This time of year is never fun for anglers – I mean, fall fishing is incredible! But what comes after that… Meh. Before we know it snow will be flying. That said, it is time to winterize the boat and get it cleaned out for the season. I am always amazed at the amount of tackle I have accumulated over the summer.
I own a soft plastic bait business now, so on the surface it would seem like I would have fewer baits in the boat – because I can always make more of whatever I need in whatever color I want. But I think that’s the problem. I can make whatever I want whenever I want. There are times I come up with a color that I just “have to have” in the boat and there are other times that I am making a color for a customer’s order and can’t remember seeing that color in a certain bait in my boat.
Of course, that color in the exact bait in which I want it is usually in the boat, but likely stashed in a compartment or Plano box that I would not normally have put it in. It is all in there, but not to my knowledge. And, if I can’t find it quick the day before a trip while I’m charging up the boat, I figure I better make some so they have time to cure before I get out on the water.
“But there has to be a good way to organize it, isn’t there?” I can hear people asking. Of course there is. There are probably a hundred great ways to organize tackle in your boat or even in your tackle bag, for non-boaters. It seems, though, every time I think I have found the perfect way to organize things, something changes.
I might change up the baits I like to throw. I might change up colors. I might change who knows what. And, honestly, at other times, I might have no clue what I’m going to be throwing. Maybe practice did not work out for me. Maybe it’s a small tourney like a clubber and I did not get out to practice. I tend to like to use smaller tournaments like clubbers to train myself to think on my feet – what would I do in a big tournament if nothing I expected to work seemed to be the ticket.
Another issue is when we add different baits to those we make during the year. Well heck. Now I need at least a dozen of each of those in four or five different colors. I know, I know. I only use like two or three, but you never know, right?
No matter what the compartments of my boat looked like at the end of this year, there is one thing for certain: they will be so orderly and organized at the beginning of next year it will be crazy. And, by the end of the year? Well, I’m not going to make any promises.
Fall is a great time for swim baits. To be honest, I throw swim baits all year, but spring and fall are my favorite times to use this search bait. Swim baits allow me to cover a lot of water quickly. Even if the fish follow me back to the boat and do not take the bait, they still let me know where they are. I can always follow up with a jig or a soft plastic and pick up some of those hesitant fish that way.
In the fall, fish are chasing bait fish more often than anything. Yes, they will still eat crayfish, but as the bait fish migrate into the shallows and backs of creeks, bass will follow.
I like 3.5-to-4-inch swim baits, and I throw, and make, a variety of them. With most of these, I throw them on a weighted swim bait hook. I use a VMC hook, but there are a lot of really good ones out there. I found VMC years ago and it did exactly what I needed it to do. It performed well and I had no issue with hooksets, so I have never changed from that. I like the screw lock on this hook. It keeps the bait straight, but it can still move freely. One of the things about the way the VMC hooks are made is the weight can be moved. It can be moved a bit farther forward if a nose-down presentation is the ticket, and it can be moved back to keep the bait moving evenly.
I might use more of a nose-down approach when fishing along the bottom. This makes the bait look like a foraging bait fish. When I am fishing through or over vegetation, I opt for more of a centered weight approach.
A swim bait can be fished anywhere in the water column. The pointed nose allows it to go through grass, coontail, milfoil and other vegetation easily. It can be fished around and skipped under docks, too.
When skipping a swimbait under docks or fishing around docks, especially shallower docks, I prefer no weight at all. Instead, I will Texas-rig the bait and use it more like a soft jerk bait. I pop and jerk the bait around to imitate a dying bait fish.
A paddle tail swim bait on the back of a buzzbait is another great tactic. Here, my main colors are black and white. I tend to go for black if it’s a cloudy day and white when the sun is out full – but I have learned not to stick to that completely. The fish will tell you if you’re on to something or if you’re missing the mark.
I make a variety of swim baits, and I like different baits for different purposes. I like to fish my open pour 4-inch swim bait weightless in all depths but the very deepest conditions. These baits take a lot of plastic to make, making them heavy. I also love the tail action of these baits. The paddle tail movement is made even bolder by the very thin tail that extends from the body to the paddle.
