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Going Small For Big Results

Growing up in California, I got a front row seat to the evolution of swimbait fishing- which in the West Coast context meant throwing massive trout-imitating lures to entice the behemoth Florida Strain Largemouth that live off such forage. Thus the term "swimbait" became synonymous with oversized soft, or hard, lures designed to imitate large forage species.

The problem with this big swimbait movement is that smaller, finesse style, swimbaits often get overlooked when targeting big fish, because these days when we think of swimbaits, we rarely think about throwing anything under 6-inches. Though the old adage "big baits catch big fish" still holds some truth, it can be very misleading, and can distract us from the powers of finesse.

When I moved to the South, I quickly realized that there was certainly a time and place for the big baits, but when it comes to most of the lakes I fish regularly now, reaching for a small swimbait often brings big results.

A Different Forage

California is an outlier in terms of the primary forage that bass target. Though trout can be on the menu for many parts of the country, for most of the country the vast majority of bass are targeting smaller schooling baitfish, like shad, or herring.

For this reason, fish are imprinted with the instinct to target smaller profile presentations since their primary forage is much smaller. This means that even big fish are focused on eating smaller baitfish- and more of them- while at the same time, they are more apt to ignore larger presentations.

Downsizing To Upsize

First off, let me say that if I am presented with a situation where I can effectively use a larger presentation, I will usually try going big first- such as when I reach for a 6" SwimmerZ. However, when I am presented with 2-3 inch baitfish as the primary forage species, which is most common in most of the country, I will reach for either a MinnowZ or a DieZel MinnowZ to be able to match that size class of forage.

When throwing these diminutive finesse swimbaits, I of course also downsize my tackle. I reach for a spinning setup that includes a 6'10" medium-heavy Fitzgerald Vursa Series rod, a 2500 sized Quantum reel, and I either use straight 20-pound Vicious Braid, or I tie on a 2-foot 12-pound Fluorocarbon leader for the clearest water situations. As far as the jighead I reach for, I really like the HeadlockZ HD due to its strong yet ultra-sharp hook, and the broad selection of sizes. I prefer to use sizes ranging from 1/8oz to 3/8oz (all with the 3/0 hook) depending on the depth and the speed I wish to retrieve the bait. To really help your efficiency with this bait, I also use a drop of super glue to secure the ElaZtech to the shank of the jighead, which will ensure that the bait will stay in place for dozens of fish.

More Versatile Technique

The beautiful thing about a finesse swimbait is that you instantly improve your chances at catching numbers, while still having the opportunity to catch quantity as well - something bigger presentations can rarely provide.

When it comes to when and where I use smaller swimbaits, I can honestly say I always have one tied on in my rod locker! In almost all of the lakes I fish, there is a population of fish that always focuses on the nomadic schooling baitfish, and the finesse swimbait is one of the best tactics to start getting bit. Once I start seeing schools of smaller baitfish, the small swimbaits comes out.

One thing I will say, is that due to their smaller size and vibrating profile, small swimbaits excel in clearer water, and start losing their effectiveness once the clarity starts reaching 1.5 feet of visibility or less.

In terms of the retrieve I use, I have had success both adding small pops of the rod tip or briefly pausing the retrieve, but most of the time I use a constant retrieve and just change the speed in which I reel. Think of this technique as less of a finesse tactic and more of a power fishing tactic, where you are covering water and fishing the bait similar to a ChatterBait, spinnerbait or other fast moving reaction bait. Just remember you are using lighter tackle, and an exposed hook, so stick to fishing the edges of thick cover as opposed to inside thick cover.

In the end big swimbaits certainly deserve a place in your arsenal, but if you are looking to improve your numbers, as well as catching picky kicker-sized bass, a smaller swimbait might be the ticket!

Z-Man Pro and co-host of Sweetwater Fishing TVMiles "Sonar" Burghoff

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