How To Fish With Swimbaits for Bass and Other Fish

One of the best ways to catch the biggest bass in the lake is to throw a swimbait. They look so natural that they have a drawing power unlike pretty much everything else out there. If you can master how to fish with swimbaits for bass and dumb it down to a Science, the biggest fish are not as far away as one would originally think. They are not only the epitome of big fish lures.

They are also the golden standard in many tackle boxes. If one such angler has enough patience to master the concepts of fishing them properly, the money fish or huge trophy female may only be one or two casts away. Generally, in terms of size, there is a differentiation in classification. The smaller ones are generally called finesse versions.

Choosing The Right Swimbait Tackle

  • Rod

When using those smaller lures that are generally in the four to five-inch range normally used to target Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, you want to use a 7:6 foot – 7:11 foot moderate fast action, baitcasting rod. The long rod means a longer cast.

You would generally want a long cast because you want to cover more water quickly. The further you can cast without wearing out, the better. The moderate-fast action of the rod gives you enough cushion to avoid ripping hooks out but more than enough to haul big fish in.

It also allows you unmatched sensitivity and a great hookset. If you are throwing lures that weight less than half an ounce, use the same rod with the same specifications but use a spinning rod instead. If it is a half ounce or more in weight, stick to using a baitcasting rod.

The spinning rod for those smaller baits will allow you to get a much longer and more efficient cast.

  • Reel

For a choice in a reel, try a 7.1:1 gear ratio high-speed baitcasting reel. The faster reel is always helpful. It allows you to fish fast or slow by just varying the speed at which you turn the reel handle.

You can also use a spinning reel if throwing smaller ones. Keep the specifications the same. Baitcasters are not only helpful for open water fishing. They are also great for hauling big fish out of the thickest grass and cover.

  • Line

The best line choice to spool your baitcaster up with is 10-17 pound fluorocarbon. Fluoro has very little stretch, is very dense, sinks, is extremely sensitive, and is almost invisible underwater.

Everything you could want or need in one fishing line. The low stretch aspect will allow for great hook sets. The abrasion resistance of fluoro is very good too. If you want to fish cover, you can without any kinking or wear on the line.

Last, the invisibility is super stealthy. You are imitating real fish with these lures anyways, so having a line that is hard to see is imperative to your success.

Hard Versus Soft

Every fishing lure in this category is not created equal. Many beginning anglers, as well as some seasoned pros, make the mistake of generally classifying all baits into this one category.

They are not all created equal. There are actually two different types or subsets of them, both of which can be equally effective in your local water body. Hard and soft. You may choose to use one over the other based on a variety of factors. The approach to use them properly is different from style to style.


Hard versions are usually machined or handcrafted out of wood, plastic, or other composite materials. They typically are segmented and held together by swiveling joints.

They generally cast pretty well and normally vary in terms of buoyancy. The segmented body is for one reason and one reason only. To make the hard lure swim naturally.

Often, a straight retrieve or working it like a jerkbait can put more fish in the boat for you. Aside from that, there aren’t much more bells and whistles to be aware of.

The line tie is normally attached to the entirety of the lure so all you have to do is tie a knot, cast it out, and start fishing with it by experimenting with your retrieve.

They are a much more durable bait as they will stand up to big teeth, violent attacks,  repeated abuse, and not wear out in the process of reeling in your prize.


Soft style lures are a completely different approach entirely. While you can fish them much the same way, they are made of softer plastic or silicone rubber.

They also come inside of a package of multiple bodies because they tend to rip and get damaged. You must purchase a little terminal tackle to get started using these.

Such terminal tackle may include weighted hooks, jigheads, EWG worm hooks, and sinkers. You can rig them in many different ways.

A soft plastic swimbait isolated on white background.

You can mount them on a jighead, shaky head, use them as a trailer for a spinnerbait, buzzbait, chatterbait, or jig, Texas rig them weedless with a weighted hook, on an umbrella or Alabama rig, or even just tie the line on directly (assuming the line tie is built inside the body).

The list of possibilities goes on and on for a very long time. That gives the angler versatility as well as options to become adaptable. It is much more versatile than just blindly casting reeling it back in.

Types of Tails and Their Differences

There are many instances when the action of the tail can entice the strike or prevent it. As the day changes, so do the fish and their preferences to certain actions as well as to vibrations and speed.

You need to be willing to experiment from day to day what works best in any given situation. The tail and the action of it matters. So much so, that a fish can arbitrarily take a lure just by this one factor.

You could be throwing the perfect lure in the right spot and doing everything else properly without getting a single nibble. There will be situations where just changing the style of the tail can land you a tournament winning fish or another nice lunker photo or replica mount.

The tail can make or break a bite. Remember that. It is extremely important not only to your success on a single day but to your continued success going forward from now on.

1. Paddle Tails

The paddle tail is the most common of tails. You can find these on many soft plastic minnow shaped bodies as well as some hard lures.

The unique shape of the tail gives the lure a very precise and attractive swimming action. The design of the tail allows it to vigorously swing side to side on the retrieve. This creates a little, erratic, vibration in the water that is appealing even to the wariest of big fish.

