The swimbait is a lure type that has gone from trophy hunting bass anglers to something used for many different species, including walleye. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be fished all year long, making them some of the most versatile lures used today.
In addition to the many types and actions available for swimbaits, they come in many colors and can be rigged and fished in countless different ways.
But, one of the first things to consider is what swimbait to use and that varies considerably based on forage size and where you are fishing. Seaguar pros Bassmaster Elite Series angler Chris Zaldain and National Walleye Tour pro Brian Bashore weigh in on how they select the right swimbait for a given situation.
Trophy Hunting, Tournaments, and Smallmouth
Texas pro Chris Zaldain grew up in California and witnessed the evolution of swimbaits first hand and fell in love with throwing big baits. He's carried that into a career as a professional angler and still counts swimbait fishing as one of his strengths and favorite ways to target bass.
Zaldain categorized swimbaits into three groups: large eight inch and bigger baits, lures in the six inch range that he calls "tournament sized," and bite-sized two and three inch versions that he relies on when targeting smallmouth and spotted bass.
Starting with the biggest, Zaldain uses big swimbaits like the eight inch Megabass Magdraft in places with giant bass like Texas, Georgia, and Florida.
"It works great on places like Lake Fork or Sam Rayburn Reservoir where there are giant bass," he said. "I fish it on 25lb Seaguar AbrazX to have more shock absorption from those vicious strikes with a big, four ounce lure. Plus, it's more abrasion resistant when fishing around a lot of wood."
Moving down on the size scale is the six inch baits that serve as general purpose baits for Zaldain.
"Growing up in California, we fished a lot of big trout and hitch imitators that were eight and nine inches long, but when I started fishing professionally, I had to switch my focus to baits that would get more bites," he says. "The six-inch Magdraft is my go-to because it will catch two pounders and it will catch ten pounders. It may seem intimidating to throw a swimbait that size, but give it a try; I throw it in the same situations and places where a standard spinnerbait works: clear to stained water with a little wind and you don't need any specialty gear, I use a 7'2" heavy jig rod."
For baits this size, he prefers 15lb Seaguar InvizX for casting distance and manageability.
"I use miles of 15lb InvizX each year and is my number one all-around size and line from Seaguar," says Zaldain. "For swimbaits this size, I like how soft and supple it is, and I think it has the best overall castability."
Moving down even smaller to the bite-sized two and three in baits is generally reserved for times when Zaldain finds himself on northern waters chasing smallmouth bass.
"I like the three-inch Megabass Spark Shad, but this group also includes the popular Keitech Swing Impact FAT 2.8 that everyone throws," he said. "I use these small baits on a ¼-ounce jighead for smallmouth up north, but they are also great for spotted bass. Another situation is any time the bass are eating tiny baitfish, even when largemouth fishing."
For the small swimbaits, Zaldain fishes them on a spinning rod with 10 to 15lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green braid to leader of 8lb Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon.
"I start by casting as far as I can and the braid to fluorocarbon helps with that," begins Zaldain. "I let the bait fall like a pendulum because that's when you get a lot of bites and the hi-vis Flash Green line makes it easier to detect those bites as it is falling. From there, it's just a slow and steady retrieve."
Swimbaits for Walleye
Like bass, walleye love to eat baitfish and that makes a swimbait a perfect weapon for them. Brian Bashore likes to fish them throughout the year but especially likes them in early spring and late fall.
"They are great for fishing the new weeds each spring and into summer," he says. "I also like them late into fall because they are such a versatile lure and you can fish them around weeds and not snag much."
Some of Bashore's favorite swimbaits for walleye are the three and four inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad and similarly sized Strike King Rage Swimmer swimbaits, rigged on a round ball jighead or flat sided VMC Neon Moon Eye jighead in sizes up to 3/8-ounce depending on wind speeds.
Early in the year, Bashore advises to go slow, and he picks up the pace as the year goes on.
"Early spring, I like to cast shallow and work it back," says Bashore. "I'm mostly looking for transitions of sand to rock that time of year. I like to start with a three inch bait in the spring and get to bigger and bigger swimbaits as the season goes on and the baitfish get larger."
In addition to the slow and steady retrieve, Bashore gets more aggressive fishing his swimbaits later in the fishing season.
Targeting weedlines and transitions from rock to sand or soft to hard bottom, Bashore rips his swimbaits and lets them fall back down.
"We call it 'rip jigging where you rip it and let it fall on a slack line on a weed edge, transition, or breakline," he said. "It works great when fishing grass where all of the perch are sitting. I also mix it up and use a different color like something with white or blue since there are usually so many perch around, and I want my bait to stand out."
Bashore fishes his swimbaits on spinning gear and prefers 10lb Seaguar Smackdown and pairs it with a leader of 10 to 15lb Gold Label fluorocarbon.
"The Flash Green color helps to detect those subtle bites in the spring, but in the fall, they'll hit it a lot harder when you are ripping it, and I'll use Stealth Gray as well," he said. "Gold Label is such a great leader and a true leader material and it does a great job around rocks and doesn't fray easily. I normally use 10lb Gold Label but go up to 15lb if I am around a lot of pike or muskie and that makes a big difference in getting more of your baits back."
The swimbait has become one of the most versatile and productive lures for anglers targeting gamefish because they work exceptionally well. The biggest decision to make is selecting what size bait to use and that can be determined based on where you are fishing, the size of the baitfish, and size of the fish you are targeting.