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4 Fabulous Ways to Fish a Swimbait

Soft plastic swimbaits are more versatile than many anglers realize – in how they can be fished and in the species they can be used to catch. We’ll detail some of the best ways to rig a swimbait.

swimbait largemouth bassswimbait largemouth bass

Soft-plastic swimbaits have emerged as favorite lure types for many anglers for multiple sport fish species, including bass, walleyes, stripers and speckled trout, to name a few. In truth, they have good applications for any fish that ever eats a smaller fish, which is a pretty long list!

Ironically, the versatility of swimbaits might be the thing that keeps some anglers from using them more often. With so many rigging options and variables for presentations, it seems hard to know where to begin. That said, soft swimbaits are highly effective and worth the effort to understand, and most fishing techniques are actually easy to execute.

Let’s look at four of the best ways to rig a soft-plastic swimbait and top applications for each.

Jighead

jighead swimbait riggingjighead swimbait rigging

Among the most effective ways to rig a soft-plastic swimbait – and arguably the easiest – is to string it on a jighead with an exposed hook (like rigging a basic grub), cast it and reel it back.

This overall approach takes many forms and could be the subject of an entire book, but again the simplest version is among the best. When fish are schooling or cruising shallow and feeding on minnows, shad or herring, a swimbait rigged on a relatively light ballhead jig and retrieved steadily so it swims a foot or two beneath the surface provides a highly natural look and subtle attraction. This approach, which is typically best executed with spinning tackle, is especially effective for fishing in clear water and in calm conditions.

An alternative jighead/swimbait approach that is highly effective uses a substantially larger head, often with a keeled shape, to present a larger swimbait aggressively in a tailwater current or tidal rip or the surf. Steady reeling and mostly steady reeling with added snaps of the rod tip work well for this approach for a variety of species in fresh and saltwater settings.

A swimbait on a jighead is also an outstanding tool for working offshore bottom structure like humps and points. For structure fishing, the best approach is to let the bait fall to the bottom and to work it by sweeping the rod tip upward and then letting the bait fall on a tight line so it pendulums down with the lure’s action engaged. Most fish hit on the drop with this kind of presentation.

The hook is an important variable for swimbaits. Be sure the jighead you use has an adequately large hook bend, so a decent amount of hook is exposed. For lighter jigheads to be fished on spinning tackle, the hook needs to be formed from relatively light wire to get good hook penetration.

Popping Cork Rig

speckled trout on popping cork rigspeckled trout on popping cork rig

This presentation is used almost exclusively for inshore saltwater species like redfish and speckled trout. Truth be told, though, inland striper fishermen and even bass fishermen are probably missing out on an approach that would serve them well.

Rigging a swimbait on a jighead beneath a rattling popping cork like a Bomber Paradise Popper Xtreme allows you to call in fish and suspend an easy-looking meal a few feet beneath the surface. Rigging is simple. Tie the front swivel of the cork rig to your main line and a few feet of leader to the back swivel. Then tie a jighead to the end of the leader and rig the swimbait on the head.

The basic presentation is also easy. Cast to your target zone, let the rig settle and then work it by snapping the rod to engage the rattles or pop the cork and pausing between sweeps. Every time the cork moves the bait rises and comes to life. Then it pendulums back down, with tail action engaged, and suspends. It’s a patterning game. Experiment with sharpness and lengths of pulls, cadences and lengths of pauses.

The Paradise Popper Xtreme comes in oval versions, which are a bit more subtle and rely on rattles to call fish, and true popper sorts that make a splash to imitate feeding fish and call gamefish from farther away.

Texas Rig

shoreline grass, bass covershoreline grass, bass cover

When you want the subtle action of a swimbait to imitate minnows or other baitfish, but the fish are holding in vegetation or using other cover, such as oysters or brush, a simple solution is to rig a swimbait on a Texas rig so it can swim through the cover without snagging. The bullet-style weight cuts the cover and keeps the nose of the bait down. The hook stays buried so it doesn’t catch the cover.

Specifics vary by depth, wind and thickness of cover and the size of swimbait used. Generally speaking, though, Texas rigs are at the light end for this approach, with just enough weight for effective casting and to control the bait beneath the surface during a retrieve.

Because of the snagless nature of a Texas rig, you can use it to feather a bait over branches and through vegetation and allow it to drop in openings, all the while performing its enticing dance. This tends to be target-oriented fishing. Aim at weed edges, stump rows, brush piles and other cover and work the bait slowly and enticingly through the cover. When you’re out of the cover, reel back quickly cast to the next target.

YUMbrella Rig

YUMbrella RigYUMbrella Rig

Finally, it would be remiss to talk about swimbait rigging without discussing umbrella rigs. Since we’re talking multi-species, it’s worth noting that striped bass anglers in fresh and saltwater alike trolled swimbaits on umbrella rigs for years before smaller versions were created for casting, and this remains an extremely effective way to catch striped bass and other sport fish.

For most anglers, castable versions like the Flash Mob Jr and the rest of the YUMbrella Rig series represent the primary application. These rigs are largely associated with winter fishing, especially for bass where shad are the primary forage type. Don’t let that limit you, though. YUMbrella Rigs come in a variety of size and configurations and can be effective year ‘round, in freshwater and saltwater, anytime gamefish are feeding on any type of schooling baitfish because the baits swim in unison, effectively imitating a school of baitfish.

Anglers sometimes avoid these types of rigs because the components seem complicated. YUM Scottsboro Flash Mob Jr kits simplify things by providing the rig, jigheads and swimbaits, all properly matched in one package.

Fishing this type of rig is elementary. Cast and reel back, varying retrieve speeds and rod angle to vary depths but allowing the rig and the swimbait to do their attracting work. Most veteran YUMbrella Rig anglers agree that rod snaps or other motions to “add action” tend to work against the effectiveness of the rig. YUMbrella Rigs are generally best matched with fairly heavy gear.

Because these rigs have multiple baits on one lure, be aware of regulations where you intend to fish.

Swimbaits for Every Situation

4 Top Swimbaits4 Top Swimbaits
  • YUM Scottsboro – Offering the same shape and action as original hand-poured Scottsboro Tackle Company swimbaits, these baits offer a highly natural look and swimming motion and come in four sizes ranging from 3 to 4 1/2 inches.
  • Gene Larew Long John Minnow – A narrow-profiled swimbait with a tight action that’s mostly in the tail, the Long John Minnow looks like an easy meal to fish of many kinds and is great in freshwater and saltwater.
  • YUM Pulse – The Pulse, which comes in 3 1/2- and 5-inch sizes, combines a strong tail pulse with a side-to-side roll. A narrow profile suggests an easy meal. A ribbed body maximizes vibration.
  • Bobby Garland Slab Hunt’R – The Slab Hunt’R is a miniature swimbait at 2 1/4 inches because it was designed for catching crappie, but it’s a great option for a variety of species anytime you want to imitate small forage. It has a ribbed body and a double-lobed tail that creates big action.