Alabama bass pro Steve Kennedy didn’t know much about fishing with swim baits until he went to Lake Amistad near Del Rio to compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series event in 2007. Obviously, he is a fast learner.
Kennedy caught 20 bass weighing 101 pounds, 10 ounces over the course of the four-day event and reeled in a third-place finish worth $34,000. He relied on a swim bait to do a considerable amount of the damage.
Shift three weeks forward. Kennedy took his new-found passion out West to California’s Clear Lake and used it to win the Golden State Shootout with 122 pounds, 14 ounces.
The victory was worth $110,000. Kennedy said he invested about $3,000 in various swim baits before he left California.
Kennedy isn’t the only pro who has relied on the swim bait to pad his pocketbook in the last few years.
The bait helped carry Texas’ Todd Faircloth to the winner’s circle in the Battle on the Border at Amistad in April 2008, and a 12th place finish in 2009.
The point to be made by all this is obvious: Used correctly, swim baits can be deadly medicine on heavyweight largemouth bass.
Swim Bait Connection
Swim baits come in various lengths and shapes designed to imitate assorted members of the fresh and saltwater food chains. The lures are available in a variety of sizes, soft plastic and hard, ranging from a fraction of an ounce to more than half a pound.
Tie one of these babies to your string and you need to be outfitted with the proper rod, reel and line in order to utilize it effectively and efficiently.
So, which is the best set-up for fishing swim baits?
Most swim bait connoisseurs will be quick to point out that there isn’t one. Jimmy Reese certainly was.
Reese is an admitted swim bait addict from Witter Springs, Calif. He has used the lures to rack up some impressive numbers through the years.
I asked Reese to name some key factors he takes into consideration when building a swim bait fishing “system.” Not surprisingly, he put lure size at the top of the list.
“The size of the bait is the main issue, no doubt,” Reese said. “The larger, heavier baits require an entirely different set-up than the smaller lures. Ideally, the rod, reel and line should be a good match for the bait and what you are trying to accomplish with it. I like a swim bait rig that casts well, has lots of backbone for setting the hook and fighting large bass, and plenty of sensitivity so I can stay in contact with what is going on down there during the retrieve.”
As earlier mentioned, swim baits are available in a wealth of sizes. However, it is the medium and magnum-size lures that are typically the most popular in competitive bass fishing arenas. In the segments that follow, Reese describes his preferred set-ups for throwing swim baits measuring 4-9 inches:
Reese prefers the Certified Pro XC 807 by Washington-based Lamiglas Rods when fishing heavyweight soft or hard baits 7 inches or longer. He said the 8-foot “Big Bait Special” has gobs of backbone for horsing big bass and a fairly light tip that enables him to make those long casts that are so critical for getting at them in ultra-clear water situations.
Reese will scale down to a 7 or 7 1/2-foot Lamiglas rod when using 4-6 inch lures. He likes the 7 1/2-foot XFT 764 pitchin’ stick for open water situations and a 7-foot XC 705 model when accuracy becomes an issue around docks or tules.
Given the choice, Reese said he prefers to use 65-pound braided line in combination with swim baits. Braid is super strong and has zero stretch, which equates to maximum penetration on the hook set.
“When the bass are eating real well and don’t seem to be line shy I’ll go with braid every time,” he said. “When I set the hook with braid, I know I own that fish.”
In some instances, however, braid just won’t get it done. That’s when Reese might choose 15-25 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, depending on where the fish are positioned and what type of lure he is fishing.
When fishing suspending baits in clear water for bass that are occupying the upper water column (0-5 feet), Reese prefers using mono instead of fluorocarbon. Monofilament is more buoyant, which makes it easier to keep the bait in the strike zone. Fluorocarbon might be a better choice when using sinking baits to go after bass that are holding deeper or relating more to the bottom.
“I will use all the different types of line at one time or another, depending on the lure and the time of year,” Reese said.
Here’s another good tip Reese offered in regards to monofilament: “Use one that doesn’t have a lot stretch,” he said. “That way you will be able to get the best possible hook set.”
Some anglers prefer using large, round reels with more line capacity in combination with swim baits, especially when using big lures in clear, open water.
Reese found no argument to buck the theory, but pointed out that he feels just as comfortable using a standard baitcaster, so long as it has a fairly high gear ratio and enough space on the spool to accommodate 100-125 yards of line.
“A lot of guys prefer the bigger reels, but I haven’t found that it is really necessary,” he said.
Matt Williams is a free-lance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by