Big Swimbaits, Big Bass

by David Lynch

This 9-pound, 2-ounce, early spring largemouth ate a 9-inch Rago Real trout. Crawling a big swimbait along the bottom can be a great way to catch pre-spawn giants.
This 9-pound, 2-ounce, early spring largemouth ate a 9-inch Rago Real trout. Crawling a big swimbait along the bottom can be a great way to catch pre-spawn giants.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity—it’s also a description of the life of a Northeast swimbait fisherman. Throwing huge swimbaits for monster northeast largemouth can be a lonely, grueling, frustrating, and yet ultimately rewarding way to catch the bass of a lifetime.

Many anglers have dabbled in this type of fishing, but few stay committed to it; spending long fishless hours on the water is certainly not for everyone. However, those who do commit to fishing swimbaits will catch dramatically bigger largemouth bass.

The oversized swimbaits I’m referring to are 7- to 12-inch, 3- to 6-ounce baits designed to imitate any number of forage fish, such as rainbow trout, perch, herring, golden shiners and sunfish, and even rats and mice. No matter what the main forage is where you fish, there is a swimbait made to imitate it. Developing and maintaining the confidence that a largemouth will eat these huge baits can be the biggest hurdle to success.

Big Northeast bass will eat oversized swimbaits in a variety of conditions all season long. I was fortunate enough to catch and release the 2008 Massachusetts Gold Pin largemouth of 9 pounds, 6 ounces on two different occasions, on two different swimbaits. The first was on a cold, raw, and miserable April 27. The high temperature that day was 48 degrees, yet the 9-pound plus largemouth ate my 9-inch Rago Real Trout as I bounced it along the bottom in 22 feet of water. That was the first bass I had caught in more than 100 hours of swimbait fishing that season. On November 1 of that same year, the bass absolutely crushed a 9-inch Dark Trout MS Slammer over deep, open water. I believe the bass had been suspended in the water column, looking for trout cruising near the surface.

The author caught this 9-pound, 6-ounce largemouth on a 9-inch dark trout MS Slammer in November.
The author caught this 9-pound, 6-ounce largemouth on a 9-inch dark trout MS Slammer in November.

The key to catching that fish both times was simply staying dedicated to throwing nothing but big swimbaits. I have caught four bass heavier than 9 pounds, and all have been on swimbaits – this is definitely not a coincidence. My latest 9-plus pounder was caught on May 15, 2012. The fish hit on a hot, sunny, calm bluebird day, conditions many fishermen would consider tough. A Huddleston Deluxe fished off a woodcovered point in 25 feet of water proved irresistible to the 9-pound, 2-ounce largemouth. In case you’re wondering how a bass could eat an 8-inch, 4.5-ounce lure, I’ll have you know that bass had engulfed the bait so deep that it was not even visible when I landed the fish. The hit was just a light tap, similar to when a largemouth bass hits a jig. Big bass will aggressively eat these baits all year long.

The fascination with big baits and big bass started in Southern California in the early 1990s. About once or twice a year, there would be an article in one of the national bass magazines on the monster bass being caught there on huge trout imitatinglures. Some of these baits were soft, single-hook baits designed to swim through the water column or drag and jig along the bottom. Other baits were huge, jointed wooden plugs used to call lunker bass to the surface for what appeared to be a wounded trout dinner. As I would read and re-read those articles, I couldn’t help but think, “Why not here? Why wouldn’t these same baits catch huge bass?”

The more I thought about it, I realized there was no reason these same tactics couldn’t be successful here. A Southern California bass in a deep, clear trout pond is going to get big by supplementing their regular diet with stocked trout, same with a Massachusetts bass—but throwing these big baits is not limited to trout-stocked ponds. You can imitate whatever the large forage is where you fish. This is the key to consistent big-fish success. Herring, fallfish, eels, shiners, and sunfish are all abundant in waters throughout New England, and all are great food sources for bass to grow huge on. To me, the best way to catch these fish is with a swimbait.

Joe from Real Prey Swimbaits with an 8-plus-pounder, proving that huge largemouth can be caught on swimbaits year round.
Joe from Real Prey Swimbaits with an 8-plus-pounder, proving that huge largemouth can be caught on swimbaits year round.

