B.A.S.S. Insider: Cover Story, Episode 8


  • Editor's note: April through June 2006, B.A.S.S. Insider presented by CITGO airs each BASS Saturday at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Click here for details.

    For more than 60 years, bass fishermen around the world have been pursuing one single fish — a giant that will break the world record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces set by George Perry in 1932. Of all the lures anglers are using to try to fool this fish, none are as unique or as exciting to use as the category known as swim baits.

    Imagine, if you will, fishing for bass with a lure that measures more than 12 inches in length, may weigh 10 ounces or more, and cost as much as $300. Swim baits originated in California more than a decade ago, and are designed to imitate the large fish big bass feed on, primarily rainbow trout.

    Not only do they look like a trout, these lures also have a built-in tail-swimming action, which is why they're called "swim baits." They're made of both hard and soft plastics and even wood; some float, some sink, and some dive, so you can fish them a lot of different ways for different situations.

    Most anglers won't use a lure like this, but if you're as dedicated as California pros Mark Rogers, Rob Belloni, and Rod Thigpin are to catching really big bass, you'll have a tackle box full of swim baits! Between them, these three fishermen have boated well over 200 bass topping 10 pounds.

    When you specifically target trophy bass, you have to be prepared to get skunked, which is why Mark, Rob, and Rod plan their strategy carefully. As bass get larger and older, their reactions to lures changes, and fishermen have to try for feeding strikes rather than impulse strikes. That's why swim baits have such meticulous detail and actions. Mark, Rob, and Rod take time to prepare their tackle, often adding "stinger hooks" to their soft plastic swim baits to improve their chances of hooking a big bass.

    On California's Lake Casitas north of Ventura, which has produced bass in excess of 21 pounds, and where they're fishing today, there are many different cover and structure options for using swim baits. One of the easiest and most common fishing techniques is a simple cast-and retrieve through shallow cover.

    Big swim baits are lobbed rather than cast, which is why pros like Mark, Rob, and Rod use them primarily in more open water. You just don't have much casting accuracy with such a large lure. Once the lure hits water, you can let it sink to your preferred depth, then start reeling it back, guiding it with your rod tip.

    Another favorite swim bait technique is known as "dead sticking," in which the lure is allowed to float motionless on the surface far behind the boat. This is especially effective in clear water, and If there is a breeze, the wind can be used to push a lure over deeper structure or cover. Bass holding in deeper water see the silhouette and come to investigate, sometimes waiting behind a swim bait for several minutes before striking!

    Sinking swim baits can also be fished in deep water, such as breaklines where the depth changes. Locating such spots normally requires careful depthfinder study to pin point the best places. Swim baits can be dead sticked on the bottom, allowed to sink and then slowly reeled back, or even trolled along a breakline.

    When the fishing is slow, Mark and his friends often resort to "milk runs" in which they visit different parts of Casitas to try different techniques, depending on water depth. In this regard, trophy bass fishing is similar to regular bass fishing. When you're forced into this style of fishing with a swim bait, you're really just hoping you'll be in the right place at the right time when the bass start feeding.

    Because trophy bass are so valuable, it's important to take care of them. Getting the fish to the boat quickly helps reduce stress, and once the bass are in the livewell, adding additional chemicals to the water also helps calm them and prevent the spread of bacteria. Handling of the fish should be kept to a minimum.

    Mark, Rob, and Rod have also developed a safe method of releasing trophy bass brought up from deep water. Instead of puncturing the fish's bloated air bladder with a needle, they simply put a 2-ounce weight, which is attached to a regular marker buoy float, in the bass's mouth. The weight is enough to take the fish back down into deep water where its air bladder will shrink back to normal size.

    Once they see the bass swimming normally, all they do is jiggle and twitch the buoy string until the bass spits out the weight.

    Although swim baits were developed primarily for California's trophy bass, anglers are gradually realizing these unusual lures will catch bass throughout the country. Even some tournament pros are using them with quiet success.

    Once you try them, you'll probably agree with Mark, Rob, and Rod, that they're fun and exciting lures to use, and best of all, they do catch big bass!