How to Buy a Hard-To-Get Swimbait

The most difficult part about fishing big swimbaits for largemouth bass is acquiring the lures.

If I’d harbored doubts about the obsession surrounding bass fishing’s big swimbait culture here in the Northeast, the sight of the tent banished them for good. Well, technically, it was an ice-fishing shelter, but it was set up by someone to help survive a night of late-January cold outside the Boxborough Regency and give him first dibs on the custom swimbaits available at the New England Fishing and Outdoor Expo. 

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth
Most anglers use their ice-fishing shelters on the ice, but not swimbait fishermen looking to add to their collection.

In addition to the ice shelter, there were a dozen or so collapsable chairs from other anglers who’d arrived hours before the doors opened.  I joined the line a gentlemanly 45 minutes before the 1 p.m. opening, hoping to add to my small but growing arsenal of super-sized specialty swimbaits made for largemouth bass. 

Big swimbaits catch big bass—that’s not news. This tactic spun up out of southern California reservoirs in the 1980s, where fishermen looked for lures large enough to mimic the stocked rainbow trout offered up to enormous bass like lambs to the slaughter. Here, at the opposite corner of the country, the tactic has found fertile ground among anglers hoping to catch the 5-pound (and better) largemouth making meals of sea-run herring, white and yellow perch, and stocked trout. 

But, big swimbaits, especially the custom-made ones, are difficult to get—especially at the original price—hence the midwinter camping in a convention center parking lot.

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth bass
The going rate for large swimbaits ranges from $100 to nearly $1000.

Starting Your Arsenal of Big Swimbaits

Not all swimbaits are hard to get, so if you want to get into the big-swimbait game, here’s a list of productive, reliably available lures that will make a solid foundation for your growing swimbait collection—no waffling necessary!

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth

Builder: Spro/KGB
Bait: Chad Shad 180
Color: Perch, Threadfin Shad

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth

Builder: Mike Shaw
Bait: MS Slammer 9”
Color: Perch, Golden Shiner

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth

Builder: Bull Shad
Bait: Bull Wake
Color: Dirty Bone

The scheming, horse-trading, and straight-up gambling that anglers engage in to get some of those most coveted swimbaits is its own form of fishing. I have whiled away winter hours refreshing Facebook pages for “bait drops,” scrolled eBay for mint-condition used baits, and planned assaults on sportsman shows where popular builders will be offering their wares. My co-worker—let’s call him “Screech” to protect his identity—takes his swimbait acquisition mission to a level I’ve been unwilling to go. 

He regularly enters “waffles,” which is social media codespeak for raffles, wherein he spends hundreds, even thousands, for a chance at getting a bait. He’s won several baits this way, but when asked what his average cost per bait ends up, he quickly changes the subject to what ponds he thinks hold the hungriest pre-spawn bass. 

“Screech” drained his kids’ college funds on swimbait waddles just to cast into a pussy willow bush.

What’s the Appeal of Big Swimbaits?

The idea behind big swimbaits is that the largest, oldest largemouth bass in a body of water, having seen hundreds of small soft plastics, squarebill crankbaits, and suspending jerkbaits, tune out the noise of smaller conventional lures. A larger offering, however, one that represents a substantial meal for these ambush predators, seems to be more likely to grab their attention.

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth
Big swimbaits are designed specifically to appeal to the largest, oldest bass in the pond, which have seen just about every lure in the box dragged in front of their nose.

Big swimbait adopters are often surprised at the size of the fish living in their home waters that they never knew were there before offering a trophy-sized bass a trophy-sized meal. Of course, trophy hunting usually comes at the expense of fast action. A day of casting big swimbaits brings far fewer bites than a day casting smaller lures, but those few bites you do get tend to be big ones. It gives swimbait fishing for largemouth a muskie-fishing feel, though, fortunately, it takes far fewer than 10,000 casts to catch a big swimbait bass.

Waffles are an ingenious—if legally questionable—way to make money off a swimbait you’ve purchased. For instance, let’s say you own a jointed wakebait made by a popular, mysterious lure builder that you paid $150 for. You were excited to throw it, but decide you’d rather save up for some front-facing sonar to slap on your Bass Tracker. You could offer the lure for sale at a slightly inflated price, host an unofficial auction (which could backfire), or you could “waffle” the lure by selling 10 chances to buy it at $30 apiece. That way, you’re guaranteed to double your money and get $300 closer to live-scoping your way to a 30-pound bag at the next local tournament. 

But, wait, you could do better. That’s when you post a “mini waffle,” which offers 10 chances at $15 apiece for a spot on your waffle. But why stop there? How about setting up a $5 buy-in “micro” with 10 chances to get a spot on the “mini”?

Before you condemn the practice, remember that someone out there just got an incredibly tough-to-get swimbait while spending as little as $5. Yet, so far, Screech hasn’t been that lucky. While he’s been spending his discretionary income on waffles for lures to catch fish he won’t eat, he’s ending up with less money to put actual waffles on the breakfast table for his children. All this effort, just to cast them into trees and catch his biggest fish of the year on a Senko.

Northeast Swimbait Builders

big swimbaits for largemouth

Builder: Keith Thomas
Lures: Black Talon Custom Swimbaits
Specialty: Big Glidebaits
Best Way to Get One: A high-speed internet connection and lots of time to spend on his Facebook Page

big swimbaits for largemouth

Builder: Joey Lanciotti
Lures: Lanciotti Lures
Specialty: Jointed Wake Baits
Best Way to Get One: Camping out before a fishing show

big swimbaits for largemouth

Builder: Passang Wong Chuu
Lures: Sherpa Swimbaits
Specialty: Wakebaits, Crawlers
Best Way to Get One: Regularly refreshing his website

big swimbaits for largemouth

Builder: Pat (Last Name Unknown)
Lures: Pat’s
Specialty: Jointed, Lipped Swimbaits
Best Way to Get One: Spend your child’s college fund on “waffles”

big swimbaits for trophy largemouth bass
This angler sold his soul for the opportunity to buy a Pat’s Swimbait. Worth it.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the swimbait horse-trading is seeing how some baits seemingly migrate from owner to owner, spending more time in flat-rate shipping boxes than in tackle boxes. Whether it’s a unique color pattern or part of a limited-edition run, you can follow some swimbaits across Facebook groups and Instagram stories, wondering when (if ever) they’ll actually have a chance to catch a largemouth bass. 

Actually, the vast majority do. Every year, hundreds of hulking largemouth bass fall to these beautifully built custom swimbaits, stirring up more demand for the limited supply. While many more largemouths are taken on conventional bass gear, the appeal is targeting big fish with a big bait, sacrificing quantity for quality, and doing it in style. The feeling of slowly retrieving a big wakebait, knowing that any turn of the reel handle could draw a strike from a personal-best-shattering bass, makes all the winter camping, online waffling, and Facebook refreshing worth it. 

Related Content

Get Started with Big Swimbaits

The History of Largemouth Bass in the Northeast

Surfcasting Techniques for Largemouth Bass

WATCH: Swimbait Fishing for Massive Largemouth Bass on Cape Cod – OTW Shorts

2 on “How to Buy a Hard-To-Get Swimbait

  1. Scott Schlemmer

    Seriously wouldn’t a nice Danny surface swimmer do the trick at what 1/4 the price or less? Other saltwater plugs also. Or a big jointed Rebel or Cotten Cordell. It’s getting crazy, not everyone is rich.

  2. Glenn Platvoet

    I fish some muskie baits for large bass you need prop and wake ones then pull them in ohh they’re not going to be happy but yer not goin to be happy but your going to

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