Skip to main content



The Perfect Combination

One of the hallmarks of soft-plastic swimbaits is their ability to attract and trigger the biggest fish in a lake, river, reservoir, pit, or pond. Last season, the biggest walleye we boated was a 35-inch, near 15-pound goliath hooked by a friend who'd never before used a 5-inch Berkley Flatback Shad on a 3/4-ounce Owner Saltwater Bullet jig. And our biggest smallmouth was caught by another friend with a Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait, rigged on a Freedom Lures 1/2-ounce Hydra jig, with the hook loosely hanging from the head to provide freedom of movement.

Last winter, my best "numbers" lure for icing lake trout was a 4-inch X-Zone Swammer swimbait attached to a hand-poured 3/8-ounce bullet jig with a 3/0 Gamakatsu hook. The biggest muskie I saw had her nose glued to the back of my 9½-inch Water Wolf Lures Shadzilla. When the big toothy cruised by the side of the boat, pectoral fins splayed out like a shark, I could have reached out and touched her, had I not been intent on trying to get her to bite on the figure eight I was weaving.

Finally, Bassmaster Elite pro Ott DeFoe surprised me when I spent a practice day with him on the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wisconsin, last year as he fished a 6-inch swimbait on a 1/2-ounce jighead in shallow water for largemouth bass cruising the bank.

DeFoe's bulky combination looked out of place in the weedy shallows until I saw how he worked it. With an underhand pitching motion, he placed the lure silently near cover, then raised his rod tip to make the bait swing back toward the boat.

Weighty Matters

Although it may seem there's no wrong way to work a swimbait, many anglers err by using a jig or weighted hook that's too light. As Stange discovered years ago by studying the action of baits in a large aquarium, heavy jigs cause baits to roll from side to side as the tail kicks. It's an enticing, multi-dimensional swimming motion that few other lures can match.

Jig weight can be critical. For a 2- or 3-inch finesse swimbait like the new Nippon Tackle Fish Arrow Flash J Shad used for perch and slab crappies or a 31„2-inch Castaic Baby Jerky J for moody smallmouths, a 3/16 - or 1/4-ounce jig is appropriate.

To fish 4-, 5-, and 6-inch soft-plastic swimbaits in open water for walleyes, bass, pike, and lake trout, 3/8-ounce is the lightest you'd consider, with 1/2-ounce generally the best starting point.

The weight of your jig or hook has little to do with the depth you're fishing. We routinely work 1/2- and 3/4-ounce weighted swimbaits in rocky areas just 8 or 9 feet deep.

Those unfamiliar with swimbaits often fear snagging the exposed hook, but these lures are remarkably buoyant by nature of their material and action. The weight encourages you to fish them properly, casting and letting them fall, then snapping them up before swimming them back to the boat in a relatively brisk manner, a foot or so off bottom.

The weight of the jig and the bulk of the bait compel you to raise and lower your rod tip while you retrieve the lure, forcing you to execute subtle pauses that often evoke strikes.

When anglers report they can't catch fish with swimbaits, it's almost always because they refused to use a sufficiently heavy jig or weighted, wide-gap hook. They mistakenly feel that swimming these lures slower and steadier is more productive.

Continued after gallery...

Berkley Flatback Shad on Kalin's Bullet Jig — solid-body style on heavy jighead

Castaic Catch22 Swimbait — weighted, segmented swimbait

Luck 'E ' Strike Scrounger with 4-inch Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait

Megastrike Cavitron with Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper

Optimum Baits Double Diamond on Mustad Power-Lock Plus

Storm WildEye Swim Shad — prerigged, weighted paddletail

Terminator T-1 with Trigger X Slop Hopper (cut down an inch)

Yum Money Minnow — hollow-belly style on Lazer TroKar Magnum Weighted Swimbait Hook

Z-Man Chatterbait with Lake Fork Live Magic Shad

Swimbait Categories

Choosing between a solid body and hollow body swimbait can affect success. Though the difference is subtle, tube-style swimbaits like the original Basstrix, Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait, and Yum Money Minnow are more buoyant, even when pinned to a heavy jighead or with the internally weighted harness system in baits like Water Wolf's Shadzilla, making them ideal for fishing shallow, snaggy terrain.

I prefer solid swimbaits like Berkley's Flatback Shad and Ripple Shad, Castaic Jerky J, X-Zone Swammer, and the Bass Magnet Shift 'R Shad when I fish deeper water and want to stay closer to the bottom. Both types work well on umbrella rigs. When hooking a hollow-belly bait on a jighead, care must be taken to run the hook shank through solid plastic, not the hollow chamber, so the lure runs right.

