catch more fish or that fish of a lifetime. And as for hard resin swimbaits, that is a different article for a another day.