June 01, 2022
By David A. Brown
Okay, so we’ll probably never stop using the cliche “match the hatch,” because showing fish something that mimics what they’re used to eating constitutes rock-solid logic. But what do you do when you don’t know exactly what they’re eating?
There could be multiple answers to that question, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to find one better than a small paddletail swimbait. Reason’s simple: The blend of user-friendly simplicity with undeniable fish appeal makes this one of the most efficient baits you can throw.
“This bait has a good swimming action that looks like a minnow or a shad,” said Kansas pro Brent Chapman. “Everything that swims chases small baitfish.”
A well-known player in the smallmouth and spotted bass game, swimbaits in that 2 1/2- to 3/12-inch range also do a number on hefty largemouth. Sure, the big greenies often choke 8- to 10-inch hard body swimbaits and big hollow bellies, but whether it’s a shad spawn, fall schooling or just an early morning bait school buffet, those little nuggets definitely hold their own.
And if your lake holds sizable crappie, those voracious minnow munchers will have no trouble getting their jaws around these baits. Add drum, catfish and yellow perch to the list of willing participants and one little swimbait can quickly rack up an impressive multi-species day.
To that point, Chapman notes that, while most of the traditional crappie jigs are presented in vertical form, he finds the horizontal track of a small swimbait makes it a good tool for covering water. Search mode helps you dial in productive spot and even if you’re running forward facing sonar, the cast-and-retrieve routine inherently whittles away unproductive water and eventually shows you where they’re living.
Small Package, Big Results
During a recent outing on a small southern lake that neither of us had fished, he convincingly employed a 2.75-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer. With a ribbed body displacing lots of water and that paddle tail kicking like a baitfish bound for somewhere else, the bait casts well and wiggles enticingly.
Others include the Keitech Swing Impact Fat, the Big Bite Baits Pro Swimmer, Reaction Innovations Little Dipper and Z-Man’s Diesel MinnowZ. All have one thing in common, you literally cast the bait out, reel the bait in and let the plastic do the talking.
He keeps his colors simple with translucent swimbaits for clear, bright days, and something more eye-catching for dimmer times. Dipping his swimbait tail in chartreuse dye will often turn lookers into biters.
Targets And Presentations
Chapman likes to rig his swimbaits on 1/16- to 1/8-ounce swimbait heads, but a weighted swimbait hook with a screw-in attachment also does the trick. Vegetation is usually the deciding factor, as an exposed hook will grab weeds and mar the presentation.
“The shallower the water and the slower the retrieve, the lighter the head,” he said. “If you want to fish it deeper and faster, you go with a heavier type head.
If conditions are dimmer than you like and you feel like the fish need a little bling, you might pair your swimbait with an underspin, a blade-accented swimbait hook like Owner’s Flashy Swimmer or Gamakatsu’s Spring Lock Spinner or the innovative 1st Gen Topspin. A little bling, a little more vibration — these enhancers help when visibility diminishes.
However, you rig your swimbait, remember this one simple, yet critical truth: Give this bait time to do what it does.
“This a bait that’s made to be fished horizontally, so I like to throw past a target that I see on Garmin LiveScope and then count it down to keep it above the fish,” Chapman said.
Considering the small swimbait’s diverse fan club, you’ll want to fish these baits on tackle that’s stout enough to handle a good sized largemouth without overpowering the presentation. Essential is a flexible tip for launching a small bait with sufficient backbone for putting the brakes on a big one.
“I use basically my light bass tackle, a 6-10 Kast King Speed Demon Finesse Tube rod,” he said. “I use it for Ned rigs, light shaky heads and dropshots.”
He runs 10-pound X-Finesse braid for his main main and connects to a 8-pound Gamma fluorocarbon leader with and FG knot.
He closes with common mistake he often observes: “Not having the right size jig head can be an (impediment). If the jighead is too heavy and it overpowers the bait so you don’t get the action. Or if a jig head is too light, you can’t get your bait to perform properly.
“What’s amazing about this, is that with (forward-facing sonar), you’re able to see how that bait performs. If you don’t have that technology, you can practice in a clear water lake or a swimming pool and learn how to count down your bait.”