Big swimbait fishing for giant bass no doubt originated out West, but there has been a big push to employ oversized, hard swimbait fishing tactics all across the country. The origins of big bait fishing stemmed from fishing for oversized bass on trout-stocked fisheries in California. However, most lakes in the country don’t have bass looking for manually planted high-protein food sources as easily available as stocked trout.
What many fisheries do have are big bluegills, carp and large gizzard shad. We’ll expand on the former two later, but for now, let’s concentrate on the gizzard shad. This larger than average forage source is abundant across much of the US. While many anglers still think in terms of small baits when attacking bass, going against the grain and targeting bigger class of fish with one major meal can lead dilligent anglers to the biggest bass of their life in short order.
Here are some tips to catch big bass by mimicking large shad with hard swimbaits:
- Location is everything
- Be Precise
- The direct line
- Big draws
- Hunt them
- Give it time
- Retrieve tricks
We tapped a resource some might not think of as the big bait expert of the East, but we certainly list him among the most knowledgeable for several reasons. Mike Bucca has been around the fishing-tackle industry for the better part of two decades, and while he’s probably most known for his wildly popular Bull Shad swimbaits, he’s also a long-time pursuer of big bass with big, shad-imitating, hard swimbaits.
Bucca started Bull Shad Swimbaits in 2002-2003 because, at the time, there was not a good shad-imitating hard swimbait on the market. The big bait makers were only making oversized trout imitators for the stocked lakes in California. And while Bucca loved throwing big swimbaits for bass, he didn't feel like the large baits from out there mimicked the forage his fish were eating, namely large gizzard shad.
Bucca has taken his Bull Shad and refined his approach to hunting big bass on pressured fisheries not known for producing big bass over the last decade. In the process, it has taught him not only about bass behavior but also from where they like to ambush big forage.
While we could spend all day talking locations, several places have produced time and time again.
Shade has a lot to do with catching bass on swimbaits. Especially during the warmer months, when a few degrees water temperature can make a huge difference to a fish’s comfort level and attraction to baitfish.
“I’m looking for thermal refuges this time of year,” Bucca said. “It’s all about the cooler water. Docks, grass, creek heads from feeder creeks, and shade from trees all offer great places to start throwing your big swimbaits.”
Shade concentrates fish into manageable areas of attack for shallow swimbait fishermen. If you can find a few things in one area, it can be even more productive. Say you have a point leading into a pocket, that has a cooler feeder creek coming into it in the back and there is one big isolated tree or dock nearby that offers several degree cooler water in the shade. That’s a recipe for a great shad swimbait location.
Grass is it’s own animal as it can make the water cooler and more oxygen rich and provide lots of habitat for baitfish. Anglers have been slaying the bass with shad swimbaits on lakes like Pickwick and Guntersville with an abundance of grass, big gizzard shad and large bass.
“I try to put my Bull Shad in extremely tight places,” Bucca said. “For instance, if I’m fishing a dock, I try to make it as easy as possible for the bass to just lurch out of his comfort zone and attack my bait without having to move too far. But it’s not easy to be pinpoint accurate with a 5-ounce lure that’s 9-inches long with two big treble hooks. I’ve spent countless hours in my yard casting and pitching a 5-ounce lead weight. And I still have times on the water where I have to abort mid-cast to avoid crashing my bait into something hard.
“But the cooler the cast, the more likely you are to get bit it seems.”
Choose line wisely
A lot of swimbait anglers use braid, even more use very heavy fluorocarbon. But there are a growing number of anglers going back to 20 and 30-pound monofilament. Bucca’s line of choice is Trik Fish camo. I also have used Sufix ProMix and Berkley Big Game a bunch as well and like them both.
The biggest key to monofilament is it's less temperamental than braid and fluorocarbon when throwing big swimbaits. You can make a long or errant cast, swing, pull and have less issues with overun and wind knots than with the other two.
The downside with monofilament is stretch, but Bucca uses a long rod and a big reel for a lot of line pickup on the hookset to compensate. He keeps the rod pointed about 10 to 20 degrees off straight at the bait so that he has a lot of room to make a big sweeping hookset on a long cast. He also keeps his hooks razor sharp and changes them often to also combat the stretch.
But he prefers mono for it’s abrasion resistance, knot and overall line strength as well as obvious manageability advantages.
