There’s nothing quite like feeling the power of a bass grabbing a swimbait after playing it gently in the water. For many anglers, they are the supreme lure. Simple, effective, and ideal for those who like to play things a bit more slow and steady.
Buying the best swimbait for bass is a great way to take your fishing to the next level. This article breaks down exactly what to look for and how to decide on these lure types, as well as all the different options a modern-day bass angler will likely want to consider.
What Is a Swimbait?
Swimbait lures are a lot like crankbaits in the way they imitate the prey of a typical bass. Oftentimes, to the casual or beginner angler, it seems impossible to tell them apart. Both are often multi-jointed and have multiple hooks. Both are also designed to “swim” or “move” in the water in a particular way.
The key distinguisher when it comes to swimbaits is its shape, design, and body. Unlike the exclusively hard bodied cranks, they also have a paddle tail that causes them to move in the water at a different trajectory. Not in a straight line like crankbaits.
Other than that swimbaits bear a strong resemblance to their crankbait brothers. Especially in coloring, which is designed as close to the baitfish (prey) as possible. But also in the fact that they can be retrieved at depth too.
When and Why a to Use a Swimbait Over Other Lure Types
Swimbaits offer huge versatility over other lure types because they can be fished on almost all types of rods and reels and in all waters. Unlike the weightless fly lures designed to sit on top of the water, swimbaits can dive, sink or even be retrieved close to the surface.
The behavior of a swimbait all depends on the speed of the retrieve (how quickly you reel in the line). Spin slow and it’ll tend to sit deep and bump across the bottom. Spin fast and it will zip on, or just below, the surface.
Due to their design, they are best used in waters where similar shaped or colored baitfish are present. Fishing with a swimbait that resembles shad (small fish that are common prey to bass) in waters where you’ll never find them makes little sense (although a bass might still go for it). So it’s best to at least attempt to match-up prey with predator.
Conditions-wise, however, swimbaits are great all-rounders. A beginner will get good use out of them across both colder and warmer months when the water is clear, dark or somewhere in between. Especially if they pay close attention to colors, body types and other important features too.
Types of Swimbaits
When it comes to classification there are a few different types when it comes to swimbait lures. Differentiating between them is most easily done in accordance with body type.
A swimbaits “body” fits into subdivisions of four: hard body, soft body, paddle tail, and glide baits.
Hard body swimbaits, although usually a feature of crankbaits, can be recognized by a lure body that’s made of wood or metal components rather than plastic. These materials give the swimbait more robustness in the water. Something that’s important when fighting off big bass.
Hard body lures are best retrieved slowly by breaking up the reel pattern and dropping the rod tip occasionally to allow enough slack onto the line so that the lure can “swim”. Doing this will better imitate the more sporadic movement of a baitfish and increase the chance of attracting fish.
Lures of this type can be a good choice to remedy problems with successfully hooking a fish too. Bass tend to take harder bodied swimbaits at the middle point of the lure. More often than not, these are where the hooks are usually located.
Hard Body: Multi-Jointed
Multi-jointed swimbaits refer to the rivets or divisions of a lure that cause its components to move independently of one another. These differ to the single jointed types by generally providing more movement in the water. Usually they are hard bodied, but there a few plastic iterations on the market that work well too.
Multi-jointed swimbaits biggest benefit is the way they most naturally imitate prey fish swimming in the water. Due to their complex design, however, they are also the most expensive type of swimbait as a lot of detail has to go into ensuring each joint is patterned, colored and constructed carefully.
Very sophisticated models of this type even allow water to enter through the mouth and exit through the gills. Jerking it produces gurgling or bubbling in the water, just as a real fish would. Meaning that multi-jointed swimbaits are as close to real live bait that an angler might get with a lure.
Hard Body: Single Jointed
Single jointed are obviously similar to their multi-jointed partners but have fewer joints or divisions. While they won’t move as naturally they still provide an adequate enough swimming action to trick a bass into biting. They’re usually cheaper too.
