An expert swimbaiter clears a path for new blood in the sport.
“What are you fishing for, Sharks?” “It’s gonna take a 10-pounder to eat that thing!” “There’s nothing in this lake that could eat that!” “Oh, look! He caught one!” (Pointing at your bait). These are just some of the interesting comments you might hear when you get into fishing big swimbaits. After a while, you learn to just smile and nod.
Nearly 20 years ago, I made the decision many of you may be considering now, to commit to swimbait fishing. This style of fishing has really opened my eyes to how big fish behave, and what a person needs to do to consistently catch them. I started fishing swimbaits for the same reason most people do; hoping to catch bigger fish with better consistency. It had been many years since I landed my PB largemouth, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever break it. After dabbling in the swimbait game for several years, I dove in head first and made the switch to fishing 99% swimbaits. After only two years I broke that PB largemouth, and went on to have some of the best days (and nights) of fishing in my life. At this point in my career, I have accomplished things on the water I never thought I would, and that has made all of the skunk trips and hard work more than worth the effort.
Start With Quality
Start with good equipment. If the rods, reels, and tackle you use are of low quality, and things are not working properly 100% of the time, you’re not going enjoy the experience. If you have good, quality gear when you’re out fishing, you’ll enjoy it more. If you enjoy it more, you’ll spend more time fishing, and in turn, catch more fish. Quality gear also holds its value, so if you end up deciding that swimbait fishing is just not for you, you’ll probably be able to sell your gear and make most of your money back. On the other hand, if you decide to stick with it, you won’t have to upgrade as your swimbait obsession grows.
Anyone searching the net for swimbait setups will be bombarded with an array of rods, reels and line and it is likely to be very confusing. And of course there are many combinations that are meant for specific situations, someone wanting to get into the sport can start with one combo to get a feel for big baits. When first starting out, you’ll want some versatility. I always recommend a reel in a 200 or 300 size, in the 6.x gear ratio. The Daiwa Tatula 200 or 300 are good choices. Another popular reel is the Shimano Curado 300k. These are quality reels that will get the job done. I keep it simple when it comes to line, I use Berkley Big Game mono for all my swimbait rigs, it’s inexpensive, abrasion resistant and strong.
Choosing a rod can be a little tougher if versatility is your main goal, some are made for hard baits with treble hooks, while others are made for single hook baits. That being said, I think one of the most versatile rods on the market is the Dobyns 836 Bull Shad rod. It’s a very versatile and affordable rod. But it’s also a very high quality rod. Dobyns also offers a great lineup of high-end, swimbait rods, as well as the Fury series which are great rods for someone on a budget.
Baits By The Billions
Don’t buy every swimbait you come across. Take some time to read up on baits from trusted sources around the country. It’s true that not all baits will translate to our fishery here in the Northeast, but, based on my experience, baits that are catching in the south or on the west coast, will catch in New England too. But even these ‘proven baits’, that you’ll read about on every swimbait forum and social media group will require lots of time to learn before they become a true weapon in your hands. Names like M.S. Slammer, Huddleston, Bull Shad, Black Dog Baits, 3:16 Lure Company, 22nd Century and RealPrey Swimbaits come up over and over because they catch.
Focusing Your Search
There are hundreds of bait makers and thousands of different baits on the market, ranging from $5 to $500. And the truth is, they all have a time and place. But the goal here is to give anglers looking to transition to big bait fishing in our home waters a leg up on the competition. The baits I’m going to lay out here have proven themselves over time and different bodies of water to become known as ‘must-have’ baits that should be present in every arsenal. We’re barely scratching the surface, but here are five good ones that will cover an array of swimbait situations here in the Northeast.
M.S. Slammer: This is an excellent wake bait to begin with. It flat out gets bit everywhere in the world. It’s an easy bait to fish; with a simple, slow and steady retrieve. The 9-inch version is widely preferred, but it comes in multiple sizes. It’s small enough to catch numbers of fish, and big enough to draw very large fish. I would recommend this bait to anyone; beginner or expert. The Slammer seems to really excel during the summer when the fish are shallow and active. Fish it around shallow cover or over weed flats and wait for the explosion!
The River2sea S-Waver 200: This is an excellent entry level glide bait. They come with quality hooks and split rings from the factory and are relatively inexpensive at around $40. This bait has caught many big fish for anglers of all skill levels. At 8 inches it’s not intimidating like some of the bigger glide baits and is a common favorite among anglers just getting into swimbaits.
RealPrey Alewife: I have caught hundreds of fish on this awesome soft-bodied swimbait. It is a 6.5-inch bait that weighs under 3 ounces. The great thing about this bait is that it doesn’t take an expert angler to fish it effectively. You can just cast and reel, and get great action in the form of its subtle tail kick that effectively mimics many local baitfish species. I like to fish this bait in spring and fall around channel edges for prespawn fish.
Black Dog Baits G2 Shellcracker: This small bluegill hard bait is one of my personal favorites. It can be waked on top, or cranked down about a foot and, at only 4 inches, you can expect to get plenty of bites on it, which makes it a great bait for building confidence. But this little bluegill catches monster fish, all over the country. As a matter of fact, I caught my personal best on one. It’s available in dozens of colors and is an affordable bait at around $40. This is an excellent bait to fish around shallow cover any time of year.
Bull Shad Swimbaits: My last recommendation is not any one bait, but an entire lineup – Bull Shad Swimbaits. These baits flat-out catch fish, all of them. Bull Shad makes baits from bluegill and shad glides, rat baits, wakes, cranks, multi-piece swimmers and so on. And they all catch fish. My personal favorite is the Bullshad Wake, which is a 6-inch shad wake bait. I have one Bull Wake that I have caught over 1,000 fish on, and it’s still catching! You can fish this bait fast or slow on top. The combination of action and sound just draws fish from everywhere it seems. The rest of the brand’s baits do the same thing. I don’t believe Bull Shad makes a single bait that doesn’t catch. The best part is they’re always readily available on the Bull Shad website and the owner, Mike Bucca, is a great guy to chat with and offers top-notch customer service.
Some Parting Words
Swimbait fishing is NOTHING like conventional fishing. The two are polar opposites. Some things that ARE possible: smallmouth will eat a 12-inch bait, personal records will be shattered, you will see the biggest fish of your life, you can win tournaments with big swimbaits, there are fish far bigger than you thought in your home lake, and a 12-inch bass will try to eat a 10-inch swimbait. On my best day of fishing I boated five fish that added up to 26 pounds, even. These were caught in my kayak, in one afternoon, in New England.
Take it from me, all of the giant fish you never thought existed. All of the personal records you think you’ll never break. All the accomplishments you think you’ll never achieve. And all the unbelievably, epic fishing days on the water you might think were impossible. I can assure you they are ALL possible. Pick up a swimbait rod and go find out for yourself. Just make sure you keep an open mind.