The biggest obstacle to swimbait success is mental. Fishermen naturally want to catch fish, but totally dedicated swimbait fishermen do not worry about catching fish. A successful season for a swimbaiter could literally be one fish. You might spend a long day on the water, fish really well, yet still have nothing to show for it. The next time out, I can’t concern myself with whether or not my last trip was fishless. If my best shot for a big fish is to throw the same bait, in the same places, in the same manner, I will do that day after day, week after week, and know I will ultimately get rewarded. Throwing a 3- to 6-ounce bait in this manner is physically, and often mentally, grueling. It is easy to find a reason not to throw a swimbait—too hot, too cold, too sunny, too windy, too long between fish—the hard part is staying committed and not giving up on the dream of a giant swimbait-caught largemouth.

My favorite picture of a swimbait fish from Massachusetts is of Joe from Real Prey Swimbaits with an 8-plus-pounder that hit one of his prototypes. He is dressed like he is climbing Mount Everest, and there is a snow-covered hill in the background. It was certainly a day many would find an excuse not to fish at all, and most would definitely find an excuse to not throw a swimbait. Turns out Joe also caught an enormous 5-pound, 9-ounce smallmouth the same day, I believe solely because he was throwing big swimbaits.

When should one throw a swimbait? I say always. I always want to have a large lure with a big profile to target big fish. My first fishing trip this year was early March in a shallow, weedy pond with a herring run. Conventional bass-fishing wisdom suggests that a suspending jerkbait would be the bait of choice in these conditions. Wanting to throw a bigger swimbait, I threw a very slow sinking, 7.5-inch swimbait that could be worked in a jerk-and-pause cadence similar to a jerkbait. That day, the larger profile bait outfished all the conventional baits my fishing partner threw. I only caught two fish, but they were
a 7-pound, 2-ounce largemouth and a 5-pound, 11-ounce personal-best pickerel.

A large majority of the time, fishing a swimbait in those conditions will not yield any fish, but I always want a bigger bait to try to entice bigger fish. Tactics may change
depending on conditions and time of year, but in all situations, a big fish will move farther for a big lure.

Getting Started

Soft plastic swimbaits like the Osprey Lures Inline Tournament Talon and the Lunkerhunt Swim N Jerk Hybrid are effective when worked over structure like weedbeds or timber.
Soft plastic swimbaits like the Osprey Lures Inline Tournament Talon and the Lunkerhunt Swim N Jerk Hybrid are effective when worked over structure like weedbeds or timber.

How does one get started with this type of fishing? It can be intimidating for someone who has thrown conventional lures that average a ½-ounce to switch to throwing 4- to 6-ounce baits. It is not a style of fishing for everyone. I suggest trying it out with one or two baits before making a full-time commitment to big swimbait fishing. I believe only two baits are required to start out with an 8- to 9-inch soft swimbait to work along the bottom and a wakebait somewhere in the 9-inch range. The best known of those baits are probably the Huddleston Deluxe and MS Slammer. There are plenty of alternatives, but a big topwater and big swimming bait that can be worked on or near the bottom are essential.

If you really want to get into swimbait fishing after trying it out. You can invest in different style baits for different situations. There are the Osprey and Optimum baits for fishing a bit faster in the middle of the water column. A Lunker Punker is a versatile, walk-the-dog type topwater that is great on a number of different species and is just a fun lure to fish.

Tackle and Technique

You might be wondering why, this far into an article on swimbaiting, I haven’t touched on tackle or technique. It’s not that these aren’t important considerations, I just think mentally committing to this style of fishing is of utmost importance. For swimbait fishing, a round baitcasting reel works best. There are solid ones, like the Shimano Cardiff, that are fairly short money. For topwater and wakebaits, a 300-size reel works great, while for heavier bottom-bumping swimbaits, I like a 400 size with greater line capacity and a bit more power. You will want to have the drag set moderately for topwaters, but for bottom-bumping baits, your drag should be set tight—once a fish is hooked on this type of swimbait, your goal is to get it in the boat as quickly as possible to keep it from throwing the hooks.

For the 4- to 6-ounce baits, you’ll want an extra-heavy swimbait rod and 20- to 25-pound-test monofilament. A heavy action rod with a fast taper works well, but always check the rod specifications to see what size lures they are designed to handle. I also use 20-pound monofilament for my topwaters, but I want a rod with a bit more give for that type of fishing. Braided line will work for topwater baits, if you prefer the feel of braid.