I also make smaller swimbaits and I use those for some specific purposes. One of the things I do with a smaller swimbait is use it as a trailer for a swim jig. A swim jig has a bulkier, flashier profile than a swim bait alone. And a paddle tail swim bait creates disturbance in the water to let the fish know it’s coming.
Another way I like to use a smaller swimbait is on a Scrounger head. There are a number of these types of hooks on the market as well, and the particular one an angler uses is completely a personal preference.
A scrounger head is basically a front-weighted hook with a soft bill on it. I rig the swim bait on straight, so the hook is exposed. The bill on the bait makes it somewhat weedless, but it will still get hooked up in thick weeds.
For thick weeds, though, I downsize the weight and burn the bait over the weeds. I want the bait to just tick the top of the weeds as I crank it along.
In the spring and fall, I will usually use a longer bill, creating more of a wobble. I liken it to using a crank bait or spinner bait with a wider wobble in the spring and fall, and less in the heat of the summer. Obviously, there are times and angler should try both – basically any time you’re not getting bit and think you’re in an area with fish – and let the fish tell you what they want.
I feel like fish do not see the Scrounger head as much as they see other baits, making them a great choice when conditions are tough. I have caught more than my fair share of fish on a 3-inch swim bait behind a Scrounger head.
Another obvious way to fish swim baits is on an Alabama rig. I don’t fish the A-rig much, but it is fun when I pick it up. There is always the chance to hook up with more than one fish on any given cast.
Rigging a swim bait simply on a swim bait head can get bites, but it is something I rarely do. I seem to fish more in weeds and wood, and an open swim bait hook just gets hung up too often for me. In open water situations, however, a simple swim bait head, or even a swing head, can be another solid option.
The last use of a swim bait I would like to talk about is what should be a common one, but I don’t feel it is used to its fullest, either. That is on an underspin. The underspin adds a bit of flash and a bit more vibration to the swim bait. Both of these can help bring a reaction strike from a big bass looking for a meal. Underspins do not work well in heavy vegetation as they tend to get caught up, but around wood, docks and rocks, they are a great choice.
With all of these tactics, the fish will usually hit the bait, turn, and then you will feel the weight. Wait until you feel that weight and set the hook. Obviously, in the case of the buzz bait, this can be more difficult. I tend to want to set the hook immediately when the fish strikes. But the hook up ratio with a swim bait improves if you can wait just that second or two. But – wait too long, and the fish will be long gone.
My swim bait set up is usually a medium heavy rod, and I like a longer rod to get those longer casts. I use a medium heavy because that gives me enough back bone to get the hook set into the fish and get it to the boat.
For a reel, I usually use a 6.3:1 or a 7.0:1. You don’t need a super high-speed reel to be effective, but sometimes something in the range of 7.0:1 will allow you to crank the bait fast enough to keep it where you want to in the water column.
For line, I always use braid. I started out always using braid, and I will always use it. I have better castability and control with braid. It also has no stretch, which makes for better hook sets. I know some people use Fluorocarbon, and I suppose that is an okay option, too, but I like braid. Braid floats, which helps keep the bait higher in the water column. Second, braid cuts through vegetation. So if I am fishing in some weeds and hook into a fish, it is much easier to get the fish to the boat. I find, when using braid, I am able to get the fish to the boat much more often rather than “chasing” the fish down with the boat.
As far as colors, I think I am more particular with swim baits than I am with many other baits. I am not sure if it is a matter of catching the fisherman before catching the fish, but I feel as though it really makes a difference.
Black and white, especially as trailers, are always in my tackle box. But I also like bluegill, crappie and perch are solid options, in my opinion. This is really a “match the hatch” situation. Colors such as ayu and various shad colors all have their place in my tackle box as well. When putting eyes on my open pour swim baits, I almost always opt for red. Again, I think this is a confidence thing more than anything. I have no idea a fish can see the eyes on a bait before it hits it or not. But I can, and it makes it seem more lifelike, so I usually opt for the eyes.
In all, swim baits, fished a variety of ways, take up their fair share of real estate on the deck of my boat in the fall. They are versatile, cover a lot of water quickly, and will help you put more fish in the box.