An excessive preoccupation of the thoughts or feelings; the persistent haunting or domination of the mind by a particular desire, idea, or image. This is one definition of a word that best describes my new found relationship with swim-baits, obsession. Big baits and swim-bait fishing in particular, has preoccupied my thoughts for just over 3 months now. Since getting into fishing baits that are five or six inches in length and bigger, my ratio of big bass to fish caught has gone way up. In fact, I have caught 25 bass between 4 and 8.5lbs and I have broke my old personal best shoal bass 5 times due to fishing swim-baits all in the past 3 months. All this on a river I have been fishing for several years now. The scary part is that's not even counting how many big fish I have lost. I actually only caught 10 shoal bass over 4lbs all of last year fishing conventional baits like the Rapala J11 and even the bigger J13, and that was out of just over 1,000 bass we caught total all year. That's only ten out of one thousand bass over four pounds. This year we haven't even topped 500 bass yet and we already have 27 bass over 4lbs and those all came between the months of August through October. The following is some of the things I have learned about using big baits for big bass, some of the trials and tribulations I went through, and finally the equipment issues that go along with swim-bait fishing.
A 4lb 2oz Spotted bass, my personal best river spotted bass on the 8" Bullshad
So first off, why use a larger than normal sized lure for big bass? There are a couple of answers to this question; one is simply because they catch big fish and the other is really the reason why big fish hit a bait that can barely fit in their mouth, they want a meal that will fill them up. A bass will naturally trend towards eating one big meal compared to several small ones because of the fact that they will use far less energy going after one big meal. They will get a greater benefit from a big meal than several smaller ones. If you were going out to eat, would you prefer a juicy steak diner or a soy burger from a vegan restaurant? Personally I want the steak and I think Mr. Bass does too. Big baits and swim-baits in particular are imitating many different types of forage that bass feed on. Large shad like gizzard shad, crappie, bream and even baby bass are just a few examples of what these large lures can imitate. Then there are also big baits that imitate rats, baby birds, and even snakes. A big bass can and will eat just about anything it can fit in it’s mouth. A lot of people think that big fish don’t feed as much because they don’t catch them as often as small fish. This is not true at all. You just have to throw something that will spark the interest of that old, smart bass that not many others are throwing. This is not to say that big fish can’t be caught on smaller conventional baits because there is always a time and place for those time proven classics like the texas-rigged worm and spinner bait.
My first time trying a swim bait, which at the time I thought was giant, was a five inch long Tru-Tungsten swim-bait. I was fishing a kayak tournament and had my three fish limit but I knew I needed a kicker fish if I was going to place in the top. I tied on the five inch Tru-Tungsten and proceeded to lose a shoal bass that was easily five pounds and then I hooked and landed a shoal bass that was seven and a half pounds which is eleven ounces off the Georgia state record. Needless to say I won the tournament. I was hooked. Not long after this I discovered what is now my absolute go to bait for big bass, the Bullshad. The Bullshad is a three-jointed, hard bodied swim-bait that comes in five, six inch sizes with bigger sizes coming out in the near future. This lure is a little more expensive than a cheap swim-bait like the Tru-Tungsten but that extra money is well spent. The Bullshad is made from stronger components and a higher quality resin material. The hooks also swivel 360 degrees due to the hook hangers being actual stainless steel swivels. This helps prevent the fish from gaining leverage to throw the bait as easily.
5, 6, and 8 Inch Bullshads
Now throwing a bait that can weigh as much as 5 ounces or more can really wear on your equipment if your not using the proper rods, reels, and line. I learned this the hard way by completely killing three of my cheaper two hundred series reels in two months. Your rod also needs to be vastly upgraded from the normal sized rods used with conventional baits. The hooks on an eight inch swim bait are huge and are 2x 1/0 hooks and the rod needs to have the power to drive the hook home even on a long cast. I now use a Shimano Curado reel and Dobyns 795SBMT swim-bait rod that measures seven foot nine inches long and is rated to throw one to five ounce lures. Getting into swim-bait fishing can be very expensive with all the new rods, reels, and terminal tackle. The worst part can be the baits themselves. Once your bitten by the bug you may want every new swim-bait you see because they catch fish like this.
8.5lb Largemouth caught on the 5" Bullshad
My advice to someone just starting out would be to start small and work your way up. I started with a five inch bait and now throw the eight inch regularly. The five inch bait feels tiny now. Also start with baits that are proven fish catchers like the Bullshad, MS Slammers, and for those lakes with trout, the Huddleston Deluxe. Make sure you use the appropriate tackle and equipment. The line used needs to be twenty pound test or higher. I recommend using a high quality mono-filament line like P-Line CXX. The little bit of stretch you get with mono-filament helps to keep the fish from pulling the hooks out of it’s mouth. If you can’t bring yourself to spend the money it takes to buy high quality swim-baits, you can always start with cheaper ones like I did. The Tru-Tungsten isn’t being made anymore but can be found on the internet for fairly cheap. Just be prepared to lose one or two to being broken on a rock. If you do decide to get into swim-bait fishing, be forewarned, it can become an OBSESSION.