Soft plastic swimbaits are known to catch big bass. Whether they are the jumbo-sized swimbaits or the more down-to-earth size paddle tail swimbaits, there is something about them that gets the attention of big bass everywhere. Top FLW Tour pro Justin Lucas is a huge fan of swimbaits and during the first half of the year he will always have one tied on. “They work in water as cold as 43 degrees and all the way up to 90 degrees. I’ll have one rigged up no matter where I am fishing across the country,” says Lucas.
Size and Color Selection
On the FLW Tour, the majority of the events are held these days on big bass fisheries and at times during the first half of the year when bass key on larger threadfin and gizzard shad. Therefore, as the old fishing adage advises, Lucas opts to “match the hatch” when it comes to selecting the right size and color of lures. He has narrowed his favorite swimbait finishes to a select few. “I like the 4 and 5 inch baits and basically just use three colors: Tennessee Shad, Blueback Herring and a Hitch pattern. I’ll switch between the swimbait sizes based on the size of the bait the bass are chasing,” says the Alabama-based pro.
Having the right rod and reel for the job is vital according to Lucas. “I’ll always use a reel that has a 6.4:1 gear ratio, and I like to use the Abu Garcia Revo SX. The reason I like that gear ratio is because I can just reel the bait back in and not have to worry about slowing down because the amount of line that this reel recovers per handle revolution is not too fast. I’d rather reel normally than have to think about slowing down my retrieve speed all the time,” mentions Lucas.
Just as important as the reel is the rod used for these swimbaits. “I helped design a rod for Lamiglas because I wanted something perfect for these baits, it works for other techniques but is awesome for the hollow belly swimbait. It’s a 765 Excel, which is a 7’6” MH, but it has a nice bend in the rod and soft tip to feel the bites,” says Lucas.
For line, Lucas always uses fluorocarbon line because he feels like he gets more bites than he would if he was fishing braided line. “I use Berkley 100% Trilene in either 15lb or 17lb test. I haven’t had any problems with it breaking, even if I am fishing it around grass,” adds the FLW Tour pro.
The Retrieve and Hookset
Retrieving a hollow belly swimbait is fairly simple; cast, reel and repeat. “The only thing I will do is pop my rod two or three times during the retrieve. Most of the time I just cast it out and reel it back in,” shares Lucas. While fishing these baits, the slow and steady approach works best and most of the time the bass will inhale the bait completely. “I would say 90% of the time the bass swallow it and you won’t miss them, but there is that other 10% of fish that will come up from behind the bait and just bump it. To make sure I get those fish too, I will pull my rod very lightly when I feel a bite to make sure there is tension before I set the hook,” acknowledges Lucas. In this way, Lucas won’t pull the bait away from bass that just bumped it – and the slight change-up in action when he pulls very lightly to test for tension – that can encourage a bait-bumper to try again.
Keep above the Bass
One important tip Lucas shares is to make sure to keep the bait above where the bass are positioned, “You have to remember that the eyes on bass are on the top of their head and when they are feeding on baitfish, they are looking up for bait. No matter how deep you are fishing, pay attention to where the bass are suspending and make sure to keep the bait above that and you will do much better,” adds Lucas.
Find Open Water Baitfish
Justin Lucas prefers to fish the hollow belly swimbait in open water and the depth will vary often based on where the fish are actively chasing baitfish. “It really is a way to catch them anytime they are suspended. It could be when they are suspended over grass or anything else,” says Lucas. The most important thing is to find a good concentration of baitfish and chances are the bass will not be far away.
From Light to Heavy Jigheads
One of the most popular ways to rig a hollow belly swimbait is with the use of a shank-weighted hook. This works fine for these baits, although Lucas prefers to fish them on a jig head. “The jighead works great and I will use them as light as 1/8oz and all the way up to 1 oz. I’ll adjust the weight of the jighead based on where I am fishing as well as to where the fish are positioned in the water column,” shares Lucas. The lighter weight jigheads are for when he is fishing closer to the surface. “If I am going to be skipping docks, I’ll use a really light weight and keep the bait coming in just below the surface,” shares Lucas. In deeper water, like around bridge pilings or on offshore ledges, Lucas will go all the way up to 1 oz on his jighead to get the bait to the ideal depth.
Can Single Swimbaits compete with the Umbrella Rig?
The massive popularity of the umbrella rig has likely taken over some of the situations where anglers could otherwise deploy these swimbaits as single hook offerings. Both approaches work well for suspended bass that are keyed on big baitfish, but Lucas had an example of where he was able to compete with those throwing multiple hook rigs, when he used one single swimbait at a time. “I have done well with hollow bellies on an Alabama rig, but during an FLW Series event at Guntersville in 2012, I weighed over 78lbs (for 3 days) and finished second with just the single swimbait. The winner of the event was using an A-Rig, but I think bass are already getting conditioned to it because they see so many of them, everyone throws it now,” explains Lucas.
Hollow belly swimbaits are an ideal way to trigger bigger bites and the ease of using them makes them an ideal way to catch bass across the country during the first six months of the year. The unique wobble and big profile of a single hollow belly swimbait is a killer way to catch tournament-winning fish. Their popularity might be overshadowed by those throwing multiple swimbaits on an umbrella rig, but that’s okay with Lucas. It just means more single swimbait bass for him. He’ll always have one tied on during the first half of the year – shouldn’t you?