Before we go much deeper into the conversation concerning bigbaits, you need to know the lay of the land. Right now, at the very beginning of year 2005, some bass anglers – tournament pros in particular – are trying to position themselves as swimbait experts. Their reasons for doing so should be obvious. Every chance they get, you hear a comment about swimbaits. "I think there might be a swimbait bite going next week," or "Swimbaits might make a difference," blah, blah, blah.
Only one problem: Nothing ever happens. It's all talk. Worse yet, some of these comments refer to so-called "swimbaits" that only measure 5 inches in length. While a smaller lure can indeed exhibit all the characteristics of a big swimbait, the inference is clearly that the angler is throwing the big stuff. By casually tossing out the term "swimbait" and then throwing something pedestrian in size is nothing short of misleading.
Without question, the gears of the tackle industry are just starting to grind. Smart designers are now beginning to see the future and their salaried representatives – the pro anglers – are sensing a payday. The object is not to bash the tournament pro, but simply alert you to the age-old process of supply and demand. You're the one who should make the demands, so be sure of what they're supplying.
Choosing swimbaits – or any bigbait – may be the most difficult part of your growth as a big-bass fisherman. Choose wrong, follow the wrong path and you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. How can some guys catch bigger fish with these lures and not you?
Although smaller baits can produce big results, the goal of anyone looking to catch bigger bass is creating that illusion of realism. The drawing power of swimbaits, in many cases, comes from size. The combination of silhouette, shadows, water displacement, vibration and flash form the undeniable allure of these lures. Yes, smaller swimbaits can be effective under certain conditions, but those are commonly the very same circumstances where a Senko or a Slug-Go might excel. This puts you right back in that deep rut of standard bass-fishing technique.
Why aren't the pros connecting more often with swimbaits? Because most aren't throwing lures big enough, or throwing them with enough confidence. And more importantly, they have yet to understand the underlying principle of these lures as it relates to bigger bass. It's really not their fault since they spend every waking hour of their tournament lives evaluating and dissecting bodies of water for target-oriented opportunities.
Professional anglers not only have the time during practice to do the work – they're also supremely talented at focusing their efforts on high-percentage, limit-producing areas. In effect, their overriding objective is to put a bait in front of a bass. In fact, this is precisely what we've all been told to do since day one.
This is why the bar has been set so low. This is why a 30-pound limit makes tournament headlines. Even in lakes brimming with 6- and 8-pounders, we accept this as the outer limits of angling performance. Why? Because anglers are trained to take the lure to the fish. Specifically, to that small, special place called "the strike zone."
Obviously, this "go to the fish" mentality isn't that consistent for bigger bass, or the results would reflect it. The best in the business at placing lures in strike zones haven't been able to up the ante – to produce big limits – with any regularity. No matter how you slice it, big bass just don't respond to these methods. What are these anglers missing?
With big bass, going to the strike zone doesn't generate consistent results. The object is to move the strike zone. In other words, make a bass move to the lure and bring its strike zone along. Once a big bass has made this commitment, it's game-on. No longer are you dealing with tiny strike zones, but often huge "commitment zones." Whether it's a reactive mood, feeding instinct, triggered aggression or mere curiosity, large bass are drawn to bigbaits.
Of course, conditions always change. Sometimes casts to targets of opportunity pay off. But the real advantage in using larger swimbaits is the ability to cover wide tracts of water – effectively - and never intersect a single bass' strike zone. If you get them to move – get them to respond – then you've got them thinking they're accomplishing their goals. This is why bigbaits are more consistent at producing big limits.
If you find yourself with several targets between you and your swimbait, consider it a bonus. But don't think you have to bump that stump to trigger a strike. With bigbaits, you'll discover that even in target situations, the strike zone is moving – either to intercept the lure before it reaches the target or to stalk the bait as it passes by.
The only real exception to this process is in some heavy-cover or sharp-structure situations where the calling power of bigbaits is diminished by the simple physics at work. Then you need to place the lure closer to a target – not necessarily to intersect the strike zone, but improve upon the drawing force of the bait.
When you're standing in the aisle of your local tackle store, a big swimbait at arm's length looks pretty intimidating. But if you turn that bait and look at it head-on, what do you see? A relatively small square of plastic. What if you hold it overhead and look up? You'll see a narrow sliver of a fish. Now place the swimbait back on the peg, place a 4-inch tube next to it and take 15 or 20 steps back. Now what do you see? The tube virtually disappears and the swimbait isn't quite so overwhelming.
Even in off-colored water, a bass will know a swimbait is in the area because of water displacement, vibration and silhouette. At various distances and angles, the lure is perceived in different ways. As a bass closes in on the bait, the size most certainly becomes evident. More than likely, the fish already sensed this long before, but that's only a guess. However, it's an educated guess because something forced that big bruiser into a commitment zone.
Understanding the concept of moving the strike zone and thereby creating a commitment zone is crucial when it comes to making lure choices. You have to balance those commodities of illusion and realism. Just because it says it's a swimbait on the package doesn't mean it's designed for true swimbait tactics.
Another huge advantage in understanding "moving" and "commitment" zones comes when you start evaluating how a bait is rigged. Proper hook placement is dependent on your ability to gauge how the strike zone will move and where a bass is most likely to strike a lure. Making a swimbait weedless is not a prime directive. (More on this in a later column.)
For now, divorce yourself from what people are saying and look at the results. Unlike many other disciplines, bigbait fishing is a unique event in recent bass-fishing history, because recreational anglers and tournament pros are all at the very same place: no one - except a very select group – has any real knowledge or experience. Some pros say they do, but saying and doing are two different things.