2. Vortex Tails

The vortex tail is another choice available on the softer versions. They normally accompany the very expensive lures that are used for the biggest catches.

From a sideways perspective, it looks every bit as real as the real thing all the way up to and including the V shape in the tail, which is present in almost every freshwater fish species.

The movement of this tail style is extremely subtle and lifelike. They are often made with softer plastic so they swim naturally on the retrieve. This tail does not displace much water at all. It swims like a real fish. That is pretty much it.

3. Swimmer Tails

This is where we are getting into hard lure territory. These tails are traditionally made of plastic and connected to the harder baits. They have that very natural V shape and are also very thin.

They look pretty close to the real thing. Sometimes, these will move. Other times, they will just swim with the joints further up the lure.

The displacement on these is a little more than the other two styles but still quiet and slow enough to entice really heavy fish to feed.

Understanding Why Clear Water Clarity Is Best

If there is one thing that you take away from this post and absolutely nothing else, ensure that the water is clear when you throw them! Be certain of it!

In order for this type of lure to work properly, the fish needs to be able to see it and see it well. Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth, Walleye, and Pike are generally the species most would use these for.

Since that is the case, you should understand that every single one of those are sight feeders. They use their vision to hunt almost exclusively. Why does that even matter? Well, simple.

You will not be getting a bite anytime soon by sight-feeding fish if they cannot see the food you are putting in front of them. The water can be slightly stained also and this is when I would change it.

The color specifically. Maybe chartreuse, bright neon, or another color. Anything more than that affecting the water clarity and you should put these back in the box for later.

They won’t do you much good this trip if the fish cannot see it anyway. Put it down and pick up a crankbait instead. Mud, chocolate milk, natural looking lures, and fish do not mix very well at all.

Learning About Optimum Locations To Cast

Where exactly is the best place to throw these? Obviously, that would depend on how efficient you can fish without hanging up. As most hard ones are pre-rigged with exposed hooks of some sort, you don’t really want to try fishing them in cover or thick, heavy, madded, vegetation.

Near it is fine. Just not inside of it. Try to keep the hard lure retrieve confined to open water and out of snaggy areas if at all possible. If the lure has just one exposed single prong hook on the top, snags are much less of an issue.

For the soft ones, however, you can very easily Texas rig them weedless before throwing them in the heaviest of cover where the big fish like to hide and take refuge from the sun.

Likely, you will trigger bigger fish if you purposely throw it inside of the thick, shaded cover, as this is where the big girls love to hide from birds as well as ambush the baitfish as it swims on by.

Still, they will work just as well in open water as well. You can fish them faster to cover more water quickly and get some aggressive reaction strikes mixed in with your hunger bites.

They are great for cold water if you live in a cooler environment that tends to get snow or ice often. They are masters in the art of stealth and appeal to lethargic fish with a low metabolism.

You can fish soft ones near the surface or as deep as 50 feet by using the proper weights to suit your fishing scenario. The harder variants can be fished in much the same conditions, the only difference being that you should change your lure depending on how deep you want to go.

How To Impart Action To The Lures

  • If The Lure Is Hard

If the one you decided to tie on is a hard model, there are many ways you can fish it. Most of the time, you really want it to swim like something real. The joints are the epitome of natural looking.

The way this swims is nothing short of incredible. There are a few ways to fish them. A few common methods have proven to be effective when it comes to imparting action to your bait.

They can be used pretty much everywhere you would throw one and will work for just about every predator species if done right. Give the methods below some practice. You will certainly catch fish using them.

1. Straight retrieve

The most basic way of catching fish on jointed harder bodies is to just cast it out a very long distance and start reeling it in at a moderate speed. That is a pretty easy concept to understand.

The joints of the bait will make it come alive. All you have to do is wait for a big fish to hammer on it as you reel it in. This technique can be used pretty much everywhere regardless of the depth that you are.

It can be used near the surface for when fish are pounding topwater or just inches off of the bottom for when Largemouth or other fish are in that spawning mode protecting the eggs from Bluegill and other predators.  More times than not, you will get a ton of fish using just this one technique alone. Certainly, give this one a try.

2. As A Jerkbait Or Rip Bait

Although you would traditionally throw jerkbaits or rip baits instead of a jointed lure when you want that particular action, using a jointed swimmer is a great way to show the fish something different if the lake is overfished or contains a ton of fishing pressure from anglers.

To learn how to fish jerkbaits, there are a few very important points to be aware of. The first one is that you want to make a very long cast. The next is that you never want to reel in.

Just use the reel to pick up the extra slack in the line. Next, give the rod a good rip. The bait should dart frantically to one side or the other. let it sit motionless for a set amount of seconds, and rip it again.

Keep repeating this all the way to the boat or bank. Most of the time, the fish will pounce on it as it is just sitting still after they have been tracking it.

They see that it may have died and they want it. Now. Always be ready to set the hook when you stop the rip.

3. Slow Rolling On Or Near The Bottom

If you happen to possess a sinking model, you are just the right angler to try slow rolling it. What you do is cast out very far, wait until the bait touches the bottom, and slowly reel in the lure.

