Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tricks of the Trade - Swim Jigs 101

There are all sorts of different lures on the market, all offering different styles and actions, promising extraordinary results. One of these baits is the swim jig, the spinnerbait with no blades. At first glance there's really not much to a swim jig, a cone shaped head, a silicone skirt, weed guard and a stout hook, but once you couple this with an action filled trailer and add some tried and true techniques, this simple bait turns into a bass catching machine.

**Above Picture: Two Super K Swim Jigs in black chartreuse and white flash.

Being a self proclaimed jig fisherman, this technique is actually somewhat new to my repertoire. To be honest, I never really saw all the hype in the bait and just thought a crankbait or a spinnerbait would be a better bet, therefore I ignored most of the rumors and never really gave the technique a fair shake. It wasn't until this past spring when I signed up to fish the Bassmaster Weekend Series, where all the events where scheduled on different pools of the Mississippi River. A swim jig, amongst others, is known on the river to be an effective method to catch nice limits of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Going into the season I hadn't had a whole lot of previous experience fishing the Ole Miss and after finishing 2nd in the AOY points standings the year prior fishing popular lakes throughout northern Minnesota, I was looking for any advantage I could get.

I made a sincere commitment to myself that I would take the time and figure out why this bait was so popular. It didn't take long and it quickly became one of my go to techniques and not only did I find success on the river, but also found the swim jig to be equally as lethal on lakes and reservoirs. This bait straight up catches fish and big ones at that. My first time really using it was on a trip to pool 2 of the Mississippi where I managed to catch 10 to 15 solid keeper largemouth, while my two friends couldn't buy a bite on any other bait.

A month later, I counted on a Super K Swim Jig to help catch some prespawn smallmouth at the first event of the Bassmaster Weekend Series and was able to ride the success to a first place finish. When it came to a reaction bite, I couldn't find any bait that could better perform and the quality of these fish was surprising. Being a jig fisherman, I've always said that jigs are big fish baits and the swim jig is no different.

The key to a swim jig is that it's a finesse bait that can be power fished. Not a lot of flash and a very subtle action that can catch pressured fish. Rich Lindgren, my good friend, tournament competitor and fellow Tru Tungsten Pro Staff member agrees, "Swim jigs are one of many great baits or tools in my arsenal. I also catch fish on spinnerbaits, lipless cranks and chatter style jigs, which often cover the same water column. I like swim jigs when the fish are more pressured because it's a more subtle presentation that gets a bit overlooked by other anglers."

Another factor in a swim jig is its versatility, you can truly fish them almost anywhere. They come through snags and vegetation better than any other bait. I' m able to fish this bait in areas that the only other option I'd have is a topwater frog. Rich couldn't agree more, "The swim jig really shines around thick vegetation and slop where other baits would foul up and if your bait is consistently fouled then you're not being efficient with your casts." He continues by saying, "When I have a wide variety of cover I lean toward the swim jig strictly because of its versatility; if I come to a stump, dock, laydown or hole in the grass that I feel like needs more of a vertical presentation, I can pitch and hop my swim jig like a normal jig through it and not have to switch baits or rods, plus I can skip a swim jig into places that would be tough with other baits."

Since this is generally a shallow water presentation, you'll want a rod with both a light tip capable of throwing 1/4 oz. swim jigs, as well as a strong backbone capable of pulling big fish through thick vegetation. Both Rich and I use a 7' heavy action baitcasting rod (G Loomis IMX MBR 844), and a fast 7.1:1 gear ratio reel. I find most often that 15 or 17lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon line works best, but if I'm in the real thick stuff I'll opt for 30lb. Power Pro Braid, to insure that I get the fish through the mess without breaking off. Also a sensitive rod is real important to me because depending on the bite, a swim jig strike can feel awfully similar to that of a worm bite. All you feel is a "tick" as the bass engulfs the bait from behind, knocking slack into your line. This is also why line choice is so important, you really only want to be using fluorocarbon or braid, because mono has way to much stretch, making hook sets a real gamble.

When it comes to river fishing, the swim jig has turned into a staple for fisherman because it consistently catches fish. Brent Haimes, well known river rat and Bassmaster Classic qualifier, uses this technique every time he's on the water. Sure he admits that there can be other ways to better catch them, but says when the conditions are right, there's no better bait than a swim jig. "When fishing secondary channels, a guy would normally need a buzzbait (tight to the bank), a spinnerbait and a jig to cover all the areas that fish hold, where a swim jig covers all these." explains Brent. He adds, "What I really like about the Super K Swim Jig is the weed guard is soft enough where hook ups aren't an issue, but stiff enough that it doesn't get hung up in the wood."

After having much success throwing swim jigs on the river, I decided I needed to start incorporating this method on some natural Minnesota lakes. I really wasn't too surprised with my findings, swim jigs catch fish on any body of water, the key is to match the forage that the fish are biting. Usually rivers and southern reservoirs require your standard shad colors as well as darker hues when the water muddies up. Lakes on the other hand, require more of a bluegill or perch presentation. Gregg Kizewski, a Wisconsin tournament angler and creator of the Super K Swim Jig, has daily success fishing swim jigs in lakes and has really turned me onto the tactics in which he approaches this style of fishing. "On natural northern lakes, I look for weight in regards to my swim jig fishing", explains Gregg. "Many of our northern lakes have weeds in 8 to 20 feet, soft plastics and plunking jigs are not the only methods to pull fish out of these deep weeds. Often times the fish will want a moving bait and a 3/4 oz. swim jig with a FG30 weedguard is made to order for this application."