The big draw
For Bucca, the 7 to 11-inch baits get used 100 percent of the time. He makes 5 and 6-inch baits, but for his own fishing, he’s only hunting the biggest bass he can find.
“A 9-inch Bull Shad draws as well as a 5-inch does for smaller fish, however it really draws out the big ones that are curious and more reactive to larger prey,” Bucca said. “The big baits really draw so much better than the smaller ones in those prime windows like prespawn, spawn, post spawn and even again in early winter when bass are on the feed either getting ready to spawn, recovering from spawn or filling their bellies for the winter.”
Bass are curious by nature, and the larger profile baits can get attention from a lot farther distances, especially in less than clear and calm conditions. The big baits will get some bigger fish to follow and seem to be more antagonistic to the bass than a much smaller 5-inch bait.
Hunt bass like deer
Swimbait fishing with big shad baits resembles hunting deer. It’s generally a visual game, meaning you have to know ahead of time that big bass can see you long before you think they can, and when you put them on guard, it’s over. It’s more stalking, keeping your distance and giving them time to come into firing range.
“I coast in with trolling motor and try not to hit it again until I’ve covered the spot I’m fishing,” Bucca said. “I’m making as long a cast as possible when I can. If I’m fishing a dock, I’m not right up on the dock. I’m 30-50 feet away, lobbing into the slips. This gives the fish room to ‘catch up’ to your bait in stained water or when it’s not very aggressive. If you’re up close and the fish comes out from a dock to grab it, he’s going to spook as soon as he sees the boat. Big fish are smarter, or at least more conditioned, so we have to keep our distance to be successful.”
Do it more
Big bass like big baits. But so do small bass. You will catch lots of 3-pound bass on a 6 to 10-inch shad swimbait. Because in a lot of fisheries, they are used to running down big shad, small carp, big bluegill, skipjack herring, even baby bass and other large forages. People will throw the big baits for a handful of casts and then go back to their smaller offerings.
“I figure I’m like everyone else in that I always want to catch a bigger bass,” Bucca said. “I started fishing swimbaits while guiding on Lake Allatoona. That lake is nicknamed the ‘Dead Sea’ because not many folks caught big fish or big limits of fish. I kept telling myself their has to be an easier way to catch big bass. Notice I said easier, not easy.
“I knew I had to change my approach, and that’s what got me started throwing big swimbaits. When it gets tough, people first resort to downsizing. I went against the grain and went the other way. It definitely takes a different mindset, and that’s what runs most people off. They quit before they have success. Once you start catching a few, you will start to believe that on any given cast, it could be the biggest bass of your life.”
It takes time to develop a feel, get good at casting, find the big fish haunts on your lake. So make yourself try lots of different locations, different angles, different types of cover, etc. and spend the time getting a confidence level with this new approach.
Multiple ways to fish a swimbait
Multiple retrieves work for big shad swimbaits. One of Bucca’s favorite retrieves with the Bull Shad is to wake it fast just under the surface. It looks just like a big fleeing gizzard and often draws the attention of savage attackers. He will slow roll them. Stop and twitch them at times to get a following bass to react or commit.
The type of fishery you are on can dictate your retrieve.
“On a herring fishery, I find fast is always better because herring swim very fast,” Bucca said. “The bass are conditioned to swim fast and react to speed. When I slow my retrieve down, I get a lot more followers and not biters.
“When fishing ambush spots like shade lines, I will envision where the bass is going to ambush and where it will first see my swimbait. Then I speed up by reeling hard 4 or 5 times on the reel handle, then go back to my normal retrieve. That gives the illusion that the forage is spooked by the bass and is trying to get away. I do this a lot near laydowns, on dock posts, etc.”
Big shad swimbaits catch very big bass all over the country. It’s proven. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to come easily and instantly. You have to get a big swimbait like the Bull Shad and spend time throwing it a lot in various locations, during various times of the year until you develop a confidence with them.
Recommended Bull Shad tackle
If you’re new to throwing big swimbaits, Bucca offered some tips on matching your rod to the size of the bait you think you might throw.
“If you’re throwing a 5 or 6-inch you probably can throw it on gear you already have. I throw a 5-inch Bull Shad on a medium-heavy spinnerbait rod. I often tell people the easiest way to get into swimbait fishing is to throw it where you think you would fish a spinnerbait. The 6-inch bait works on a flipping stick or light swimbait rod. On baits bigger than that, I will go with a specific swimbait rod made to handle several-ounce lures.”