Western ways, part 3: Big-time swimbaits

"Big fish want a big meal, and Eastern fish haven't seen [big swimbaits] a whole lot," says Elite Series pro Jared Lintner. Seigo Saito

The West — while not so wild anymore — is distinctly different than the East. Folks on both coasts acknowledge this. The same holds true in East versus West bassin'. The West's Japanese influence means they see the innovative baits and techniques of the Far East first. The canyon-like lakes couldn't be more different from the shallow, muddy bowls found in parts of the East.

In each segment of this three-part series we'll detail a technique that originated on the Left Coast. In the first installment, we detailed the Hideki ('Dek) rig with John Murray. Part two showed Ish Monroe's frog-walking secrets. Now we look at swimbaits. Not 4- or 5-inch swimming grubs, but 8- to 12-ounce, big-as-your-shoe hunks of plastic.

Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande, Calif., dedicated himself to learning the intricacies of these borderline novelty baits, and it has paid off in spades. The most recent example was at the Elite Series event on Clear Lake, where he finished 10th.

Before we get started, a definition is in order. Lintner calls a "swimbait" a baitfish-looking, undulating and swimming bait that is 7 inches long or larger. Anything smaller is not a swimbait to him. When "swimbait" is referenced here, we're talking big. The craze started in California more than a decade ago. Anglers knew the forage out there was big in lakes such as Castaic and Casitas, so big baits just made sense.

Rather than a run-of-the-mill swimbait story, Lintner wants to relate to Easterners that they can benefit from the swimbait craze just as much — if not more so — than Westerners, because Western fish have seen just about every swimbait created. He'll even tell you how to bed fish with them. Here's how "The Milkman" works these brutish Western-born baits back East.

"All these big fish factories out West have trout in them, and the bass gorge themselves on them whenever possible. In Clear Lake, they have the hitch. The Delta has tons of different baitfish, like the Delta smelt. They get 10 to 11 inches long," he says. "The bass are used to seeing and feeding on these plus-sized baitfish. Also, California's growing season is much longer than anywhere else because the water temperature never dips below 45. They eat and grow all year long.

"When I first went out on tour four or five years ago, I was pulling out these swimbaits and a lot of my co-anglers thought they were a joke — and those were the little 6-inch and smaller ones," Lintner says. "There is still room for guys back East to lob the 7- to 11-inch baits, both hard and soft."

At the 2009 Lake Guntersville event, Lintner had one of the best practices of his career with an 8-inch trout-looking Huddleston swimbait. He's had success with swimbaits on every lake the Elite Series has visited since he joined the tour (except the Mississippi River). The vast majority of which were on Eastern and Northern lakes. He experiments with them everywhere he goes. However, it didn't come naturally for him.

"When swimbaits started coming out in California 12 or 15 years ago, I resisted them. I liked flipping jigs," he says. "After three or four years, I saw how well guys were doing with them; then I forced myself to learn to use them. I went three or four weeks with nothing but swimbaits in my boat and built up the confidence I have in them today.

"It's so intimidating throwing those baits that guys just don't throw 'em. You can get a lot more bites throwing the smaller hollow-bellied ones, but you won't get the quality," he says. "Big fish want a big meal, and Eastern fish haven't seen them a whole lot."

Lintner believes the main reason Easterners haven't fallen in love with swimbaits is mental. Swimbaits are seen as a Western or Texas thing that is not applicable to their lake. In actuality, a swimbait is perfect for a kicker fish or two.

"It's a lack of confidence thing. You can't just throw it out there on your favorite spot and think, 'Nope, they're not eating it.' You've really got to dedicate some time to them to build up that confidence," he says. "Swimbait fishing is kind of an art within itself. Other than a few weeks out of the year, you can toss them down the bank and catch fish on them."

The art lies in the "line" you have to discover to make the bass eat it. More precisely, the angle the bass want the bait presented. This may change throughout the day as conditions change. Lintner says you need to pay attention to what's getting bit. He likens deciphering the line to throwing a spinnerbait.

"Sometimes you can't just toss it out there and wind it in. You have to twitch it, pause it or do various things to it," he says. "It's a mistake to take it out, bomb it a couple of times and reel it in. You've got to spend time seeing how those fish are setting up to bite it. Experiment with different casts, retrieves and depths to give them every opportunity to eat it. Just because they haven't seen it doesn't mean that's enough to make them jump on it."

To increase his chances of success, Lintner will start the day throwing conventional baits like crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, worms and jigs. If he's getting bit, he'll bring out the swimbaits. As a rule of thumb, Lintner says soft-bodied swimbaits work most of the year, but postspawn fish seem to eat hard swimbaits better.

To give swimbaits a fair chance, Lintner says, you have to give a good portion of time to them, usually three-fourths of a day. Knowing the forage in your lake is important, too. On Guntersville, for example, Lintner knows the gizzard shad can grow to be a foot long. He ordered gizzard shad-colored Osprey swimbaits just for TVA lakes and had success. Eastern lakes can be easier to select a color for than Western lakes as well. Out West there are many types of forage. In the East, Lintner sticks with shad or bluegill pattern baits. For the North, he prefers perch-colored swimbaits.

Lintner recently started his own swimbait company, Prime Target Swimbaits, with a friend. The bodies are molded from actual baitfish such as threadfin and gizzard shad.

Lintner's casting gear is just as stout as the baits he lobs. His line minimum is 20-pound-test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, but he will go as heavy as 25-pound-test. He uses a Revo Toro reel. He says it's built right to handle huge baits. His rod of choice is an 8-foot, extra heavy Powell rod that makes most flipping sticks feel like boiled noodles. Lintner likes to use the longest rod he can because they offer greater casting distances, and the farther you can get a swimbait from your boat, the better off you are. An extra-heavy action is to control the bait on short casts, like when he's bed fishing.

Lintner does in fact take swimbaits where most anglers would never dream: bed fishing. He mostly uses it to get bedding bass' attention.

"A lot of time, those bigger fish — like at Amistad and the Delta — won't pay attention to smaller baits like a Senko. I've got a lot more fish in my boat quicker than I would have normally by dropping a 9-inch Osprey or 12-ounce Huddleston swimbait in their nest," he says. "It's the intimidation factor. They don't like that big old swimbait on it."

Through years of experimentation and lots of lost fish, Lintner has learned that a hookless swimbait is the best bet. It's too easy for them to throw a swimbait hook in full contact conditions. He'll toss it and twitch it into a bed until the bass is so mad it hits it, then he pitches a jig in on the next cast and usually gets bit again.

"They get so fired up that they'll hit about anything," he says. "You can tell when they're ready to kill something; their gills flare and their fins move a lot. It's almost like the hair is standing up on their back, kind of like a cat."

Lintner emphasizes the most important thing to do when swimbait fishing is to stick with it.

"This isn't something that happens right away. These baits do work in the East; it's just a matter of guys taking the time to really learn how to use them," he says. "I know that once they do, their fishing will improve."