Swimbait technique is simple, just throw it out and reel it in very slowly and very steadily. Deepwater baits are crawled slowly and steadily along the bottom, even jigged for lethargic cold-water bass. I prefer to fish “uphill,” casting to deeper water and retrieving the bait to shallower water, as this is the best way to keep contact with my lure and the structure it is going through.

Wakebaits should be worked as slowly as possible on top. Some very good fishermen I know like to swim certain wakebaits subsurface, but I believe in waking them. This way, fish don’t get a good look at the bait; all they see is a baitfish struggling along the surface.

For subsurface presentations, I prefer a slower-sinking Huddleston or an Osprey or Optimum bait.

Make multiple casts at productive areas, hitting a point from different angles and approaching cover from different directions. Often, showing a fish a different look
at the bait can trigger the bite. One exception would be in cold water, when bass are lethargic. Here, a slow-sinking swimbait that can be ripped, pulled and then stopped can be deadly. Bass will generally hit this bait on the fall.

I tend to fish slower and deeper than fishermen using conventional lures. Bottom-bumping swimbaits excel in 15 to 30 feet of water, especially in clear water. Points, wood, rock and sharp drop-offs are great places to target. A sharp drop-off with an adjacent flat can be a prime target for big fish to move up and feed on top. The sharper the drop, the likelier a big fish will make that area its home year round. Weedbeds rising near the surface can be a deadly area for a big wakebait.

As I mentioned, big bass will strike big swimbaits all year long. Cold-water jigging can be done with a weedless swimbait; I like the 6-inch Huddleston for this.

Night fishing from spring through fall can also produce huge bass. There’s no need to throw a bunch of baits – a wakebait for topwater, an Osprey for running over the top of cover, and a 3:16 Mission Fish swimbait to bounce along the bottom are all that is really needed.

Any area with lunker potential should be revisited often. Sometimes it is just a matter of being on that spot when a big fish is on the prowl for a big meal. It is not necessary to cover a lot of water – focus on prime areas and fish them thoroughly.

I highly recommend using a net; I hate hearing stories of huge fish that throw the hook while thrashing around at the side of the boat. Chances are, if the fish was that close it could have been netted.

Finally, I would like to stress the importance of being prepared to catch the biggest bass of your life. It is important to release these fish alive to reproduce, and maybe even be caught again. You should be ready to weigh, measure, photograph and possibly transport a huge bass. Having a camera, tripod (for solo pictures), scale, measuring tape and a livewell always available is a must. I go a few steps further and carry a certified scale and an affidavit for the Massachusetts Freshwater Sportfishing Awards, and I have local weigh stations programmed into my car’s GPS. You are fishing for the bass of a lifetime, so do not let that moment go by without being able to document your accomplishment.

35 on “Big Swimbaits, Big Bass

  1. Emerson

    nice article, ive been throwing big baits for a little over a year now and its a tough task sticking with it all day but well worth it when you land a big one. Once you get over that mental part and accept your not going to catch fish most days it becomes normal and like it says in the article somewhat insane!!

    1. Rich Jackman

      I agree, just started throwing swim-baits this year and in late May I caught my biggest bass of my life time and I am 65 although I didn’t scale or measure it , I can assure you it exceeded my biggest bass of 7lbs 8 oz. I now catch more and bigger bass swim baiting than I ever have worming. What a great way to catch bass. I enjoy covering more water at a bit quicker pace which I think adds up to more hook ups. Seems as though the hook up rates are higher too. Ive added eyes to some of my baits and I think that increased my catch,fish seem to hone in on a baitfishes head and the hook point isn’t far behind.

  2. http://tiny.pl/q7nfh

    With his first taste of victory on Piru, ffishing rod
    black and white this his second win on the lake. The
    first leeg of our trip was into the Atlantic Ocean merging
    with the diverse jig colors.

