Dave Hrbacek, St. Paul, Minnesota, says: "I'm a new subscriber and just read Doug Stange's "Inside Angles" in the October-November 2003 issue. I have questions about swimbaits: (1) What type of retrieve is best? (2) The Berkley Power Bait Swim Shad is a saltwater bait. Is it OK for use in freshwater? (3) What size swimbait is best? (4) Do swimbaits work best on heavily fished lakes, or do they work as well on less-pressured waters?
Doug Stange: The swimbaits work well for bass in some instances. They're particularly good fished on a 1/2-ounce jighead when you're searching new territory, because they can be cast far and retrieved quickly. Cast one out, let it sink to the bottom, or to the intended depth, then retrieve it, using a combination of lift-fall and straight retrieve. Sometimes, in other words, you let it fall to the bottom, then move it along again for 10 feet or so before letting it fall again. And so on. Other times, move it along steadily until you contact weeds, snap your rod tip to break free, then move it along again. Bass eat it on the fall, or as you make a steady retrieve. As you become more proficient with the baits, add further swimming motion to the jig by flexing your wrists to nod the rod tip as you swim the jig along. Bass like it, pike love it, walleyes eat it, and occasionally I get a muskie to bite.
I fished a new lake last year that had a big sunken island in it. I positioned the boat at about 20 feet, off the drop-off, and made long casts with the swimbaits, along the edge of the drop off, and up onto the shallow part of the edge, bringing the jig back to me. Having consulted a lake map before beginning, I knew the general layout of the island. In 30 minutes I had probed all the way around the big island, finding two distinct points that each had a lot of weedgrowth on them. Along the way, I caught four or five bass and a half-dozen pike.
The next pass I picked up a Texas-rigged plastic worm and just fished the two points with the heavy weedgrowth. I was able to catch another bass from each of the points, probing with a lure combo that allowed me to fish slower and get deeper into the weeds.
Some of my best bass catches have been during early summer, but the bait works all season long. The designation "saltwater," by the way, is mostly about marketing, not where the bait can necessarily be used. A variety of swimbaits are available, from the multispecies smaller (4- and 5-inch) kinds I'm talking about, to the huge baits used in the South and West for giant bass. You'll note in our February 2004 issue an article on using the larger baits.