Of all the lures available for successful pre-spawn fishing, tournament veteran Mark Menendez believes swim baits may be the most over-looked. They’re among his first choices. After using the large wobbling, swimming-tail baits in early spring tournaments from California to Florida, the Yamaha Pro has caught enough big bass to realize just how effective they can be.
“Swim baits represent a big, easy meal for the larger female bass that are eating heavily just before they move to the spawning beds,” Menendez explains. “The bass are looking for larger forage they don’t have to chase far or use much energy to catch, so an erratic retrieve with a big swim bait gets their attention right away.”
Swim baits originated in California more than two decades ago and have gained a loyal following there because of their effectiveness in catching trophy-class largemouths in the 15- to 20-pound class. Carefully crafted and painted to imitate various types of forage, the lures measure six to12 inches in length and have extremely natural swimming actions. Both sinking and floating models are offered.
Tournament pros have brought swim baits to bass lakes throughout the rest of the country in recent years and learned how to use them successfully in the larger and generally warmer reservoirs. After bringing five bass weighing 24 pounds to the scales at Lake Amistad, Menendez quickly started making more space for them in his own tackle box.
“The first requirement for swim bait fishing is having clean to clear water, because bass key on these lures visually,” advises the Yamaha Pro. “You can fish swim baits in water that’s shallow or deep, but it needs to have good visibility so bass can see them.
“I like to start by fishing main lake points. Then as the pre-spawn season progresses, I follow the bass into the tributaries fishing the primary and then secondary points leading to the spawning flats and coves. The most productive points always have a fairly distinct breakline where the depth changes sharply, and this is where bass often locate before they move shallow. I cast shallow and bring the swim bait across this breakline.”
Menendez varies his retrieve on every cast rather than using a slow, steady swimming action. He speeds up, slows down, and even stops the swim bait, trying to create some excitement that generates a strike.
“Depending on where the depth change occurs, I let the swim bait sink until I believe it’s in the correct zone where the bass are,” he explains, “then I start reeling it back. I don’t crawl it along the bottom or hit stumps, rocks or other cover like I might do with a spinnerbait or crankbait. I use a fast 6.4:1 reel that lets me reel slow or really fast, and I try to make the lure appear injured or dying.
“That’s not the normal way to fish a swim bait, but it certainly is effective this time of year.”
As water temperatures warm later in the spring, Menendez generally retrieves faster, especially if he’s fishing in the wind. He moves from the points to boat docks or standing timber where bass frequently suspend, and if he’s fishing stumps or other shallow cover, he often changes to one of the smaller hollow-bodied swim baits he can rig weedless. Even with these he still makes each retrieve as erratic as possible.
“I try to match my swim bait color to the color of the lake’s primary forage,” adds the Yamaha Pro, “and if I see bass following the lure but not striking, I change to a larger swim bait rather than a smaller one like we often do with other lures.
“Again, I think the bass perceive a larger swim bait as an easy, more attractive meal they can catch without much effort. They’re hungry and want to eat, which is why these types of lures can be so effective this time of year.”