The single joint of a lure usually can be found in the middle of the body itself, dividing head and tail components. Depending on the body size and length, however, this division can be placed closer to either end. The single hinge also has the added benefit of making this swimbait class easier to cast than a multi.
Hard Body: Non-Jointed
The hard body non-jointed type is another option to consider for a beginner angler not wanting to spend too heavy on their first swimbait.
Without joints, these often require more work with the line and reel to get the lure swimming in a way that’s likely to get the bass biting but they do tend to cast easier and more smoothly.
Aesthetics-wise non-jointed lures look very similar to the multi or single alternatives, colored or patterned in a way that mimics shad, minnow, crawfish and other bass prey.
The soft body swimbait is perhaps the easiest swimbait to classify, easy to distinguish from hard crankbaits through a composition that’s largely based on plastic and other synthetics.
Generally cheaper than hard body swimbaits, soft body lures are usually broken down into three types; full body, line through, and top hook.
Soft Body: Full Body
Most bass anglers call on “full body” lures when fishing top water or heavy grass areas. That way they can be fished like frogs (another popular bass meal) on lighter lines with little or no weight.
As these swimbaits have no hollow portions they tend to sink a bit faster and can be cast a little easier than more lightweight lures. Another advantage they have is that they are more durable than hollow body lures. This means they can be dragged through thickets, mud and other obstacles while not falling apart.
Soft Body: Line Through
Line through lures involve the fishing line being partly threaded through the lure itself to attach to the hook that sits in or near to the lure body. More experienced pros, especially those who enjoy modifying their tackle, often decide on placement themselves . Setting the hook and line this way, however, requires some tools so isn’t particular beginner-friendly.
Fortunately, there are many swimbaits out there that are already “made-up” for the beginner who just simply has to rig the lure normally. Attaching the line to the “baitkeeper” or “hook crypt” (small metal component that affixes the hook and line) is all it takes.
The only drawback to buying a pre-made line through lure is that the hook location might not be to your preference (especially if you prefer the hooks on the upside or downside of a lure).
Soft Body: Top Hook
Top hook swimbaits refer to the hook placement being on the top side of the lure rather than the bottom. According to the design, especially if it closely imitates a baitfish body, the top side will be easy to recognize (using eyes or body parts as a reference).
This lure type makes use of single hook, unlike the trebles you might see on hard body swimbaits or cranks. They are also usually built into the lure body itself so aren’t easy to modify or switch out. Placement is usually near the first dorsal fin but can vary depending on the manufacturers’ design.
Top hooks are often cheaper than other body type swimbaits as they are simpler in design. Although good for beginners they might frustrate more experienced bass anglers who like to modify their rigs (line and lure set-up).
Paddle tail swimbaits are the swimbait subtype that most closely resembles a baitfish, making for one of the most natural presentations in bass fishing. They are also, according to some pros, one of the easiest swimbait lures to fish given that their action works despite how ineffectively you retrieve the line.
Best used in late winter and early spring months, when the bass are feeding, paddle tails will be fervently chased down during these seasons.
Paddle Tail: Hollow Body
Unlike the full body, the hollow body has an air pocket inside of its lure body which means it can collapse and expand in the water hiding or presenting hooks as it does so. For the typical bass angler, this provides lots of options when it comes to technique.
Hollow bodies are versatile in that they can be burned across the top of shallow water and even jerked or tugged similarly to a jerkbait lure. Pros argue that the best way to fish a hollow body is to slowly roll it across the bottom. Reason being this is where baitfish are most likely to be.
Another circumstance in which a hollow body will work well is when bass are schooled up in open water. This usually occurs when they are hunting for baitfish to feed on.
Size-wise hollow bodies can vary pretty wildly. It’s possible to find lures as wide as 3 inches while others go all the way up to 11 inches. You’ll want to pick something fitting for the size of bass you’re going after, with beginners usually recommended to be conservative first.
Paddle Tail: Solid Body
Solid body paddle tail lures are essentially the same as soft body types but lack the air pocket or hollow component. They can be made from plastic or harder components depending on the design.
