Understanding Swimbaits

The swimbait craze is among us. When something new and exciting hits the fishing tackle industry the buzz often starts with tournament professionals, spreads quickly to the media and eventually the mainstream angler gets involved. In the case of swimbaits it seems that everyone feels these unique lures are a “no brainer” for catching more and bigger fish.

These specialized fishing lures have expanded in brand, size and type so quickly, a lot of anglers are becoming confused over just what constitutes a swimbait. Now is a good time to step back a minute and take a hard look at the different types of swimbaits and how they can help put more fish in the boat?

What’s A Swimbait?

Swimbaits are becoming a rather complex lure group that are part hard bait and part soft bait. The first swimbaits were crankbait style hard baits that incorporated wide swimming actions. It didn’t take long however for soft body versions to hit the market and these days’ anglers can choose from hard baits, soft baits and swimbaits that include both hard and soft parts in their construction! No wonder the average angler is asking, what’s a swimbait?

Collectively the hard, soft and cross over versions of swimbaits all have something in common. This lure group is designed to provide maximum swimming action that exceeds anything a crankbait or traditional soft plastic lure can provide.

Part of what makes swimbaits work so well is these lures have an abundance of swimming action, coupled with massive amounts of water displacement. When a lure passes through the water it displaces the water around it creating small shock waves that fish readily pick up with their lateral line sense. The more water a lure displaces, the better fish can sense or feel the lure and zero in on it.

What flash is to the visual senses of a fish, swimbaits are to their lateral line sense. These powerful baits have the ability to get the attention of fish, attract them and once they are close enough to see the bait, it’s game on. In short, swimbaits are the real deal and probably the best new lure group to hit fishing since the spinnerbait.

Hard Body Swimbaits

Hard body swimbaits are similar to crankbaits except these lures have articulations or joints in the body that create the side to side swimming action. Crankbaits wobble and swimbaits sashay through the water giving them a completely different look and action in the water.

To achieve the maximum swimming action, those articulations have to function smoothly. The smaller the swimbait, the more important it becomes that these articulations function flawlessly. Because smaller swimbaits have less surface area, the articulations must be velvet smooth to allow the lure the freedom to swim when retrieved.

Many hard body swimbaits have two eye tie attatchment points. Normally one attachment point will be on the top of the forehead of the lure and a second one will be at the tip of the nose or the bottom of the lure’s jaw. The action the lure enjoys depends a great deal on which line tie is used.

The forehead line tie provides the lures more aggressive swimming action, with a wider stroke in the water. This attachment option normally is best for fishing in warmer water or for fish that are exceptionally active.

The nose or jaw line tie option tones down the swimming motion or action on these lures. Often the best time to use this line tie option is when fishing in cold water for lethargic fish.

Some anglers mistakenly think the line tie options on these lures are about lure running depth. Lure running depth is more impacted by casting distance and line diameter, than the line tie options.

Soft Body Swimbaits

A number of soft body swimbaits are currently on the market. These soft body versions mimic the hard body baits in that they typically incorporate cuts or groves in the body that allow for a greater swimming action. In some cases the soft body lures gain action by having a thin and very flexible body, with a wide “paddle” style tail that incorporates a lot of additional action and water displacement.

Some of these soft body baits are designed to be fished with a jig, some with an offset style worm hook and others with special treble hook riggings. The versatility of how these soft body swimbaits can be rigged and fished is one of the major reasons they have started appealing to such a wide range of anglers.

The jighead rigging option is one of the most popular ways to fish soft body swimbaits. Probably the biggest issue here is simply finding a jig with a swimming style head and a large enough hook to accommodate the larger swimbait body sizes.

The Bait Rigs Esox Cobra jighead is ideal for fishing the medium to larger sized soft body baits. This unique jighead features a wedge shaped swimming head design, coupled with a tempered off set style hook that has enough beef to handle anything that swims. Ideal for pike, musky, striper, lake trout and trophy sized bass, this jighead is unique in that it comes in all the sizes suitable for fishing swimbaits in shallow or deep water.

For worm hook Texas rigging an extra wide gap hook is required. Some of the manufacturers of soft body swimbaits also produce suitable hooks and many of the major hook producers are now selling “swimbait” style hooks to accommodate this demand.

