Improving hookup percentages under any circumstances is crucial, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in open water. This is especially true with swimbaits - highly effective lures with notoriously low strike-to-hookup ratios.
It's just one of the subjects that will be addressed in the coming years as more anglers come to the big-bait party. Haven't heard anyone talk about this problem yet? It's probably because most of the so-called "swimbait experts" out there haven't thrown these lures enough, or in enough different situations, to understand the dilemma.
If you're simply casting and retrieving these baits in shallow water, you could write missed strikes off to bad luck. Or, you may not even recognize that some subtle bumps and thumps are actually hits. But when a big bass is tracking your swimbait in open water, things get more complicated. The fish can attack from any number of angles – which makes your decisions all the more critical.
Are your main and stinger hooks properly positioned? Is your retrieve speed, cadence and boat position dead-on? Have you chosen the right rod, reel and line to make it happen?
Judging from the emails we've been getting, some anglers want to leapfrog past these details to get right to the meat, the heart – the very essence of big-bait fishing. Well, since we don't have the space this week to address everything, let's talk about your tackle and how it affects your technique.
First off, you have to learn how to do a reel-set. For those who've grown up fishing saltwater, the simple act of reeling as you swing the rod comes naturally. Yes, we know you've probably read something somewhere about setting with your reel. Then why don't you do it? Probably less than 10% of all bass fishermen (and that's being optimistic) use a reel-set in their day-to-day fishing.
For those of you who want specifics, hang on. Understanding how a reel-set makes a difference is all about specifics. At this level, relying on a standard, high-end baitcasting reel is akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight. Not good. No matter what the manufacturers may tell you (remember, most don't know anything about big baits), a normal bass-fishing baitcaster will not hold up. It will not perform. It will, as we say in big-bait land, "grenade" on you.
If you're serious about swimbaits, you need to be equally serious about your tackle. Since we have no financial connections to tackle companies in the Big Bass Zone, the following is without sponsor bias. Over years of testing, the Shimano Calcutta 400 is one reel that has proven itself both in durability and performance. Obviously, this Calcutta is a size larger than the standard baitcaster. Perhaps other choices exist, but we haven't found them yet.
When matched to a Lamiglas XC 807 Big Bait Special rod and spooled with Maxima 25-pound mono, the Calcutta 400 becomes part of a balanced rig. Moreover, it can deliver a much more forceful hookset when the reel-set is employed.
For example, with a 4.7:1 gear ratio, the Calcutta 400 takes up approximately 20 1/4 of inches line with each revolution. At a distance of 80 feet, this delivers 11 to 13 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) of force on a combination rod/reel-set (with five full revolutions). A normal hookset (sweeping the rod only) creates between 5 and 5 1/2 psi. It doesn't take a math major to see that a reel-set is a better deal.
What may not be as obvious is the amount of force generated by a more standard, but still quality baitcaster such as the Shimano Chronarch 100A. Spooled with 20-pound Maxima mono, this 6.2:1 reel takes up 24 3/4 inches of line per revolution, yet can only generate 7 to 8 psi on a rod/reel-set and 5 to 5 1/2 psi with a normal hookset at a distance of 80 feet.
Even more surprising, the same reel spooled with 12-pound mono at a distance of 80 feet produces nearly the same results as it does with the heavier line - 8 psi on the rod/reel-set and 4 psi with the normal hookset.
Since we're more interested in catching big bass than understanding physics, it's safe to say that the construction and dimensions of standard baitcasters don't lend themselves to effective hooksetting with big baits. You need something that's bigger, stronger and better balanced to the rest of your tackle.
For some, the argument against reels like the Calcutta come couched in its remarkably low gear ratio of 4.7 to 1. The immediate response would be to point up the strength found in lower gear ratios. True, yet not the whole story. With swimbaits, proper presentation is all about speed and cadence. Blazing retrieves are not what make the big baits work. Rather, it's a rhythmic cadence and slow tail kick that produce results.
To achieve this, you need a reel that helps you maintain the proper presentation from start to finish. Remember, you take in more line the closer the lure gets to the reel. A slower reel like the Shimano Calcutta 400 gives you greater speed and cadence control. And, it can put the hurt on a big fish.