Choosing the best swimbaits for bass means selecting a head where the body sits neatly on the lure without any overlap. Solid body lures avoid this problem as they are all “one piece” meaning you don’t have to worry about the tail becoming misplaced during the cast or retrieve.
Both solid and hollow body paddle tails can be categorized by the tail of the lure “fluttering” or “twitching” in the water. Sometimes they also have lips or bills too. These are small projections that come out of the lure head designed to help the lure sink or float.
Round-headed lips offer a little less water resistance than square lips and as a result, create decreased drag in the water and sink more slowly. The size or length of the lip corresponds to the resistance it generates. The angle of the lip changes the direction.
Glide baits are very similar to the jerkbait lure type but with a larger-profile and a more pronounced side-to-side movement. As a general rule, they have more width than the average swimbait. This is because they are designed to imitate trout rather than minnows or smaller shad.
This lure type has a single joint down the center of the body that can be played by winding the reel hand left to right. In the water, this also helps the lure to sit and sink belly down and not twist or rotate in the water like other swimbaits can be prone to do when the line is killed (retrieve or reeling stops).
While glide baits can be twitched or jerked by the angler, most pros advise using them with a slow left-to-right retrieve to make the gliding movement long and smooth. The theory here is that this better represents how a trout would move when stalked by a big bass.
Aside from body type, swimbaits can also be categorized and recognized according to their tails.
Paddle tail swimbaits are so called because of their flat shaped tails. When these tails move through the water they move back and forth rhythmically, much like an actual fish tail. This gives the illusion of something swimming or escaping from a predatory fish, thus attracting a bass into biting and hooking itself.
Matching a paddle tail lure to the size of the prey fish in the water is the usual rule of thumb for a beginner.
Boot tail lures, as their name suggests, have tails that resemble heel and toe boots. Moving differently to paddle tails, boot tails appear to move up and down when retrieved through the water as opposed to side-to-side.
Although the difference is subtle in movement, some pros argue that it’s often more effective in attracting bass in waters where the paddle tail is struggling to get bites. Beginners, for that matter, might have some success switching from a paddle to a boot tail (or vice versa) after failing to draw much attention after a number of casts. Especially as you can retrieve boot tails more slowly.
Twister tails are bent or angled rather than horizontally or vertically shaped. They are also sometimes known as “curly tails” and are soft in composition providing a lot of “wiggle” when played through the water.
Just like other tail types twisters can be matched to different bodied swimbaits. It’s just as common to see them on large lure bodies as it is small.
Twister tails are effective when cast out into heavy cover where the need for disturbance is greater than in open water.
Choosing to rig (set up the hooks in a lure body and affix the line) a swimbait is often the choice of the more experienced angler over purchasing a pre-made lure that’s ready to go.
Doing so gives more chance for customization of a lure.
Allowing the angler to position each component (trailer, hook, head, and body) exactly to their preference.
The first decision most anglers make when rigging a lure is choosing what type of hooks to use.
Treble hooks, which are bigger and stronger than single hooks, are usually the choice of bass anglers because they provide a greater chance of solidly hooking a bass when it swallows a lure. They also make it less likely a fish will break free from the hook set too.
The downside of treble hooks, however, is that they can be quite brutal on a fish causing violent piercing of its flesh. This is especially true if the trebels are barbed and not filed down.
Single hooks are a little easier on a fish, even if less effective at hook setting. They are also less likely to tangle or snag.
Swim Jig Trailer
The trailer refers to the type of tail affixed to a lure, given that they can be switched out from a head fairly easily on some customizable soft body plastic types.
Most choices in trailers come down to the common tail types previously discussed; boot tail, twister tail, and paddle tail.
Twister tails can be rigged with the curve of the tail up or down depending on preference. Paddle and boot tail trailers, on the other hand, can be dressed differently, with anglers deciding where to skirt (cut the lure so that the hook protrudes off or through the body) them independently.
Weedless is a characteristic of hook types where they are designed specifically not to hook weeds or underwater vegetation that’s likely to make fishing a misery. This is achieved by placing brush guards on the hook or by simply not exposing the tip.