  3. Jason Cleghorn

    So glad to finally find an article that deals with the eastern half of the united states and big baits. Just wondering if you use a stinger hook on your 8″ hudds? if so, what is your setup? Thanks for the article

    1. David

      Thank you Jason . I generally throw an rof 12 and do not use a trailer. When I first fished them I did add a trailer and quickly realized the big fish almost always hit the head , and can take it real deep real quick. I understand those who do , I just think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

  4. justin fish

    my name is Justin fish I live in mass and I would like to pick the authors brain a little bit more on swimbait fishing in mass. I went out today thanksgiving 2013 and threw an 8 inch hudd and got 3 fish over 4 lbs not bad for freezing line and ice on my guides so please email me if you ever read this

    1. justin fish

      yes man the butch brown way is the only way to rig hudds the factory hook is a fish looser

  5. Billy joe hale

    I’ve spoken to ken Huddleston on several times on the phone and he seems like a very nice guy . Also he is very knowledgeable about bass fishing (all areas ) as we’ll extremely a fine bait designer in fact I would say as good as any . I know and have known several truly great!!! But he has no respect for his word ,I am sorry to say.
    Bjh

  6. Steven Thames

    I have been looking for a big swim bait that I could use in Florida. I haven’t found anything and I have been searching forever. Do you know where I can find something like that in the 8″ range?

    1. David Lynch

      Check out southern trout eaters, they specialize throwing big baits down south. Big wake bait is great anywhere , in Florida you could catch some giants with those, especially at night. Guessing you fish places with golden shiners , plenty of baits to mimic those. Joe from this article makes some great shiner imitating baits realpreyswimbaits.com . If you are looking to throw big baits there do not overlook 12-14 inch rubber worms , great day or night, on bottom or crawled over the top of lily pads. They will blow up on them , wait til you feel the weight of them before setting the hook. Braid works real well in the pads

    2. David Lynch

      Steven there are plenty of good swim baits to use in Florida. Bigger wakebaits will work well most of the year , should be an excellent choice at night. Ms slammer , 316 wake jr , woodtails in 8-12″ sizes will do well. Osprey type baits will work well especially in warmer water. For a golden shiner imitation check out realprey swim baits. Southern trout eaters do very well with big baits down south. Look them up, their will be tactics you can use. Good luck

    3. Tom ullen

      Look at jointed dannies for Florida bass. R M Smith is the go to builder. And you wont go for your lungs on price. Tight lines, Tom

  7. Norman

    Thanks, nice helpful and motivating article. Will re-read this again and one time more 🙂

  8. Adriene

    In 1985, Lake Lanier was able to gain some line and bring it
    through fishing rod 12′ that loop, and synch it up tight.
    Part One: The trout rod. Current year Texas hunting andd fishing in the cold, deep water; shaded for anglers
    and life support tanks; and corded off to prevent observers from interfering with the weigh-in process.

  9. mike

    MA law prohibits you from transporting live fish. Is there any way around this if you catch a monster and want to certify it?

  10. David Lynch

    Mike , Fish needs to be weighed on a certified scale with a witness . IGFA certifies scales and i believe any town over 5000 people in massachusetts should have someone who can also certify them . Affadavits can downloaded off of the states website .
    Seen the law talked about on a few forums, little or no chance you’d ever have an issue transporting a fish to certify and release where it is caught . Think the laws design is more of a tool to prevent fish being moved from one body of water to another .

  11. Willie

    Good swimbaits to fish in North Carolina?? There isn’t much clear water here would a brighter colored swimbaits like trout be more beneficial?

  12. David Lynch

    Willie, trout colored Swimbaits do seem to work everywhere whether trout are present or not. Lot of good fishermen in my area use a lot of perch , bluegill or herring (might also be called Kokanee) baits. Big top waters are effective in a wide range of colors. Action, presentation and location will be a better determinant of success than color. Southern trout eaters might be a good reference for fishing your area.

  13. Scott Brocklesby

    Proud to say I fished many years with Dave. Best fisherman I have ever met. Glad to see your success. You definitely deserve it.

    1. David Lynch

      Thank you Scott . You introduced me to the spot I caught my first 8 pounder, an 8-6 musky jitterbug fish, 2:30 am on a bright, full moon night. I think that fish s what started my focus on targeting big bass. Back in the day of fishing mostly big worms day and night and mostly musky jitterbugs at night . Simple but time proven tactics.

  14. Tony Lewis

    Great for Musky too – when the bite is tough which is usually the case .

  15. garrett tackett

    hey David what was the size of our bass and why are you saying thank you to scott

  16. Shayne Bronson

    I’m new to the Big Swimbait Fishing game! I live here in Missouri and I want to start fishing with Swimbaits six inch size and up! Will they work here in Missouri? I want to try in early spring 2016! Please Respond,Thank, S.B. GOD Bless!

