Soft swimbaits, minnow facsimiles that provide an inherent bite-triggering action, are effective in a wide variety of bass-fishing situations. From stump-laden largemouth lakes to rocky smallmouth rivers, swimbaits are highly versatile tools.
Soft swimbaits exist in a variety of styles. Many incorporate a boot-style tail that thumps during the retrieve, which in turn provides swimming action to the bait. Yum’s Money Minnow and Berkley’s Hollow Belly minnow fall into this category. Others, like Lake Fork Trophy Lures’ Live Magic Shad, have segmented bodies that quiver when pulled through the water, incorporating plenty of tail kick. A wide range of sizes is available; ones most appropriate for bass run from three-and-a-half to five inches in length.
“Swimbaits are broad-ranging baits because they imitate a minnow,” says Jeff Samsel, a well-traveled outdoor writer. “Any time a fish is feeding on a baitfish, swimbaits will fit in. One of the most common applications is when fish are shallow … where they can be put on a weighted hook and swam slowly.”
The beauty of swimbaits is the action they provide with little to no input from the angler. A simple, straight retrieve will often illicit strikes. The bait is easy for the fish to track. Samsel says most of the pro bass anglers use this slow, basic retrieve, much live slow rolling a spinnerbait.
In shallow applications the most common swimbait rigging is with a large, wide-gap, keel-weighted hook. Much in the manner of a Texas rigged plastic worm, the hook is fed through the nose of the bait, in a quarter inch or so, and then back out the bottom. Feed the hook through the bait, wetting the keel weight for lubrication so it doesn’t tear up the bait. Once the eye of the hook has been pulled into the nose of the bait, spin the hook 180 degrees, so the hook point is pointed up. Insert the point in the center of the bait, and work it up through the bait, with the point coming out the back in the location where the dorsal fin would be. Depending on the height of the bait, and the gap of the hook, you may be able to work the hook’s point section out a bit, which often equates into better hooksets.
Options in swimbait hooks are present. Common versions incorporate either screwlocks or plastic spike inserts for attaching the eye portion of the hook to the nose of the bait. This eliminates having the hook eye actually in the bait, which helps the bait last a bit longer.
It’s extremely important that the bait be rigged straight. Otherwise, it will not swim correctly. Baits like Yum’s Money Minnow have a hook slot engineered in the belly of the bait, which not only aids in hooksets (as there’s less plastic for the hook to have to penetrate), but also acts as a guide in properly centering the hook.
The hook’s keel weight aids in keeping the swimbait upright. Some swimbaits can be fished without a weighted hook — I’ve had good success with the 3.5-inch Live Magic Shad coupled with a 2/0 XCalibur wide gap hook — but they must be fished slowly to keep the bait from rolling on its side. Keel weights of sixteenth ounce to eighth ounce are most common on hooks used in concert with bass-sized swimbaits.
Swimbaits aren’t limited to the shallows. Alternative riggings, such as a leadhead jig, allow the bait to be fished at greater depths. Darter-style jigheads are ideal for this. Some swimbait jigheads come prepackaged with tiny plastic pegs to secure the jig to the bait, which aids in preventing it from being torn up when fighting hooked fish.
Recently Z-Man’s Swimmin’ Trout Trick has become one of my favorite soft swimbaits. A 3.5-inch bait made from Z-Man’s popular Elaztech material, I’ve taken as many as two dozen bass off with a single lure. Rigged on an eighth- or three-sixteenths-ounce mushroom-shaped leadhead jig, chances are you’ll lose the bait to a snag before it wears out.
The list of soft swimbaits is a long one. The most effective swimbaits tend to be softer and have a good wagging action even when the bait is worked at slow speeds.