This excels in colder water and in the post spawn stage, yet it can be used at any time the fish are holding close to the bottom. Doing this will put it right in their faces.

It is very subtle but also very effective. As you reel it in, the joints kick around making the lure swim as it would normally. The difference is that it imparts a slightly off-centered wobble exactly like that of a wounded baitfish.

Combine that with the slow speed, a realistic paint job, good hooks, and you have a deadly combination that works well for pretty much all visual predators that take liking to feeding on baitfish.

4. The Yoyo Technique

The yoyo technique, (sometimes called the lift and drop), is a technique where you make a decently long cast to the area you believe is holding fish, let it sink to and touch the bottom, lift the rod up and letting it back down. Repeat all the way back to the boat, but be slow about it.

It is very easy to overdo this one. Resist the urge. It lifts the lure off of the bottom and immediately sinks back down to it. In the wild, this is what dying baitfish do.

Predators love easy meals that are still alive so you may find that you get much bigger fish on this one, particularly females. It also perfectly mimics a fish eating plankton off of the bottom which is great if you are imitating shad or other similar species.

Much big fish know that prey is the most vulnerable in this stage and you will often get more fish if you can make it act like it is feeding.

  • If The Lure Is Soft

As mentioned earlier, the soft plastic variants are more versatile because you can rig them so many ways. How do you fish them though? Depending on how it is rigged is the main concern.

There are a few ways you can fish them depending on the rig used. We will go over some of those. This list is by no means exhaustive and every soft plastic version can be fished the exact same way as the harder ones can.

Remember that. We will not cover those again for the sake of redundancy. We will touch on some other things exclusive to the soft versions only. Generally speaking, you want to reel it in at one speed or another to get the soft plastic tail kicking around which is what makes it work so well.

Try to retrieve with these rigs and change up the speed occasionally. Everything else is just extra.

1. On A Alabama Rig

The Alabama Rig is one of the most effective ways to rig soft plastic minnow bodies. It is basically a set of wire arms that jet out, each containing a lure.

It looks exactly like a school of minnows swimming through the water. This is great for targeting very big and very hungry fish. Each arm can contain a lure or just some of them can while the others have spinner blades attached.

You should cast it out, and straight retrieve. Vary your retrieve speed based on the weather and season of the year. Retrieve it all the way to the boat and cast in the same place a couple of times if you know fish are present. Always make sure that this rig is swimming at some speed and never let it sit still.

2. As A Trailer

Using them as a trailer has become more and more popular. They make great additions to dress your spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, chatterbaits, and jigs.

Adding one as a trailer makes a bit bigger profile in the water as well as some extra action. To fish it, just fish your lure as you would normally.

If you are just using a spinnerbait to retrieve, don’t hesitate to do it with this trailer on there. If you are just bottom bouncing jigs, these make great representations of crayfish with one claw.

Absolutely any and every way you would normally fish those lures is the way you should still do it even when you put any soft plastic on.

3. On A Jighead or Other Lead Head

One of the most common ways to fish them is to just mount them on a jighead and straight retrieve or yoyo them. The lead head provides an exposed hook to aid with setting it as well as substantial weight to get down to the level the fish are in deeper water.

Most of the time, all you have to do is rig them on a lead head, cast it out and straight retrieve either through the middle or on the bottom of the water. That may seem way too simple but you have to understand. These lures have a ton of drawing power.

Using a jighead will give the lure a nice action and also give you the option to match the color of the head with the natural forage of the water in your area. It can very easily be used as a secondary attractant to add more appeal to it. It is one of the easiest ways to fish artificial lures.

4. Texas Rigged Weedless

By far, the most common way to rig them is to use a screwlock hook screwed into the nose and Texas rigged weedless. This allows you to fish pretty much everywhere you couldn’t before with an exposed one such as a jighead.

You can throw it in the weeds, the heaviest of grass mats, the trees, the moss, and the other places where the big ones live. You have the option of just leaving the hook on top of it or you can tip the edge of the barb inside of the plastic for a truly snag free approach.

As for how to fish it, the same rules apply as the other rigging methods. Cast it out, wait until it gets to the right depth you want it to be at, and start reeling. Reel it right in. In colder water, reel it slower. Real it faster if the water is warmer. that is pretty much it.

It isn’t complicated and it doesn’t have to seem that way either. Nothing much else the angler needs to be aware of. You always want to make sure you set the hook hard enough when the point isn’t exposed.

Let the fish take it in the mouth, wait for that rod to load up as it runs with it in its mouth, and set the hook as hard as you can.

To Sum It All Up

In conclusion, there are very few lures that are as effective and versatile as the swimbait. Regardless of which size, style, or color you decide to go with, you can always be sure of one thing.

It will catch fish year round if used properly. Learning how to fish with swimbaits for bass and other fish will make you a much better angler. All you need to do is use the right gear in clear water, work them right, and catch fish. That’s it!

Most of the time, all you normally have to do is reel it right in front of the fish and you will get bit. I believe all of us could appreciate more the versatility and effectiveness that this particular style of lure brings to the boat and have a lot more fun doing it.


Do you have a preferred way of using them? Leave a comment below so we can hear what you have to say!


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