For this deeper style of fishing, Gregg suggests to beef it up with a 7' 11", heavy action graphite rod, a slower 5 to 1 gear ratio reel with 50 lb. braided line. I particularly find this deep bite to be more productive in the middle of the summer and into the fall when bass are relating to deeper water. This is also where some of the gnarliest vegetation is as well as some of the lakes biggest bass, it's essential to have beefed up equipment to get the job done. I do my best with a 7 ' 5" G Loomis GLX Flippin' Stick and a fast 7.1:1 Shimano Core Reel with 20 lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon. I like the faster ratio reel for catching up the slack before setting the hook, where as a slower reel is better for presenting the bait during the retrieve.

Swim jigs are made of five key elements, a weighted head, weedguard, skirt, hook and some sort of trailer. In my opinion, Super K offers the best version on the market. Some of their qualities include a weedless cone shaped head along with a custom hand tied skirt. The hook is all muscle using a 5/0 Gamakatsu Round Bend that Gregg custom bends to 28.5 degrees.

The trailer is important because it's what gives life to the swim jig, by imparting a vibrating action into the water. Dan Elsner, owner of Get Bit Baits, and founder of the popular Hypertail Grub, insists that the action of his grub when used as a trailer will elicit a feeding response from all game fish because of its unique vibration. "Bass feed off prey by detecting vibrations in the water column through use of their lateral line." he explains. "The Hypertail Grub will trigger their natural instinct to grab an easy meal."

Although grubs tend to be the most popular choice amongst swim jig fisherman, there are other options that can be more effective depending on the conditions. When the water's dirty, I like to use a bait with dual appendages like a Sizmic Toad or a Zoom Speed Craw, largely because these baits will disperse more water, making it easier for a bass to locate it. Also baits like a Basstrix Paddle Tail or a Lake Fork Live Magic Shad, provide a great look when bass are hitting larger prey like gizzard shad or tilapia.

When retrieving these bait's it's important that you play with your speeds. Most of the time I get 'em by using a slow standard retrieve and occasionally killing the bait and letting it free fall as if to suggest it's injured, yet at times burning the bait will get the best response. Smallmouth are especially vulnerable to this tactic, a fast retrieve can really activate a school of rogue smallies in a quick hurry.

**Above Picture: Me with a Old Hickory largemouth, caught on a 1/4 oz. Super K Swim Jig (Darin's Shad)

Next time you're out on your favorite body of water, pick up an extra rod and tie up a swim jig. If you're not a believer now, you will be in no time.

Tight Lines!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Vamos Pesca de la Lubina en el Lago Falcon!

Yeah, that's right! If your not up to date on your espanol than I'm sure you'll understand this, We're going bass fishing on Lake Falcon! The mecca of giant 10+ pound largemouths located on the Texas and Mexico border.

In a few weeks, myself and two buddies will be making the long 23 hour haul from ice covered Minnesota all the way to the border for what could set up to be some of the best fishing any of us have ever experienced.

Lake Falcon is the hottest lake in the world right now for the chance of catching true lunker bass and numbers of them as well. Every tournament held there seems to break records and if your not holding a 30 pound bag every day of competition than you ain't cashing many checks. I mean a 40 to 50 pound bag is a definite possibility. It's crazy, but it's true! I just got done watching this video on YouTube of a guy catching donkey after donkey and when he was done his best five tipped the scales at more than 56 pounds! Could you imagine if he did that four days in a row? He'd have a four day total of over 200 pounds!!??

My only goal for this trip is to catch a 10+ pounder. My personal record is 7 lbs. 14 oz, caught last April on Grand Lake, in Oklahoma. My previous big bass was 7 lbs. 6 oz. caught in Northern Minnesota which my Dad had gotten a replica made for me. I've always said since that I wouldn't get another replica until I caught a 6 pound smallmouth or a 10 pound largemouth and I'm hoping this trip is the one that yields that award.

Mid to late February on Lake Falcon is a great time in that we should see all three stages of the spawn, the pre spawn, spawn and post spawn. During this time, large females are up and moving making them a easier target for a self proclaimed "trophy hunter" like myself.

I decided I am going to make the most of this trip by adopting the "don't bring a knife to a gun fight" type of attitude. I'm throwing big baits for big fish, something I don't get the chance to do everyday living in Minnesota. I'm stocking up on baits like the Weedless Huddleston and the Tru Tungsten Tru Life Swimbaits, heavy 1 oz. Super K Plunking Jigs and plenty of large 1 oz. Biovex Stangun Spinnerbaits. I'll also have plenty of 20 pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon as well as a few spools of 65 lb. Power Pro Braid to handle all the flooded trees that Falcon is known for. The last thing I need is to hook into a fish of a lifetime and then break it off.

With all this I've also been preparing for next season. I'm especially anxious for my trip to Oklahoma's Grand lake where I'll be competing in the Bassmaster Weekend Series. Grand is an excellent fishery and I've managed to do well there in the past. My Dad is also driving out from the Rocky Mountains to join me in practice and then he plans to compete on the am side. I've never visited a lake that fishes to my strengths as well as Grand, it's a jig fisherman's dream!

I also put in my order for a new Hummingbird 998 SI Combo, to compliment my two Lowrance Units. There's no doubt the addition of side imaging to the fishing world has some serious advantages. I plan to be out on my favorite lakes the day the ice breaks getting accustomed to all that the Hummingbird has to offer. I'll be able to accomplish so much more during my practices and I'm hoping better practices will help get me a spot this year at the Silverado Championship, held on good ole' Lake Minnetonka. Last season I felt I struggled a bit in a couple tournaments and the difference between cashing a check and getting a early start on your ride home, was done in the few days leading up to the event. Tournament day should simply be execution.

All for now, stay warm!

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