Cast-Retrieve-Repeat! Except for setting the hook and fighting a fish, that is all there is to fishing with swimbaits…


October 01, 2017

To tell you the truth, I was skeptical of the fish-catching ability of swimbaits when they first came to market years ago. I thought they’re just too simply made and too easy to use to work so well.

But it only took me a few casts to realize I was wrong. And it doesn’t matter the species I am targeting, be it walleye, bass, panfish or trout, you name it and swimbaits fool them all.

That is not the end of the story, however. There’s a little more to catching fish with these lures than anglers may realize. But not a whole lot.

Big smallies on swimbaits, like the author’s holding here? You bet! Walleye, pike and trout, too. David Rose photo

As Its Name Implies

So what, exactly, is a swimbait?

In a way, it’s a cross between a softbait lure and a lipless crankbait. Many are made of pliable plastic, molded around lead and hook; they resemble minnows, shiners and young-of-the-year fishes. Some, on the other hand, are offered as soft-bodied baits you add your own jig head to. The end result of catching fish is equal whichever style you choose.

At their rear end is either a paddle- or curly-cue tail; the former resonating a tempting “thump” as it swims, the later a veracious flash and vibration. Either way, it’s the shape, feel, and pulsation these lures make that fish have a hard time refusing.

It Started Somewhere

It’s been nearly two decades since I first started casting swimbaits on a regular basis. And it all started while fishing a charity tournament event in Northern Lower Michigan. I was the only professional walleye angler fishing alongside some of the finest bass-fishing professionals in the world.

My bait of choice during the one-day event was a 1/4-ounce swimbait, which was about 3-1/2 inches long. And with that one lure I was able to prove a walleye guy can hold his own amongst a large pack of some of the best in the bass industry. To boot, a trophy-size 6.42-pound smallmouth—the third largest of the event—came over the gunwales of my Lund, as well several more smallies and countless hefty rainbow trout.

How To Do It

Today I fish a swimbait nearly identical to how I started to way back when.

First, I prefer casting them on superline, with Flame-colored 8-pound-test Berkley FireLine my preference.

What’s the reason I prefer superline, you ask? The no-stretch properties of superline allows me to feel every pulse of the lures paddle- or curly-cue tail, as well it’s easier than ever to detect when the lure’s ticking the tops of the weeds, rock, or wood; which is a signal for me to speed up the retrieve and get the lure up and out of cover and swimming just over it.

Superline also lets me achieve great hook sets when using such light line, as the hooks on most swimbaits are quite large and it takes a little more gumption to get the point to pierce a bony jaw.

A longer, medium-power fast-action rod, such as a 7-foot 2-inch Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye spinning rod, allows me to make long casts. And the beefier action aids in getting good hooks sets, as well. I couple the rod with size-30 ABU Garcia Orra S spinning reel for a perfectly balanced rig.

Speaking of those long casts… Whether I’m fishing clear water or stained, I like to make lengthy casts when using swimbaits, allowing the lure to free-fall a few seconds through the water column before starting my retrieve. And as for the reclaiming of line, it’s merely a slow and steady one.

That’s the beauty of swimbaits, the best action is no added action; just that aforementioned stable retrieve. There’s no lift and fall or no hopping along bottom.

And there’s no refuting a strike when fishing swimbaits as the bait is usually engulfed.

The Devil’s in the Details

Swimbaits come in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors it can be overwhelming when attempting to pick one out. As with any lure, however, it will depend on the depth I am fishing and the shape and size of the forage at hand.

These baits work great in water 12 feet and under; thus I find the lightest-weight lures, which don’t sink too quickly and have the most life-like action, work best.

With that said, I generally use 1/8- to 1/4-ounce swimbaits most often. This weight bait tends to be shorter in length than heavier ones, measuring in at 2 to 3 inches. There are also shorter, 1/32- and 1/16-oncers on the market. These tiny versions are great for panfish whether it’s crappie, bluegills or perch you’re targeting.

For the most part, in water any deeper than 12 feet, I use the 3/8- to 3/4-ouncers, no matter the size of the forage base in a lake.

As for shape and color of swimbaits I choose, that depends on the waters I am fishing.

In waterways where shad, bluegills, and crappie are the main forage, the short fat profile of one of the many Storm’s WildEye Live series of swimbaits is great. Where shiners, perch, and other slender-shaped forage is present, Northland’s new Impulse core Swimbait, coupled with a VMC SBJ Swimbait Jig, will do the trick.

Color, on the other hand, depends on water clarity. I prefer the naturally-colored baits such as bluegill, perch, and shiner in clear water, and brightly-colored ones, such Firetiger for example, in stained or muddy water.

As for choosing paddle- or curly-tail, I let the fish decide. I find changing often is best.

Last but not least, when attaching a swimbait to FireLine, I tie it on directly with a Palomar knot; that’s not using a snap, as well forgoing the use of a leader of monofilament or fluorocarbon. The fish do not seem to care when attacking a swimbait, even with the brightly-colored line.

Cast. Retrieve. Repeat.

Looking for a technique that’s easy to use to catch more fish than ever this year, no matter the species? Then by all means, tie a swimbait directly to superline and make a long cast, and then just give it a slow, steady retrieve and hang on.

Yes, it really can be as easy as that.

Mark Martin is a professional walleye tournament angler and instructor with the Fishing Vacation Schools, who live in southwestern Lower Michigan. Visit his website at for more information.