Master Series on the Art of the Swimbait with Byron Velvick

Byron Velvick was one of the early pioneers in the development of swimbaits in bass fishing. Seigo Saito

Much of our success — or lack thereof — with swimbaits comes from the way we offer them to the bass. These lures are in a class by themselves. They must be fished that way.

Far too many recreational anglers fail to fully appreciate this fact. I see lots of guys out on the water fishing in the right spot, with the right lure, but not catching bass. Almost always the reason for this is that they're reeling their lures too fast. They're fishing them like they were crankbaits — which they definitely are not.

Over the years, experimenting with swimbaits on the West Coast, and more recently on Lake Amistad, I've developed a technique that I call the hover. By that I mean that I make long casts and bring my lure back very slowly with an easy bow in the line and my rod tip up, slightly above the waterline. This causes my lure to suspend or float — hover — over the bass as it slowly moves along.

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I want to make my lure look like clueless prey swimming around out in the middle of nowhere. In clear water lakes, I like to keep my swimbait in the 5- to 8-foot depth range. If the water has a little more color to it I may go shallower or deeper depending upon the circumstances.

This presentation makes sense if you stop to think about it. Swimbaits are designed to imitate the real thing. As anglers we're not trying to evoke a reaction strike. We're trying to make a bass think he or she is in for an easy meal.

It's almost impossible to do this with a high-speed reel. It sounds great to talk about cranking slow when you're on the dock. In the real world, however, it just doesn't work. You need something with a low gear ratio.

Because of that, I always throw my swimbaits on an Abu Garcia Revo Toro 5.4:1 gear ratio reel. The larger spool on the Toro allows me to spool more line for my long casts and the lower gear ratio helps me keep my cranking speed down.

My line choice for this technique is either 20- or 25-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT or Trilene Big Game. Braid is too unwieldy and fluorocarbon sinks too fast. You want the bait to move along, hovering above the bass as it inches along. The only way to get that presentation is with heavy monofilament.

Another reason to use heavy mono is economic. Throwing big, heavy swimbaits will cause you to backlash. It's going to happen. That's a fact. Don't be embarrassed about it.

Heavy mono won't cut into itself the way other lines do when it backlashes. As a consequence, your line won't break on the cast and cause your bait to sail out into the wild blue yonder, never to be seen again. Good swimbaits aren't cheap. None of us can afford to lose very many of them.

Besides, you can pick a backlash out of heavy monofilament quicker and easier than with any other type of line.

Every so often, maybe 20 percent of the time, I'll move up to a Revo Toro with a 6.4:1 gear ratio. I only do this when I absolutely have to crank fast — working my lure over a shallow weedbed — or when I yo-yo my bait down deep like a heavy jig. Under those circumstances I need the speed, so I gear-up.

But remember, swimbaits are not Rat-L-Traps. You don't need a high-speed, burner reel to fish them. It's a hindrance that'll frustrate you more often than it helps you. Give yourself every advantage you possibly can by gearing down.

In the next lesson, we'll talk about selecting the right rod and how to properly set the hook on these big baits. After that, we'll go catch some fish.