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Art Lander’s Outdoors: The swimbait is a big bass lure especially effective during the spawn

When floodwaters recede, and lake levels return to seasonal normals, it will be the best time of the year to catch big bass.

And what’s the go-to big fish lure pre-spawn and post-spawn? That’s open to debate, as water conditions vary, but a strong case can be made for the swimbait.

Super soft plastic formulations are the most populare of swimbaits (Photo courtesy of Storm Lures)

In the world of fishing lures, “what goes around comes around,” so to speak, as old favorites are sometimes recycled or re-purposed, into new designs.

The progenitor of the modern swimbait is the Sassy Shad, the paddle-tailed, shad-shaped soft plastic lure introduced in the 1980s by Mister Twister. The Louisiana lure maker was a pioneer in soft plastics. In 1972 they brought out a line of curly tail worms and grubs that were truly innovative, capturing the imagination of anglers.

The modern swimbait burst on the bass fishing scene about 2007, when professional bass anglers began bringing heavy stringers of fish to the scales in big money tournaments.

The swimbait’s big fish reputation was born, and sales soared. Every style and design of swimbait imaginable is on the market today, with a size range for bass of 3 to 6 inches.

The wide variety of swimbaits available today include hard, jointed swimbaits, soft swimbaits of several styles, and hollow-belly swimbaits. The most popular models are arguably those made from super soft plastic formulations, with realistic color schemes and body details that make them closely resemble gizzard and threadfin shad, skipjack herring, alewives and other baitfish, bluegills, even trout.

Chad Miles, host of “Kentucky Afield,” the television show produced by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, which airs on KET, has been fishing swimbaits for years and is an expert on how to fish them.

A hard, jointed swimbait (Photo courtesy Mike Bucca)

“Anything looking to eat a baitfish will hit a swimbait,” said Miles. “I’ve caught everything from crappie to striped bass and all three species of black bass, smallmouths, largemouths and spotted bass on a swimbait. Spring through early summer is one of my favorite times to fish a swimbait for black bass.”

His lure of choice for largemouth bass is a 4-inch white and silver swimbait rigged on a 3/8-ounce lead head. When fish are up shallow he downsizes the weight of the lead head to a 1/4-ounce, which keeps the lure from getting hung up on the bottom. When fishing for smallmouth and spotted bass after the weather turns cold in fall, Miles downsizes to 3-inch swimbaits.

One reason swimbaits are so effective is that with a steady retrieve they can be worked downsloping banks into deeper water. It’s easy to adjust the depth and speed, according to the aggressiveness of the fish, which isn’t possible with a crankbait.

Miles usually rigs his swimbaits with the hook exposed, with some exceptions.

“I use the belly-weighted wide gap swimbait hook (with) a hollow body swimbait for shallow lakes with (heavy) cover,” Miles said. “This setup is weedless and works great over weed beds or through (wood) cover for bass.”

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Swimbaits are most effective in clear to moderately stained waters, pre-spawn and post-spawn, at depths of less than 12 feet. When bass school up in open water, add more weight to your swimbait to fish deeper, since bass may be in 25 to 40 feet of water.

The swimbait appears as an easy target. With tremendous visual appeal and natural action, they have the ability to draw bass from long distances to strike.

Swimbaits can be effectively fished in all cover types, through weed beds, between boat docks, along sheer rock walls, through flooded timber, and down gravel points.

The lure color fished should be a function of water clarity, and local forage. Most of the time when fishing major lakes in Kentucky a good strategy is to try to replicate the size and color of shad most abundant in the lake.

Miles said in clear water he fishes the natural shad pattern, and in stained waters, he prefers swimbaits with some color, usually chartreuse or orange.

Hookset may seem tricky at first. Resist the temptation to set the hook when you first feel the bite. “Keep reeling through the strike and let the rod load up a bit before setting the hook,” Miles said. “If you set the hook immediately, you are pulling the swimbait away from the fish.”

Since some swimbaits are rather large, up to 6 inches long, heavy tackle is required. A good choice when fishing larger lures is a seven-foot, six-inch medium to heavy-action casting rod, and a baitcasting reel, spooled in 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon line.

Some anglers modify their swimbaits, cutting a slit in the head of the bait and inserting small lead tubes or glass rattles, then gluing the slit closed. Another modification is spraying shad scent into a hollow-belly style of swimbait as an added attractant.

It may be a week or so before the waters in our lakes clear up, but when they do, you can bet a swimbait will be the ticket to catching a bragging-size bass.

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