I can hear many of you now
whats a swim bait? Dont all
baits swim? Well, yes they do, but swim bait is another word for "shad" baits or
soft plastics that look like imitation fish. Swim baits are used in fresh or saltwater and
range in size from one-inch or up to nine and 12 inches for stripers, tuna and other
offshore game fish.
HOW DO THEY WORK. The paddle tail is what gives these baits their action and
size of tail varies depending on the brand. Their design allows you to vary the speed of
your retrieve and still have optimum action from the bait. You can twitch the bait along
the bottom or swim it at breakneck speeds and still, the bait works like it is supposed
to. These baits are easily and quickly adjustable by changing the size of the bait or
weight of the lead head you fish. You can go heavier or lighter depending on tide, water
depth or how current dictate presentation. You can make quick, controlled adjustments in
the depth your fishing even during the course of your retrieve!
ADVANTAGES. In fishing, presentation spells the difference between success and
failure for precise presentations, these are the easiest baits to use. Theyre worked
within inches of rocks and structure because you "feel" the bait the entire
time. Whether its submerged vegetation, wood pilings or rock, you feel every bounce
and these are the places where the big ones live. Combine Berkley Fireline to the equation
and fish dont stand a chance the sensitivity of the two is unbeatable. Whether you
fish the bottom or mid-depth, youre always in touch with the bait. You can stagger
or use a steady retrieve with the same feel. You get longer casts than other plugs because
of the weight of the lead head. The great advantage to swim baits is the low mortality
rate of fish caught. More than 90% of fish caught using these baits are lip hooked in the
corner or other outer areas of the mouth. Its a rare occasion when a fish takes the
swim bait deep into the throat. This helps to encourage catch and release and makes
releasing fish that much easier.
RIGHT BAIT & COLOR. When searching for, or locating fish, the four to
five-inch bait is the usual choice. If "short" strikes are what youre
getting, move down to a smaller size bait and lighter jig head. If youve located
larger game fish you can step up in size such as five to seven inches. As for color, the
basic color categories and patterns are blue, green, red/orange, brown and dark.
Blue with some flash is appropriate where baitfish such as anchovies, herring or
spearing are present. Green when water is discolored or smelt and spearing are the prime
forage. Red/orange imitate crustaceans like crabs, lobsters and even forage like sea
robins. Brown for small forage like blackfish, sea robins and other bait lurking around
underwater structure like pilings, rocks and mussel beds. Dark colors are good on dark
days, nighttime fishing or bottom dwelling fish. Next week, the right tackle, scents &
strips and what swim baits to use,
SCENTS & STRIPS. Swim baits are designed to trigger instinctive responses
from game fish and therefore do not need any scents and ornaments to catch fish. The use
of porkrind will more likely hamper the action then help, but if you insist on adding a
strip it should be very thin so as not to interfere with the action of the bait. As for
scent, I think scents are more for masking our odors than adding an attractive scent to
the bait. Scent may encourage a fish that has taken the bait to hang on a little longer,
but his is a personal decision for you to make.
THE RIGHT TACKLE. Spinning or conventional gear will work with these baits. A
good choice for spinfishermen is the Abu-Garcia Tournament series of spinning reels with
the model T3000F holding 200 yards of 10-pound test with a gear ratio of 5.2:1 or the
smaller model T1000F which has the same gear ratio and holds 125 yards of 8-pound test
However, I prefer baitcasting tackle. The drags are superior to spinning tackle and I
use the Amassaduer 5600UC and for larger baits the 6500UC. I spool up with 12 to 15-pound
Berkley Big Game line or use 15-pound test Big Game as backing and load the front end
with15-pound test Fireline which has the diameter of 8-pound test. I use a mono leader,
about 18 inches, tied to a small barrel swivel. This allows me to break off if snagged and
gives me a "handle" to grab; you dont want to be grabbing Fireline with
The rod should be 6-1/2-foot with a fast taper like the Berkley Lightening Rod, model
#LR50-7 MH. This medium-heavy (MH) stick handles lines of 12 to 25-pound test, has a soft,
fast action taper with plenty of backbone and works great with baits from 3/8 to 1-1/2
ounces. When using baits of five to seven inches, I move to the Fenwick Inshore series
rod, model 706M or 708M. Fenwick has changed the name of the series, but ask your local
tackle shop, he will find the right name, but the model numbers and blanks are still the
RIGGING TIPS. In order to maximize the action of a swim bait, its
important to rig it on a leadhead hook as straight as possible. Position the bait
vertically with front secure between your fingers and insert hook point at front of bait.
