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Kevin Short: Don't Fear The Swimbait

There was a time in my life, recently in fact, when I despised the two words "swim" and "bait", especially when they were formed together in the word "swimbait". The only thing that I wanted to throw that would "swim" would also "wobble" and have the word "crank" in front of it, as in "crankbait". This little piece dates back to July of '07 and chronicles my fear and amazement with the floppy little creatures. My how times change. Here are a few tips from someone who, two years ago, broke out in a cold sweat when I heard the word "swimbait".

I spent quite a bit of time this past winter buying and trying many different swimbaits. Hard baits, hollow baits, solid baits, hybrid baits, jointed baits; I'm not going to say I tried them all, as there are thousands out there, but I tried enough to figure out what works for me. I also found out what works for me under different conditions. I no longer fear the swimming bait. The swimbait is my friend.

Some would say I'm a slow learner. My wife says I'm just hard-headed. I'll go with that. After the Amistad Elite event in '08 where Faircloth clipped me by just over a pound and some change by utilizing a swimbait, it finally sunk in that maybe learning the swimbait needed to be my off-season project for the fall/ winter of '08.

Every time I went to the water last fall and winter, I had at least one swimbait tied on. Some days I spent throwing nothing but the floppy things. Some days I caught monster sacks. Some days I didn't get a bite. Some days I caught them on every type and brand I threw while other days the fish seemed to prefer a certain style of swimming action. Other days they didn't seem to want anything swimming that I had in the boat, even though I could catch a few on other baits.

It was interesting to spend the time making a concentrated effort to learn not only a new bait, but at the same time, fishing a swimbait is almost like a totally different technique. Weather conditions and the mood of the fish seem to be everything in making the difference between a so-so swimbait bite and a phenomenal bite. Cloudy, windy, warming weather with clear water and the fish in a pre-spawn to just off the beds seems to be the absolute best. I also caught a lot of fish this fall on Lake Conway in water that less than 2 foot of visibility that were chasing shad in the backs of creeks. That showed me that swimbaits weren't just all about the spring time.

On the technique side, I found that swimbaits seemed to work the best for me when I simply threw them out there and reeled them in; no action, no stop and go, no twitching. Just lob and wind. On the winding, the slower the better. Placement of the bait in relation to any cover seemed to be more critical than any action I imparted to the bait. If you look at one on the water, the good ones have enough action on their own; they don't need any help from the operator.

The equipment side had been one of my pitfalls last year, in that I never could find just the right combination of soft bait and hook that I could consistent hook and land fish without using one bait per fish. I also lost more fish than I thought I should have with the large, wide gap hooks. Jewel Bait solved that problem with the Hyper Hook and Hyper Cone system. It's so simple, I can't believe I didn't think of that one. Between the heavy, long shank hook, the cone that slips up into the body of the hollow baits, and the various sizes of weights, I can fish any size hollow bait from the surface down to 4 - 5 foot deep. This hook and keeper changed my entire outlook on hollow body swimbaits.

Another piece of equipment that helped was the use of a slower ratio reel. I switched to a 5.0:1 gear ratio in the form of an Ardent XS 1000.5 to keep me from reeling the baits too fast. The 1000.5 also has a deep spool that I can load up with either 17 or 20 pound Vicious fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon line will help get the bait a little deeper, as it sinks when mono or copolymers will float. It also adds a little sensitivity due to its denseness. The added sensitivity is beneficial, as most of the time, I have the rod pointed directly at the bait to minimize any action from the rod.

I'm pretty bad about running a crankbait fast and have been that way for years. "Throw it out there and bring it home" was my motto. Maybe a stop here, a pull there with the rod tip, perhaps a little twitch thrown in, especially if the bait deflected off something, but overall the faster I could wind it in, the faster I could make another cast and cover more water. That's not always a good thing with the swimming bait.

With the slower ratio reel, I can wind it at my normal "crankin'" speed, yet I'm pulling the bait way slower through the water than I would be with a 6.0:1 ratio or higher reel. Seems like the vast majority of the time with swimbaits, the longer the fish can see the bait, the better they react to them. Word of advice - slow down.

Another pitfall I had run into was using a flip stick to throw my baits with. The length was ok, but the action just wasn't right for the lobbing, especially on the bigger baits, and for playing and landing a big fish. I realize that there are a lot of rods that can be used to fish a variety of baits and multiple techniques. I also realize that there is a reason there are technique-specific rods for other than the simple fact that rod companies want to sell more rods. A flip stick does not always make a good swimbait rod and vice versa. I settled on the St. Croix Swimbait stick for my hollow baits and solid baits up to around six inches and the Mega Swimbait rod for anything over six inches. It was a wise investment, as my hooking and landing ratio went up dramatically.

After spending many hundreds of dollars on boxes and bags of different baits, I settled on three brands and styles that ride in my boat on a daily basis. For smaller, hollow baits, I use the Strike King Shadalicious. Silly name, but a good bait. Not so expensive that they hurt when you tear one up. With the Hyper Hook and Cone, I tear far fewer baits than any other hook that I tried. I found that the 3.5 - 5.5 inch sizes worked for just about any size fish I wanted to catch. Add a bottle of chartreuse and watermelon dye and a few cotton swabs to the mix and you can come up with some cool colors that are commercially available.

Another bait that's not really what you would consider a "swimbait" that I started using as a "clean-up" bait is the Zoom Magnum Speed Worm. I found that I could take one of the natural colors like watermelon or green pumpkin, shorten it about 1 inch, and by Texas rigging it with a 3/16 or 1/4 ounce weight, get more bites from an area I had been fishing the true "swimbait" in.

At Amistad, the 6 inch Osprey Talon helped me to the Top 12. I probed with the 7 inch version the majority of the day on Sunday for an area where the big ones were stacked up, but never found it. There's something about the slow, sexy wag of the Osprey tail that drives bass crazy, especially in clear water. Guess they can see that thing wagging and come from a long way off to hammer it. Such a cool bite when it's on.

I really haven't had great success on the hard swimbaits. Have quite a few off the Triple Trout in various sizes and I've caught some fish on them, but not enough to have the confidence to throw them when money is on the line. I'm still working on the hard baits. Have tried the Spro, Tru-Tungsten, and some others, but I just don't have the confidence in them yet that I have in their softer cousins.

From someone who had a severe case of Swimbait-itis - don't fear the swimbait. I've used them heavily the past two Elite events to finish in the top 25. If I can use the things which I recently feared with that success, anyone can use them to catch some fish at their local lake. I just had to throw them enough to figure out what worked for me.

For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.