    1. Marco Caetano

      Shayne, to know if 6″ swimbaits will worm in Missouri you just have to know if there are 1 or 2lb bass in the lakes you fish! Any bass eat prey fish and if you have 1 and 2lb bass they’ll eat 6″ bait fish with no problem… I live in Portugal where the bass are northern strain and in the lakes I fish the most bass rarely reach 5lb. Most of the fish I caught on 6″ swimbaits were between 1 and 3.5lb. In the prespawn I had some days with 3 to 6 bass that size on 6″ swimbaits. When you fish a swimbait that size, if you don’t have much confidence just pretend you’re fishing a spinnerbait. It’s not that hard to catch fish on them.

  17. Outcast

    The correct rod is THE most important thing you need. Don’t get a big bait without one. (Even a six inch bait requires more than what you have) If a big fish is holding your bait in its teeth, you need the power to rip it from its grip in order to sink that hook. Also, the longer the handle, the less fatigue. (Close your grip just a little when using a shovel, and you’ll understand.)
    Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight and expect to “get by”. Good article!

  18. David Lynch

    Garrett , biggest fish shown is 9-6 certified Gold Pon winner for Massachusetts in 2008 . Top picture shown is the same fish the first time I caught her, she was 9-2 at that time. Swimbaits will definitely work in Missouri and they will eat bigger baits than 6″s . An 8, 9, 10 “…..inch bait will catch big bass anywhere. I’d say the one trap northern swimbait fishermen fall into is rationalizing the use of smaller Swimbaits. You will certainly sacrifice numbers but my biggest bass have either come on 8″ , 4.5 ounce Huddleston type baits or the 9” MS Slammer. Thank you for reading and good luck .

  19. David Lynch

    Thanks Outcast, agree 100% with you . Correct rod is huge, if starting out look for deals on the swimbait forums , or research and you will find you can get a good new rod for under $200.00 , some closer to $100.00 that will last you a lifetime. Pay attention to what size bait the rod is designed to handle . Okuma, Shimano , Powell Max, St. Croix ….are just a few examples of quality rods that won’t cost too much . Some great high end rods out there too if you are going to stay committed to this type of fishing .

  20. Carl

    Hi David,

    I read your terrific article upon it coming out in 2013 and have revisited it multiple times since. Large fish have always been far more appealing to me than high numbers of smaller fish. I have steadily transitioned more and more into the large bait approach, finally culminating last year in a three part video series entitled “Swimbait Fishing the Northeast”. It was my attempt at chronicling the mentality, technique and hardware required as someone new, but committed to the technique. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjT-c_grLs8
    I want to thank you for the detail and thoroughness of your article here. Seeing the success of others, as well as having a realistic timetable about how often then might occur is worth its weight in gold. The main X-factor was that you are also a northeast angler and that made your results so much more “connectable” than those who employ the technique on the west coast and deep south.

    I’m writing you to perhaps gleam some insight into your experience in targeting trophy fish during the summer months. It has become an utterly confounding pursuit, but I refuse to concede or accept that big fish on swimbaits its only a technique during the spawn and during the fall. Any experience you can share would be wonderful. If you prefer, I can be reached at keepinitreelfishing@gmail.com Thank you and best of luck on catching even more amazing trophy fish. – Carl

    1. David Lynch

      Thank You Carl ,
      Appreciate the kind words . Unfortunately for someone filming my answer might not be too helpful . Most of my better summer fish come at night, generally from Midnight to 2:30 AM . Big wakebait have caught most of my better night fish , but that could be because I throw those a lot more than other baits at night . Rat type baits and Glidebaits also catch some big night fish . The generally accepted theory on daytime Swimbaits are baits with a lot of action. Osprey type baits as opposed to Huddleston type baits that are a better spring time bait. That said I have caught a few decent fish and lost a huge one on Hudds on hot , sunny August days . Low percentage tactic , but running a hudd over deep cover, deep weed beds can produce Giants . Hoping someone who has had more daytime success during the summer chimes in on this topic .
      Watched some of your first video, well done and a great hook set on that first seedless Hudd fish . Nicely done

  21. Mike

    I’m looking to throw 6″ to 8″ Huddleston looking at 711 okuma what action is best to throw both on one rod H or XH?

  22. David Lynch

    Tough to throw both on one rod , if you did I’d go with the heavier rod . Even in Massachusetts I’ll throw the 8″ the large majority of the time. 6″ is still a great bait too

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