Elongated soft swimmers, like Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper, Yum's Li'l Suzee, or the Trigger X Slop Hopper, also work great when Texas-rigged behind a slipsinker. Fish them over the through shallow vegetation, both submerged and emergent. With the hook buried, they're amazingly snagless, but readily hook bass, pike, muskies, and more.

Other soft swimbaits come rigged with weight and hook, such as Storm's WildEye Swim Shad and Berkley's Freshwater Swimming Pogy. With lead slugs in the body, they typically sink fast and excel for deep work when snags are not imminent or when fish are suspended in mid-water. They don't work well around weedgrowth.

Finally, some prerigged soft swimbaits have segmented bodies and straight or flat tails, intended to swim in a snakelike S-pattern. Top choices include styles from Mattlures, Jerry Rago's Trout, Bluegill, and Hitch creations, Huddleston Trout, Castaics' line of swimbaits, and Sebile's Magic Swimmer Soft. Most have treble hooks and are sized for big bass, stripers, pike, and muskies. The Magic Swimmer comes in four sizes from 4 to 8 inches, and can be rigged on weighted swimbait hooks.

Other Applications

While I haven't much experience with umbrella rigs, their amazing success in reservoir situations has taken the market by storm. Many companies have added 3- to 6-inch paddle-tail swimbaits for this application.

Soft swimbaits also excel for trolling. For example two of the three biggest lake trout I've landed — a pair of 40-pounders from Lake Athabasca — walloped a 9-inch Storm WildEye Swim Shad rigged on a downrigger and lowered into 90 feet of water, trolled at moderate speed.

I've also been experimenting by trolling 4-, 5- and 6- inch swimbaits we use for walleyes and bass, rigged with heavy Owner Saltwater Bullet jigheads on a 20- to 40-foot leader behind portable downriggers on my aluminum boat. The 51„2-inch Jerky J Swim Laminate and 5-inch Sakura Slit Shad, two of the sleekest swimbaits and perfect cisco and smelt imitations, have been particularly good.

I've also tried pulling boot-tailed swimbaits behind Dipsy Divers and Jet Divers for back-country lake trout. I feel they can be deadly for salmon and steelhead in the Great Lakes or Pacific Ocean. Trolling may start a new chapter on what may be the most versatile softbaits in your box.

Soft Swimbaits as Trailers

Soft swimbaits are deadly when matched with spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, buzzbaits, swim jigs, bladed jigs, and vibrating jigs like Luck "E" Strike's Scrounger. Their bulk and buoyancy lift the lure in the water column, which can be especially important when fishing around vegetation.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

The In-Fisherman crew head to Lake Erie to catch smallmouth bass.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Doug Stange joins Capt. Aron Kastern on Lake Superior near Ashland, Wisconsin where they go after whitefish on ice.

Channel Cats on Ice

Channel Cats on Ice

The In-Fisherman staff reveals some of the hottest action of the winter season, as they show how to ice 20-pound channel catfish.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Across the Walleye Belt, big water often equals big opportunities to enjoy some of the continent's finest walleye fishing.Staying on Big-Water Walleyes Walleye

Staying on Big-Water Walleyes

Dan Johnson - September 09, 2019

Across the Walleye Belt, big water often equals big opportunities to enjoy some of the...

You're going to love this Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe! These deep-fried walleye strips are tasty and dress up nicely when served in a basket or on a plate with fresh fruit such as grapes and strawberries.Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe Fish Recipes

Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe


You're going to love this Beer-Battered Fish Fingers Recipe! These deep-fried walleye strips...

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing Bass

The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing

Steve Quinn - June 22, 2020

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.

See More Trending Articles

More Baits

Trout are opportunistic predators that feed on a wide variety of forage and hit a broad spectrum ofBest Trout Lures And Baits Baits

Best Trout Lures And Baits

Dan Johnson - November 13, 2017

Trout are opportunistic predators that feed on a wide variety of forage and hit a broad...

The Ned Rig : Ned Kehde Baits

The Ned Rig : Ned Kehde

Cory Schmidt - January 16, 2018

"He's one of the classiest men you'd ever hope to meet, always willing to help teach folks to...

Hot new Softbaits sure to help you put more fish in the boat.2018 ICAST New Softbaits Baits

2018 ICAST New Softbaits

Dan Johnson - July 05, 2018

Hot new Softbaits sure to help you put more fish in the boat.

The Freestyle Frog comes through cover with ease and performs well both on top and below the water.LIVETARGET Freestyle Frog Baits

LIVETARGET Freestyle Frog

Chris Schneider - December 04, 2019

The Freestyle Frog comes through cover with ease and performs well both on top and below the...

See More Baits

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the In-Fisherman App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now