In the time since the Bassmaster Elite Series events at Amistad and Clear Lake, we've had some time to assess the impact of swimbaits at the professional level. While most of the pros are still wandering in the wilderness of big baits, the results of these two tournaments pointed up some basic BBZ credos.
First, we told you so. For years, we've preached the power of big baits applied judiciously and the results are just starting to show. What Amistad clearly proved is that the primary mindset of any big-bait angler should be: Know when not to throw them.
After a respectable time on the water at Amistad, one thing was clear to the BBZ – Amistad is a lead-pipe, can't-miss jig lake for anyone who can see the potential. If you're not throwing a jig at Amistad, you're missing a prime strength of this structure-laden impoundment.
The jig was an important element at the inaugural Amistad event (held last year), but unfortunately, the sight-fishing techniques used in the winning patterns overshadowed that fact. This time around, the tournament dates were just ahead of the spawn and the jig reigned supreme as a mainstay in anyone's arsenal.
The point here should be obvious: You can't ignore what produces fish most of the time at any lake. For the BBZ angler, the goal then becomes to recognize when the swimbait is a productive tool.
Those anglers who recognized this critical piece of big-bait fishing strategy triumphed. Others, however, clearly struggled to infuse swimbaits into their daily programs.
Even those fishermen who found themselves on the leaderboard as a result of their swimbait acumen voiced some misconceptions that need to be addressed. First, there was a comment about the lack of wind killing the swimbait action. For any BBZ reader, such remarks should send up red flares. Although windy conditions are things to be savored, they do not, categorically, dictate the strength of a swimbait bite.
In fact, calm conditions can produce epic results, especially when bass are tracking lures to the boat. These are the times when visual confirmation of bass interest in big baits can be a huge plus-factor in determining when and where to throw them.
As a result, the swimbait's "sphere of influence" wasn't strong enough to produce many strikes, and those who quickly shifted back to the jig were able to salvage the day.
Most likely, the problems with wind were the result of many anglers working swimbaits in the upper-third of the water column. In other words, they were unwittingly targeting fish that were aggressive in this zone. When the fish moved deeper in the water column, the wind became less of a factor, but by then, swimbaits weren't being placed anywhere near the critical zone. As a result, the swimbait's "sphere of influence" wasn't strong enough to produce many strikes, and those who quickly shifted back to the jig were able to salvage the day.
When the tournament emphasis shifted to northern California, the results at Clear Lake pointed up another deficiency in the professional approach. In and of itself, the slow-roll retrieve only gives bass one dimension to ponder, i.e. a slow-moving, highly realistic target. Without blending in an uphill retrieve punctuated with directional changes, the effect of swimbaits is muted.
Directional changes – the sudden flares and movements dictated by angler input - make a huge difference. Whether the wind is blowing or not, these are often the moments when fish decide to strike. This is when a fisherman forces a reaction.
As a result, it's difficult to measure the relative effectiveness of swimbaits in any tournament when the lures aren't being presented at optimum levels. We can only assume that the productivity of swimbaits will suffer when retrieved in a one-dimensional fashion.
Until someone steps up and tries to understand the philosophy of swimbaits as tools, the competitive results will continue to be scattershot.