One swimbait company Savage Gear, imported from Europe by Okuma Rods and Reels, offers perhaps the most unique of all hooking options. The Savage Gear Soft4Play body can be rigged with an offset worm hook or their unique off set treble hook that incorporates a wire rigging that inserts into the Soft4Play body. This option positions a single treble hook on the bottom of the swimbait in the front 1/3 of the body.

The rigging options don’t stop there with the Savage Gear lures. You can also buy custom sized Lip Skulls that incorporate a treble hook and a diving lip into a clear plastic skull that in turn accepts the Soft4Play body. Cross over rigging options like the wire rigged treble hook and the Lip Skull create a true family of cross-over style swimbaits suitable for a wide variety of fishing applications.

Cross-Over Swimbaits

The cross-over swimbaits are those models that feature hard body and part soft body parts. Some of these lures feature a hard head with a soft tail section, others like the Savage Gear lures incorporate a plastic skull that the soft body slips into. Still others mold a soft body over a weighted jighead.

The cross-over style swimbaits expand the uses of these lures to include mainstream fishing methods like trolling. Because the cross-over lures often incorporate a diving lip, the whole swimbait phenomena can expand into popular trolling applications for salmon, trout, walleye, pike, musky and striper.

Getting The Most From Swimbaits

One of the coolest things about swimbaits is fishing them is amazingly simple. Unlike presentations like “jerkbaiting” that require the angler to impart the ideal action to the lure, swimbaits come alive by simply retrieving or trolling them in the water.

The vast majority of swimbaits function best when they are retrieved with a slow, steady retrieve. Pausing the retrieve and then restarting the retrieve helps to break up the constant action and often triggers strikes, but typically it’s not necessary to work the bait with special jerks or pumps of the rod.

Because swimbaits come in a sizes ranging from three inch to 14 inches long, it’s very important to match up the lure being used to rods and reels up to the task. The smaller sizes of swimbaits are best casted on medium or medium heavy action spinning gear. A seven to seven and a half foot long spinning rod is generally ideal for casting the small to medium sized swimbaits.

For the somewhat larger swimbaits exceeding 1/2 ounce in size, bass casting rods and reels are ideal. One of the best rods for general purpose swimbait fishing are baitcasting “worm” rods equipped with low profile style baitcasting reels.

To throw the larger swimbaits requires specialized rods and reels up to the task. Okuma was one of the first companies to develop “swimbait specific” rods for anglers who were targeting trophy bass, pike, musky and striper using these lures. These rods come in a variety of actions and lengths from seven foot six inches to seven foot 11 inches. The longer length and stronger backbone of these rods makes them ideal for throwing baits up to about seven or eight inches in length.

A swimbait rod like this is best equipped with a heavy duty round style baitcasting reel capable of handling 200 yards of 20 pound test line.

Swimbait specific rods are a great choice for lures up to about three or four ounces, but swimbaits are available in much larger sizes including 10, 12, 14 and even 16 ounces in size! These jumbo swimbaits have to be thrown on rods up to the challenge. An extra heavy action muskie fishing rod designed for things like fishing bulldog lures are required to effectively fish the largest sizes of swimbaits.

The best muskie class rods are telescopic in design and at least eight feet, six inches to nine feet, six inches in length. The extra length aids in casting distance and the extra heavy backbone is essential for throwing lures the size of small forest creatures!

Final Comments

Swimbaits are at times very large lures and the hooks on these baits aren’t always equally large. To get an acceptable hook up ratio with a lure that is large in stature and equipped with modest hooks, the angler has to understand the importance of using fishing lines with a little built in stretch.

Anytime a swimbait is used to target trophy sized pike, muskie, striper or other species, a fluorocarbon or monofilament line is going to be the ideal choice. Low stretch braids simply put too much pressure on the lure and can lead to powerful fish tearing free and escaping.

If a super braid line is used, it makes sense to select a rod that has a little softer backbone to compensate for the lack of line stretch.

Swimbaits are very unique and on average also very expensive compared to other lure types. After the “sticker shock” wears off, the cost per lure is acceptable considering how well these lures work at triggering strikes from all kinds of predator fish.

A modest assortment of baits is the best way to get started fishing swimbaits. Once an angler has a feeling for the types of lures that work best for his or her favorite species, the sky is the limit on how much an angler can invest into this new and exciting fishing lure group.

Like those who specialize in fly fishing, swimbaits are an animal all their own. Once an angler has used them and developed some confidence in their fish catching ability, the addiction is well on its way to becoming overwhelming.

Swimbait Lure And Rod Manufacturers