Hogs. Toads. Donkeys. Pigs. Whatever name you prefer, these are the fish you really want to catch. Quantity fills the freezer, but trophies earn the bragging rights. This series is dedicated to the pursuit of the true heavyweights across all species. The meat eaters. So set your drag and sharpen your hooks as we bust some common swimbait myths that are holding you back from nailing mammoth largemouths.
Bill Siemantel is a godfather of the giant swimbait scene. Based in Southern California, he calls world-renowned Castaic Lake his home water. Somewhere during his lengthy pro bass fishing career that spans back into the 1980s, Bill lost track of the number of 10-plus-pound largemouths he’s landed. His personal best tipped the scales at 19.75 pounds, and his book, “Big Bass Zone,” published 15 years ago, has become the Bible for swimbait zealots. It’s a culture that continues to grow rapidly, though nowadays many swimbait fanatics seem more obsessed with getting their hands on new, exclusive, and sometimes ridiculously expensive lures than actually hooking fish with them.
Siemantel’s teachings have long centered around catching, and how you don’t need to have the latest-and-greatest Japanese hot bait to make the big stuff work for you. He’s a pioneer in swimbait development, teaming up with SPRO over a decade ago to produce his affordable line of BBZ baits that imitate everything from trout, to shad, to rats.
You might already be a seasoned swimbait angler. Or perhaps you’re just starting your rubber trout collection. Maybe you haven’t taken the leap into monster lures because you’re convinced that they won’t produce on your local waters. No matter your camp, this breakdown of four common swimbait misconceptions from Siemantel will help you catch the biggest largemouth of your life anywhere you live.
Myth: Big swimbaits are only effective on “trophy” bass waters
Much of the U.S.-based swimbait craze stemmed from what early pioneers like Siemantel were producing on the trout-stocked mountain lakes in Southern California decades ago. The idea of using a 10-inch rubber rainbow trout to target a 10-plus-pound bass captivated imaginations. It also fed the idea that if you don’t fish where a lot of double-digit bass live, or your local fish aren’t accustomed to chowing massive meals, trading a trusty worm for a huge hardbait is silly. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“People tell me all the time how they don’t have 12-inch trout in their lakes,” Siemantel said. “And I say, ‘But you’ve got 12-inch bass.’ It doesn’t matter what kind of large forage you have, the biggest fish are eating it. When I talk to people, I ask how big the biggest bass are in their local lake, and I often hear, ‘mostly 3 to 4 pounders.’ Maybe their heaviest is 5 pounds. Whatever they did to catch that fish, I tell them to target the same area of the lake with something like a 9-inch boot-tail swimbait and do exactly the same thing. If they were dragging a jig along the bottom, do that with the swimbait. All of a sudden they catch a new personal best.”
Siemantel also thinks that many bass anglers are missing out on opportunities around trout stockings across the country. The California lakes may support trout year-round, but any lake that holds bass and gets a spring or fall put-and-take trout stocking should be a hard focus for swimbait anglers. It doesn’t matter how long the trout stick around; the bass will cash in while the getting’s good.
Myth: The hit is always a slam
Visions of a 10-pound bass springing up to whale on a huge bait burning across the surface drive many swimbait diehards. It certainly can unfold that way, but not all the time, not by a long shot. A huge hunk of rubber and a dainty take from a hog bass don’t seem to go together, but Siemantel says it happens all the time and many anglers aren’t prepared for it.
“I can’t tell you how many teen-sized fish I’ve seen come up under a lure, go sideways, open their mouths and barely touch one of the hooks,” he said. “It’s like they’re checking to see if it’s a real fish fin. I’ve seen this so much that I tend to use bronze hooks because they help sell the illusion that it’s a trout or bluegill fin.”
According to Siemantel, this testing behavior is not only common, he’s converted countless gentle licks into giants in the net. To increase his odd of catching these “tasters,” he’ll often add an extra split ring or two between his baits and his hooks so they’re not sitting tight against the lure’s body.
Myth: Don’t swing until you feel the rod load
There’s a “rule” in swimbaiting that’s been regurgitated time and time again by countless anglers: when you get hit, keep working the lure until you feel the rod load, and then set the hook. Siemantel says adhering to this ideology is one of the easiest ways to miss the bass of a lifetime. According to him, knowing when to swing is all relative to the size of the lure you’re throwing.
“There are so many people who let a personal best that just engulfed their lure swim away because they heard you should count three seconds before setting or whatever,” Siemantel said. “If you’re using a small swimbait, maybe something only a few inches long, waiting makes sense. Picture that lure floating around inside a mouth that might be the size of five-gallon bucket. In that case, you want the fish to turn a bit so that bait has a chance to get pushed against one side and find some meat when you set.”
Conversely, Siemantel says that when you’ve got a big lure with one or more 1/0 to 5/0 hooks inside that mouth, chances are those hooks are making contact somewhere. Waiting only gives the fish more time spit or shake the lure.
Myth: A swimbait has to be moving to be effective
The word “swim” is right there in the name swimbait. By design, these lures are supposed to mimic the natural movements of forage species—and some do it so well it’s hard to tell you’re not looking at a live baitfish kicking underwater. With so much emphasis placed on how swimbaits move, many anglers get caught in the idea that the lure always has to be moving to be effective. Siemantel says sometimes the best thing to do with a swimbait is nothing at all.
“I have guys tell me all the time that they’re burning swimbaits trying to get reactions strikes and they just can’t get bit,” he said. “I ask these guys, ‘how often do you see a trout or a herring just zooming across the lake under the surface?’ The answer is usually, ‘never.’ Most of the time these forage species just kind of cruise around slowly, and if they get really scared, they’ll often freeze up. That’s the behavior a big bass is expecting in many scenarios. It’s waiting for that bait to slowly swim or float into its feeding zone.”
Siemantel pointed out that it’s important to carry a variety of baits—ones that float, suspend, and have action at different speeds. Some swimbaits only work when being reeled quickly, and if that’s all you have, you’ll be less effective when you need to slow down. Floating boot-tail baits are critical tools in his arsenal, as he’s had a lot of success simply letting them drag behind a drifting boat. This tactic is especially lethal on days with wave or wind chop activity on the surface.
Siemantel can discuss everything from choosing your line based on your specific lure to the shadow your lure creates into increased swimbait success. He is a wealth of information, but before taking a deep dive into those details, he says that simply having confidence in giant baits is key. Even if a swimbait only ups your personal best from a 3- to a 5-pounder, that one fish will make you a believer. And if you follow the lessons from these broken myths, you’ll become a believer faster.
Featured image courtesy of Bill Siemantel