By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
There’s a reason the Goldilocks metaphor immediately conjures thoughts of balance, moderation – that “just right” level where everything seems to work as it should. For swimbait fans, a medium-sized, solid-body soft bait like the YUM Pulse, Strike King Rage Tail Swimmer, Gambler Big EZ or Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper offers a diverse array of potential with a profile that fits just about anywhere you want to throw it.
Noting that the 4 1/2-inch Pulse accounts for the majority of his swimbait catches throughout the year, Alabama pro Jimmy Mason said this bait class provides the right blend of quantity and quality. It’ll keep you busy, but it also appeals to the upper end of the size range.
“You want something bigger than the little finesse-size swimbait because that’s more for clear water when schooling-size fish are keying on little shad,” Mason said. “A lot of the attraction of a medium-size swimbait has to do with the fact that this is probably the most common size of bait throughout the year.
“Also, it not super-intimidating for fish if they’re not really in a feeding mode. When the fish are in an aggressive feeding mode, they’ll go for a big swimbait; but that mid-size bait will catch these fish, as well as the ones that are not necessarily as aggressive. So this bait appeals to fish at any given time.”
Furthermore, maintaining a plastic bait’s proper orientation stands essential to its functional efficiency. As Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Lee points out, a solid-body swimbait holds its position and resists the slipping and bunching common to hollow bodies. This structural stability allows him to fish this type of bait without stopping to glue plastic onto lead-heads.
From the bank to the ledges, mid-size swimbaits can play a major roll in the savvy bass angler's arsenal. Mason offers an exemplary trio of applications:
> Texas-rigged – His choice for fishing emergent or submerged vegetation, Mason rigs his Pulse on a 4/0 or 5/0 Mustad KVD Wide Gap Grip Pin hook, which helps hold up the bait if it snags grass or if a short strike pulls down the bait. He’ll vary his weight based on depth, but always secures it with a bobber stop for dependable alignment.
Three effective ways to employ medium-size swimbaits: (top to bottom) Texas-rigged, on a traditional swimbait head and attached to a bladed jig.
“On lakes like Guntersville, Chickamauga or Toledo Bend that have grass growing out in deep water, you can go to a 1/4-ounce or deeper to fish it just above the grass that’s 8 feet below the surface and just growing up,” Mason said. “And then if you get up in the shallow milfoil, you can drop that back to a 1/8- or 1/16-ounce and very efficiently cover grass that’s 6 inches from the surface, or starting to touch the surface.
“You can use that rig to cover all the depths of grass that you need. It’s a super-efficient way to fish and it has a good hook-up percentage.”
The Texas-rigged swimbait will also give you an effective presentation for fishing shallow wood and skipping docks.
> Swimbait head – This is straightforward swimbait stuff, for sure, but Mason also notes how a lead head escorts a bait through cover like a wide-shouldered fullback clearing the path for a running back.
“I throw this on lakes with eel grass because it’s harder and that exposed-hook jighead comes through that cover a lot better than it will hydrilla or milfoil,” he said. “You get a great hooking percentage coming through and if it bogs down, you can pop it free and it comes through very well.”
This arrangement also serves a more traditional swimbait presentation across offshore rocks and any type of deep cover with little snagging risk. Mason uses a 1/4- to 1-ounce jig based on depth and current. Maintaining frequent bottom contact is his measuring stick.
That’s important in any scenario, but it’s strategically relevant in turbulent areas such as a tail race, where fish will hug the bottom and let current bring bait to them.
“If you’re up in the suspended layer, more than a couple feet off the bottom, you’re not going to get nearly as many bites as when you’re down close to the bottom,” Mason said.
Matt Lee likes the Strike King Rage Swimmer when ledge fish shy away from crankbaits and hollow-body swimbaits.
> Bladed swimjig – A solid-body swimbait stays up better on the hook than a hollow body. Moreover, if he needs to compact his profile to match forage, these baits are easily modified with a simple snip. In any case, Mason clips off the very tip of a Pulse’s rounded nose so it fits flat agains the bladed swimjig head for a big gizzard shad profile.
A definite big-fish bait, this package works well around piers, docks and shallow vegetation. Shad spawn? You bet!
Swimbaits offer a different reaction look when ledge fish are still in a feeding mood, but they’ve seen too many crankbaits. But, as Lee noted, even the popular hollow-bellies can wear out their welcome.
“A few years ago, on Guntersville especially, the hollow-body swimbaits were the go-to bait,” Lee said. “But it seems like the fish are getting more conditioned to that look and you are having to change the types of swimbaits you use. Now, I throw more of the Rage Swimmers than I ever have because they give a different look than a traditional hollow-belly.
“This past year I actually had a lot of success fishing the 4.75-inch Rage Swimmer very slowly on the bottom. I’d crawl the bait along, almost teasing the bass, and it still had action – even at a very slow speed.”
Elite pro Greg Hackney leverages the Rage Swimmer’s hefty profile for the fall feed by using it as a trailer for his Hack Attack Heavy Cover Swim Jig. This same package, he said, works wonders for spring pre-spawners moving into spawning creeks. Knowing that early arrivers will hug the ditches, he’ll ply these travel routes with a hardy profile for fish that haven’t started relating to the bank.
Casey Smith won last year's FLW Series Northern Division tournament at the Potomac River with a 4.8-inch Keitech Swimbait (bluegill flash color) rigged on a 6/0 wide gap hook with a 1/4-ounce belly weight. Fishing the Aqua Po Beach area outside of Aquia Creek, Smith did most of his damage by fishing a ditch that dropped a foot deeper than the surrounding milfoil grass flat.
With bluegill and shad dashing in and out of the area, Smith picked apart the trough, as well as a deeper hole at one end. The medium-size swimbait gave him an effective tool for making lots of casts, but presenting a profile the big fish would notice.