So what exactly are swimbaits? Well, they can be loosely defined as saltwater fishing lures that closely resemble the baitfish they are intended to imitate - not just in appearance but in swimming action too.
Although by this definition they include hard-bodied plugs and crankbaits, when saltwater fishermen talk about swimbaits they're normally referring to soft-plastic fish-like lures, and it's these lures (which are also known as shads) that we'll feature on here.
Some are designed specifically for trolling from a boat and others for casting from the shore - and some can be used for both.
They're not all as effective as you might expect from their appearance - some will catch far more anglers than fish - but if you stick with those from well-known lure manufacturers you're less likely to be disappointed.
Most of these get their life-like swimming action from their flexible bodies and flat endplate design of their tails. These 'paddle-tails' wriggle frantically sending out both vibrational and visual alarm signals to any nearby predator.
Although much less durable than their hard-moulded cousins - the fishing plugs - they do have a least one advantage over them, and this is it ...
When a predator grabs hold of a hard plug he immediately realises his mistake and does his best to get rid of it.
Not so, with a soft plastic lure.
The predator is much more likely to be fooled for a little longer, maybe even taking a second gulp, in doing so giving the angler a better chance of a good hook hold.
They come in three general forms:~
These are manufactured as a complete unit with an integral hook and weighted body, and there are literally hundreds to choose from. Some are very effective lures and others are much less so, and telling one from the other is not possible from its appearance.
Like any other lure, it's its action that's important - not how appealing it looks to us. But find one with a realistic action and a realistic appearance then you're likely to be on to a winner.
Of particular importance are the eyes, as it's these that give the predator something to home in on.
As a UK angler, if I'm shore fishing with swimbaits, the odds are that sea bass are my target. And it will usually be over rough ground, probably a from rock fishing mark and there'll be some tide running.
If the water is deep, say 30 to 40 feet, heavier lures of around 5" to 6" will get the lure down before the current swings it around. The smaller 3" to 4" lures will be fine for shallow water. As with all kinds of lure fishing, experimentation is the key as far as the retrieve is concerned. Stop, start, slow the retrieve rate right down, then speed it up, try a steady rate of retrieve, lift the rod tip up, drop it down and so on. Sooner or later you'll find what works - then do it again...
A good quality, light bass spinning rod will form the basis of your outfit, together with a fixed spool reel loaded with braided fishing line and topped of with a fluorocarbon leader. Why braid line? ~ Well...
Most swimbaits are primarily intended for casting but some work equally as well when trolled slowly astern of a moving boat.
Trolled too quickly swimbaits with paddle-tails will either spin or capsize, immediately losing all fish-catching ability. I always experiment by trolling the lure close astern to find out at what speed this happens - and then go slower! If you make a note of this speed for future reference, remember that it must be boat speed through the water not over the ground. This means that the speed reading given by your GPS set is of no use to you, unless there's no tidal current at all. But a paddle-wheel (or thru-hull) log will give the speed through the water at any stage of the tide.
Williamson Lures 'Live Series' Mackerel swimbaits are designed for trolling, and have dispensed with the paddle-tail design in favour of a more natural one.
This enables these lures to be trolled at 6 knots for the 7" mackerel and 9 knots for the 10" version.
Williamson Lures produce a range of these 'Live Series' lures which are amazingly lifelike both in appearance and action.
Each lure in the series resembles a specific baitfish - Ballyhoo, Atlantic Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Little Tunny, Bunker (aka Shad, Pogy or Menhaden), Mullet, Ribbonfish and Squid - and is produced in several sizes.
They certainly catch fish, but like all soft-plastic lures, robustness isn't one of their selling points. Whilst you may get several good tuna or dorado on a 'Live Series' ballyhoo, one strike from a wahoo and it's likely to be 'game-over' for that lure. But you've got your fish ...
These come as two separate components:~
Given the durability issue with soft plastic lures generally, the commercial attractiveness of two-part un-rigged swimbaits is pretty obvious, but the downside is that unless the assembly of head and body is done with precision their swimming performance will be compromised, along with their ability to fool a fish.
Although the barb behind the head part of the jig head goes a long way towards preventing the flexible body in position, it's not always entirely successful.
Solution? ~ A dab of super-glue on the barb!
Probably the best way of describing these is as an unrigged swimbait that has been rigged by the manufacturer, if you see what I mean. They are the separate jig head and body type, and are normally sold with at least one spare body.
MegaBaits 'Chubby Shad'
The Chubby Shad is a typical example which has accounted for many a fine bass, but some anglers report that they have improved their catch rate by adding a trailer hook for short-biting fish. Note the particularly well detailed jig head and prominent eye on this swimbait.
Sandeels are a favourite food of sea bass, so it makes sense to try a lure that resembles one.
Fox Lures 'Savage' Sandeels, as shown here, come fully rigged but include a spare tail in the package. And they do catch bass!
In the USA
In the UK
Downrigger ~ The cranelike device incorporating a line-counter reel often seen on the sterns of sport-fishing boats, which lowers a trolling weight on a wire line to a pre-determined depth. The trolling line is attached just above the weight, which gets the lure down to depths that would otherwise be unachievable.