Good Friday of 2014 was a mild spring afternoon and I was on my first fishing effort to a new-to-me pond. The hole had tantalized me for years, but a fortunate change of ownership had put it in the hands of a good friend. I caught a few small bass as I worked along the west bank casting. The rod bowed from a strike and I was into an altercation with the largest bass I had ever had on my line. The 22-inch largemouth I soon photographed and released surpassed a personal record that had stood for 17 years.
The lure was a soft plastic minnow-imitating swimbait, molded and colored in in the image of a real shiner. I had believed in that lure the first time I saw it displayed on a tackle store pegboard. In the five seasons I have mostly thrown swimbaits, I have caught more quality bass than during the previous entirety of my angling career, which these lures have done much to revive and rejuvenate.
The concept of the swimbait is simple: it mimics a baitfish and moves through the water much like a real minnow or shad. Its action is in the tail and all the angler need do is cast and retrieve it with a slow to medium speed. Pond weeds will stymie most any artificial bait, but swims are more resistant to clogging up than are hard crankbaits.
In my view swimbaits are hybrids between soft plastic worms or creature baits and the hard cranks, and the manner of fishing them is a combination of techniques. You can run them like a crank but must react to strikes much the same as when fishing with a worm. This means that good quality, sensitive rods do best for fishing swims, especially the shad types, which are basically jigs.
The minnow lure I use has a treble hanging from its belly and a single jig style hook in its back. This lure hooks and holds fish very effectively without much help from the angler. I prefer to throw these with a 6.5’ medium action rod. My favorite shad weighs a quarter ounce.
This year it has been a more effective strike getter than the minnow, but it is also trickier to hook and hold fish with its single jig hook protruding from the back. My most efficient rod for the shad is a 7’ medium heavy action with 9 high quality guides in addition to the tip. The guides allow me to hurl the quarter ounce lure like a missile and this stick is so sensitive that a tap on the lure transmits to my hand like a charge of electricity.
A word about rod selection is in order here. We can read about the materials in a rod without really being able to see or interpret the technical jargon in the product we hold in our hands at the store. But we can readily observe the guides. If a 6’ rod has fewer than seven guides, put it back on the rack. Seven is the bare minimum; eight the beginning of game-changing quality, nine are an indication of real performance. A 6.5’ or 7’ stick needs at least nine and the tip. This is what gives casting efficiency. It requires less effort to cast with good rods, and this means less fatigue and a sharper angler when things get serious and a fish strikes. Sharp anglers land more fish than do tired ones.
There is no wrong way to fish swimbaits except perhaps to retrieve them too fast. They do not burn well because fast reeling often causes them to come to the surface. Wind sometimes causes line to billow with the shad baits but the line darting toward the rod against the wind has telegraphed strikes to me before I felt the fish. On a blustery morning back in April bass ate the shad like kids go for ice cream while the lake boiled with waves and breakers crashed the shore like they do on the river, but I had no trouble with hookups, catching a dozen bass with ten between 14” and 17”.
The shad swim adapts well as a vertical jig. Its action is in the round paddle-tail, which attracts fish on the drop as well as when in forward retrieve. On a recent outing I had fish on almost as soon as the shad plopped into water and before I could engage the reel. I have not had the opportunity to try the lure as a deep water jig from a boat but I suspect it would work well at catching sauger and Morone family fish suspended at mid-depth or lurking on the river bottom. Swimbaits are also excellent to run in shallow water. With an elevated rod the minnow can be fished just beneath the surface and leave a nice surface disturbance.
There are also soft plastic swims that perfectly imitate bluegill and crappie for a true match of the hatch. Bluegill are universal bass forage in farm ponds and lakes and in those where crappie have been stocked, the crappie swim also mimics what the bass eat every day.
If you have not tried swimbaits you have been missing a hot fish catching lure that is more economical than hard baits and much easier to fish than the popular plastic worm. They have worked for me as early as February and on into the summer heat. Toss a soft plastic minnow or shad into a pond where Old Green Fish lurks and hang on!