When a bass grabs a lure rigged this way the hooks suddenly become exposed. This enables the angler to throw a cast into heavy cover without worrying about snags and still hook hard biting fish.
Rigging a weedless lure, although not too tricky, requires running the hook into the plastic body parallel to the body itself. Beginners might want to consult an instructional video before “rigging weedless” to make sure the hook uncovers itself properly when a fish bites down.
When it comes to colors swimbaits, like most other lure types, have thousands of options and combinations available. Best practice is to opt for a color that matches the baitfish you are attempting to imitate.
It’s also a good idea to have something more bright or colorful to switch to in quieter times. That way a presentation will better stand out in the water.
There is no real limit when it comes to a swimbaits size, with options available at both the narrow and wider ends of the scale.
Stick to smaller sized swimbaits and you’ll have more bass available to go for. Larger ones, on the other hand, will only physically be able to be swallowed by bigger bass. While this narrows the number of fish in the water that can take your bait it could prove more satisfactory in catching bigger fish.
Floating vs Sinking
Another consideration to make in terms of shopping for the best swimbaits for bass is whether to go for floating or sinking options.
Floating can be good in the cooler months in current-flowing waters where the bass might swim closer to the surface to feed off frogs, insects, and other top water prey.
Sinking swimbaits are generally more versatile and can be fished effectively in almost all conditions.
Pairing Swimbaits with Other Gear
Matching a swimbait rig with a fly fishing or trolling rod is one way of ruining your fishing experience fast. That’s why it’s critical to match the right gear to this type of lure.
Baitcasting or spinning rods are the best choices when it comes to swimbaits and bass. Both these types will enable you to cast with enough precision and play the line carefully enough to get catches.
Reels should be matched to rods first before worrying about lures and rigs. In bass fishing circles, between 5:1 and 6:1 gear ratios (which determine the speed at which a reel picks up the line) are the most recommended. They also enable you to better control how swimbaits move in the water too.
Monofilament and fluorocarbon are perhaps the most sensible line choice when it comes to swimbaits. This enables you to better present a lure by relying on lower visibility that you just wouldn’t get with braided.
In terms of pound-test you’ll want to consider the weight of the swimbait you opt for and the size of the fish you’re planning to target.
Best Swimbaits for Bass
All things considered, swimbaits are some of the best lures to both get started and fish competitively with when it comes to bass fishing. To help speed things up and take the pain out of choosing, here we take a look at some of the more popular swimbaits out there.
This swimbait is ideal for hunting big predatory bass in waters common with trout. With an internal jig head and strong top hook, the side-to-side kicking action (coupled with the 3D print design) this lure delivers makes it extremely lifelike. This lure is also available in sinking and slow-sink actions too, making it a top choice for bass fishing in any water type.
Another trout-based swimbait, the Lixada is a seven segment multi-jointed lure that has two treble hooks and an S-swimming motion that is consistent at any retrieval speed. The 3D eyes and bionic body of this lure can handle a pulling force up to 17 kg (about 35 lbs) making it great for targeting big bass without having to worry about line breaks or body destruction.
This swimbait differs from the trout models in being smaller and slimmer bodied to imitate shad. Coming in a pack of 24, this high-quality silicone swimbait has a ribbon paddle tail that twitches in the water to create enough propulsion and disturbance given its lightweight (0.07oz). This lure is a good choice for anglers who like to rig to their own preferences and want to buy other components, like hooks, separately.
One of the cheapest swimbait options on this list the WildEye is another soft body shad imitation that is durable and pre-rigged with needle point single hooks. The Wildeye is 0.25 oz in weight with 3D eyes and a color range that boasts bluegill, golden muller, and fire tigre among its most popular options.
The Keitech Fat Swing promises to never roll over in the water making for a consistent swimbait presentation scented like squid to better draw in fish. Ranging from 2.8” to 7.8” in size, this soft body also comes in over twenty colors with a central rigging alignment that makes it perform well as a line through.