Catch More While Swimbait Fishing

Man standing holding two big bass caught while swimbait fishing
The author with two nice bass caught while swimbait fishing.

When you first read that tile I imagine three or four thoughts could come to mind; what’s a swimbait, our sportsfish won’t hit that junk or maybe just … swimbait fishing… really who cares? Well hang on to your rod, because what you’re about to read will help you put fish in the boat under a wide variety of conditions with just a few adjustments in rigging and presentation.

The Bait

For our purposes we won’t get into the 7-12 inch hard jointed swimbaits that have caused such a swimbait craze on the west coast; instead we’re going to focus on soft plastic swimbait, boot tail style swimbaits, in the 3-6 inch range.

In today’s market place there are countless models of smaller swimbaits to choose from and the prices vary from as little as $4 for a pack of five to as much as $20 – $45 for two or three baits.  I’m somewhat of a moderate and try to stay in that $4 – $10 price range, so if a pike bites me off I won’t feel so bad about it.

Rig Swimbaits

four swimbait fishing lures are great for bass fishing.
A variety of swimbaits ready to go!

Some swimbaits come pre-rigged on lead head jigs, and others like the Storm Wild Eye Swim Shad are molded around a lead head during the manufacturing process. Other baits such as Berkley Power Slim Shad come in a plastic bait in a zip lock bag, and the Keitech Swing Impacts come prepackaged in a clamshell container to better protect the bait’s shape.

Over the past three to four years I’ve caught largemouth, smallmouth, northern pike, pickerel, rock bass, trout and walleye on these soft plastic swimbaits. I’ve experimented with several brands and models and I’ve enjoyed my best success with Keitech baits in the 3.3 – 4.8 inch sizes. I try to keep my color selections very simple. In clear water, I’ll use natural shad imitators (Tennessee shad & Silver Flash), around scattered weeds green pumpkin gets the nod and in dirty stained water black is great choice.

Deeper Water Swimbait Setup

In open water applications I’ll rig my swimbaits on a VMC jig heads (Half Moon & Moon Eye) and I let water depth determine the weight, ¼ oz. in 3- 8 ft., 3/8 oz. in 9-12 ft., and ½ oz. for deeper than 12 ft. For this presentation I use a TFO GTS S734-1, 7’3″, medium power fast action spinning rod matched with a Lew’s High Speed Spin Series reel spooled with 8 lb. Bass Pro Shops XPS braided line with a 8 ft. XPS fluorocarbon leader in 8 lb. test.

I’ve found this swimbait setup allows me to make longer casts which are critical to generating more bites when swimbait fishing in open clear water conditions.  And while the fast action rod sends the bait out with relative ease on the cast, the medium power rod with braided line provides plenty of hook setting power at long distance.

I’ll use my electronics to show me what depth the fish are holding in. If I mark my targets in 7-9 ft. then I’ll cast out and count it down to 4 or 5, then begin a steady retrieve.  I always try to keep the bait slightly above where the fish are in the water column.

If that swimbait setup fails to produce a strike I’ll use a stop and go retrieve, casting out, counting it down to the desired depth and retrieve it for 5 to 6 turns of the handle, then stop for a three or four count, and repeat, all the way to back to the boat or until they strike. Usually one of these two retrieves will generate strikes in short order.

Setup for Swimbait Fishing Shallow Waters

When swimbait fishing around shallow cover of weeds, Lilly pads, wood lay downs or boat docks I’ll rig these baits weed less own a weighted EWG (Extra Wide Gap) hook.  It’s best to match the size of hook to the bait, because if you use an oversized hook it will go too far down the body of the bait and rob it of the undulating tail swing that makes it so appealing to start with.

For this presentation I prefer a swimbait setup with bait casting gear. I employ a TFO GTS C735-1, 7’3″, medium heavy power fast action rod matched with a 6.4:1 Abu Garcia Reel loaded with 20 or 30 lb. braided line and I’ll use a black permanent marker to color the last three foot of line down to the lure.

You can certainly use a fluorocarbon leader if desired but in my opinion you don’t really need it because the cover you’re swimbait fishing through, over and around doesn’t allow the fish as much time to follow and inspect the bait the same as they can in open water conditions. Plus the added strength of the braided line lets you quickly get a fish out to the thickest cover reducing their ability to tangle you up or dislodge the hook.

The Football Head

Another rigging option is dragging these boot tail swimbaits over hard bottom areas on a football head jig. I’ll employ this presentation under a couple of scenarios.  If the suspended fish I was catching simply disappear off the graph, but I think they’re still in the area then I’ll work the dragging technique for another 15-20 minutes to be certain I haven’t left any willing biters behind. Or when I arrive in an area I know fish are using but I haven’t marked anything on the graph I’ll do a little scouting on the bottom with the football head.

Bass Fishing Swimbaits

The other situation where the football head shines is whenever the bass are up shallow or at med depths working the rocks for crayfish. So don’t be afraid to use this presentation and remember the trophy bass are there to feed and while they may be not there looking for baitfish they are opportunistic feeders and an easy meal is still an easy meal.

Dragging Technique

Depending on conditions I’ll fish the dragging technique on either rod set up previously mentioned, but I usually go a bit deeper with this technique and I’ll opt for the baitcasting set up.

For best results when using the dragging technique you want to maintain bottom contact throughout the retrieve. This allows the football head to bang around the rocks and sand and it helps kick a dust or sediment trail that the fish will key in on. If you’ve ever spooked crawfish on the bottom you’ve probably seen them pinch their tail tight and squirt up off the bottom leaving a small cloud as they swim to get away. Done correctly this dragging technique mimics the same visual imagine.

Hooks for Swimbaits

When it comes to hook sets, trust two things; 99% of the time when a fish bites on braided line you are going to feel it because you’re swimbait fishing an exposed hook. Simply reel down to meet the fish and use a steady sweep hook set until you feel the fish move and continue cranking down.

Once you’re sure you’re hooked up give a couple of moderate rod pumps to properly seat the hook point.  Remember you don’t have to try and rip the fish’s lips off because these no stretch braided line do an excellent job of transferring the rod’s energy straight to the hook point.

The Right Swimbaits Make All The Difference

man sitting on a boat holding up a large walleye caught while swimbait fishing.
Mike Cusano with a 6.25 Lake Ontario walleye caught on a Keitech swimbait.

Big fish eat little fish… all… year… long and it’s simply a matter of finding the right size swimbait to match the dominate baitfish wherever you’re swimbait fishing.  I hope you’ll give swimbaits an honest try this summer because regardless of your experience level, most anglers find these baits to be relatively easy to rig and use. I’m pretty sure you’ll like what you catch using them.

Until next time, catch your limit and limit your catch to keep only what you can eat and please free the fighter for another angler on another day.

Original Article By Burnie Haney

About the Author

Burnie Haney has been the Garrison Chief of Operations at Fort Drum NY, Chairman of the Jefferson County Sport Fish Advisory Board, B.A.S.S. Life Member, Public Relations Officer and Sponsor Product Coordinator for the NY BASS Chapter Federation. He has also been a member of FLW and Pro Staff member for Bass Pro Shops Nitro Boats, US Reel, Temple Fork Outfitter Rods, Lucky Craft Lures and VRX Fishing Products. Haney holds three National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Line Class World Records (carp, steelhead, Chinook salmon) and one IGFA NY State Line Class Record (walleye). Get in touch with Burnie at

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