How to Fish a Swimbait

Since bass fishing became a big deal – way back in the 18th century – there have been lures, rods, reels, and all kinds of equipment dedicated to the sport. Swimbaits are no exception. Designed to catch the really big bass, swimbaits can be as large as 12 inches! That’s because bass are such voracious predators that they’ll even strike on another fish their own size. Swimbaits come in a variety of sizes and materials, you can rig them for different conditions, and the larger of them require a special rod. 

If you’ve never fished a swimbait before, this article will provide all the info you need to get started. Swimbaits are different lures from crankbaits and jerkbaits. Meant to be retrieved slow and steady, these lures get their name from their swimming action in the water. Most of them don’t have a lip like a jerkbait or crankbait will. They can be segmented to give them a little lifelike wiggle or you can get the soft-bodied variety. Some are weedless, some quite the opposite, some float, and some sink. You’ll need a good idea of what conditions you’ll be fishing in before you go shopping.

While it’s always a good plan to have a variety of lures in your arsenal, swimbait can be pricey. So, if you’re going to shell out the big bucks for an expensive lure, pick one that’s going to match your fishing territory. We’ll break down the swimbait lure so you can make an educated decision.

Soft or Hard Swimbait?

Although hard swimbait lures have been around for ages, the soft versions are a relatively new development. They’re both fished essentially the same. The main difference in their behavior is that the soft kind can be fished in the weeds without snagging and snapping your line. That being said, there are a few different styles of softbaits that will change the way they behave in the water. The soft versions are normally much smaller too and don’t require that heavy-duty rig.

Hard swimbait lures can be made of wood or hard plastic. Most of them are segmented with hinges between the segments that give it the swimming motion of a real fish. The segments go from two halves attached in the middle to multiple segments connected to each other. The standard seems to be three to four segments. They remind me of the wooden snake toys I used to have as a kid. One long piece of wood cut into multiple sections gave them that snakeline action. The hard variety usually comes with two sets of treble hooks hanging from the bottom of the lure. 

A few good examples, if you want to see what the hard lures look like, are the H2O Xpress Jointed Sunfish that’s 3.5 inches and the Savage Gear 4 Play 2.0 that measures 8 inches. Hard swimbaits don’t just come in fish shapes either. Check out the Savage Gear 3D Suicide Duck.

Soft swimbait lures are a bit more varied. Some are essentially the same as a standard hard lure – large fish-shaped lures with treble hooks under the belly. However, soft lures also come in line-through models. In this case, the body has a hollow tube running through the center from nose to tail. This is where you thread your leader. The line goes into the nose end and out either the tail or the back. You tie your hook onto the tag end of the line once you’ve passed it through the lure. When the fish strike, they get hooked, but the lure slides up the leader and out of the way when the fish struggle.

A third type, the top hook style, is great if you’re bottom fishing. You can drag this lure along the bottom without much fear of getting caught up in vegetation. They come weighted and unweighted with a place for attaching an additional hook underneath if you’re so inclined.

Finally, soft swimbaits come in a smaller variety that has either a wedge or boot-shaped tail. The wedge tails perform more subtly in the water, without much wiggle. The boot tails have a bit more roll and twist in the water. Both come in a pack as plastic worms do, and neither come with hooks. So, you’ll either want a swimbait hook or a jighead to pair with it. There are solid and hollow-bodied lures in this category, mostly affecting the lure’s durability and hookset. 

A swimbait hook is specialized to hold a soft swimbait lure. It’s shaped almost like the letter D, but with a gap where the straight part doesn’t quite meet the rest of the letter. The end where the line ties on usually has a screw. That goes into the nose of the bait. The hook reaches around and up through the soft lure so that the sharp end points back toward the head. They often have a weight built into the shank that sits below the lure when it’s properly rigged. 

What Size Swimbait to Use?

As we’ve mentioned, the size of swimbait lures runs the gamut from a few inches to an entire foot long. So, you can’t choose one with your eyes closed and hope it’s going to work out. The larger sized lures can make quite a splash when they hit the water, scaring bass back into the shadows. There’s a right way and a wrong way to cast the monster lures. With the smaller, soft-bodied lures, you won’t need to finesse the cast quite so much and can concentrate on your retrieve. Naturally, the enormous lures are designed for catching enormous fish and the small ones for smaller fish, but you might be surprised at the small bass who’ll strike on a lure they can’t even swallow.

This is when you want to have an idea of what fish are in the area where you’re fishing. Some of these lures are ultra-realistic baitfish mimics. Because they’re designed to be worked in clear water, the fish is going to get a pretty good look at your lure. If it doesn’t look quite right, the fish may not strike. One fish you can always count on being around bass are other bass. So, it’s a good bet that the bass mimic lures are going to match at least one fish in the water. Large bass will eat small and juvenile bass if they look like a good snack at the time. Small trout and bluegill are generally pretty successful, but only if there are trout where you’re fishing.

How to Rig a Swimbait

The rigging you use with a swimbait lure will change based on the size of the lure and the style of the lure. If you’ve chosen to stick to the smaller end of swimbaits, it’s not necessary to invest in a whole new rod. If you want to cast lures over two ounces, you’re going to have a hard time without a strong rod. Umbrella rigging softbaits is a very popular method with bass anglers who want to fish a bunch of lures at the same time. Because of the heavy weight of this type of rig, a heavy-duty setup is necessary here too.

The rods used for swimbait are in their own subcategory. They’re typically labeled for the weight of the lures they can handle. A thick, longer rod is preferable – eight feet or longer. Start out with a rod that has a wide range. After you have some experience, you can start to narrow down what weight range you want.

A baitcasting reel is really the only option for casting swimbaits. You also want one rated for a stronger line. At a minimum, choose a monofilament line that’s got a twenty to twenty-five-pound test. If you’re going to be bottom fishing, go with the fluorocarbon line. It’ll sink, allowing your lure to get to the bottom easier. For top fishing something like that duck lure, go with mono line, since it floats.  

A classic Texas rig works well for paddle tail swimbaits. If you’re fishing in the weeds, go with a soft swimbait on a weighted swimbait hook. When choosing the size of your hook, it should fit the length of the fish. The top of the hook should lay flat against the top of the fish, but not too tightly. The soft lure needs to have room to collapse so the hook can set. In open water, fishing an exposed hook on a jighead works well. 

When to Use a Swimbait

Now that you know what a swimbait lure is, how to rig it, and the right gear to use, the last piece you need is the “when.” Just like with other lures, certain styles and rigging work best under particular conditions. You can use a swimbait in both salt and freshwater. Because they need a steady retrieve, you want to make sure there’s enough space to move around. Swimbaits work best in clear water no deeper than 50 feet. When fishing near cover, choosing a lighter weight lure is more effective than the super large ones. They also seem to do better in cold water than very warm water. Sometimes, it’s just fun to switch to a swimbait when you get bored with another style.

You may also like to read How to Use Rooster Tails for Bass Fishing.

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