Drive hook straight through the length of bait body, passing the bait along the hook and
exiting the hook slightly ahead of the thin tail portion. If the body of the bait appears
crooked from either the top or side view, "back" the bait off the slightly and
When a plastic body is "chewed" up to a point hat it wont thread up
onto the hook straight, remove it and spread super glue or super gel on the hook shank.
Thread the body back on the hook and over the glue creating a bond along the full length
of the bait. Another version of this is too straighten the bait on the hook as much as
possible and then gripping the leadhead with a pair of pliers. Pass the flame of a lighter
across the hook point until the entire shank heats up. The dip the lure in water and what
you have done is welded the torn bait to the hook.
When soft plastic baits have become warped from sitting in the sun or an overheated
tackle box, you can straighten them by dipping them with tongs into boiling water for 30
to 60 seconds. Once heated, remove the bait and lay it flat straight to cure in that
position after it has cooled.
RETRIEVE & HOOK SET. When fishing up against an embankment or rocks, make a
series of casts in tight to the structure and allow the bait to sink straight down. Pay
attention, many strikes come on the fall. Where there is evidence of a strike, work that
area thoroughly. If not strike occurs, start a steady retrieve, but half way through,
allow thew bait to sink in free spool again. Now start the retrieve again and repeat.
Learn to free spool the bait after a missed strike, as fish will often come right back to
it after a miss. Remember, with this technique most and sometimes more than half of your
strikes come on the fall of the bait.
Usually when the bait is grabbed on the sink (fall), it is important to wind and take
up slack line as quickly as possible then swing back and set the hook. If a strike occurs
during a retrieve, crank thought the bite to set the hook and set it to the side if
possible. When you feel a pick up off the bottom, refrain form swinging back hard right
away. As the fish climbs on the bait, you feel the line tighten. Continue cranking as you
feel tension steadily increase. The more you tighten the line, the more the fish wants his
meal, thus hooking itself.
DONT BE CHEAP. Ive seen swim baits priced dirt-cheap however, what
good are a soft plastic baits if you have to change the bait after every fish. Some even
break, tear or rip the tails off if you skip a cast across the water. It can become
expensive in the long run and even stripers and weakfish can cause great damage to some of
the cheaper baits. Ive been using these baits for a long time and have searched far
and wide for the right ones and have found three brands that work well and hold up to the
The first one is the Fish Trap Lure Co.
of San Diego, CA. This companys swim baits are thinner in profile than others with a
larger paddle tail. Theyre hand-poured in three colors with a catalogue of over 85
different combos. They will hand custom pour to your specific color needs, matching any
bait in the country. Theyre just starting to come into our area and you need to ask
your local tackle shop for Fish Trap Lures or call for a catalogue at 619-273-6970.
The next is the 9er Lure Company of Middleboro, MA. This company is known for
inventing the swim bait or shad bait umbrella rigs. They make individual shad baits on
lead heads or you can buy the bodies and use you own lead heads. The come in two color
combos and have a wide body profile. You order these by the "back" colors. Black
back, blue back, green back etc. and they have up to six colors. Call for a catalogue at 508-947-9223.
For those of you already using swim baits, you must be familiar with the Berkley Power
Baits in the shad bait styles. These come in handy when fish are finicky or you want to
tip the scales in you favor. They are available everywhere and are certainly no secret by