Swimbait fishing has come a long way since the early days on the West Coast. Now, anglers across the country fish swimbaits and the baits themselves have undergone a major transformation; spawning off all shapes and sizes of plastics in a variety of materials. One angler who could be considered one of the godfathers of swimbaiting is Byron Velvick. Having won major tournaments on the swimbait dating back to the time when they were relatively unknown outside of California, Velvick has seen the transformation and has applied his techniques across the country.
The Early Days
Utilizing swimbaits for bass dates back to the late 80’s where Velvick and other anglers would use saltwater lures for bass. Byron recalls the early days where the anglers in the know would do whatever they could to keep the secret from getting out. They worked, big bass ate them and nobody was doing it. Popularity started to grow from big bass hunters, but the year 2000 marked the biggest coming out party for the swimbait when Velvick won a Bassmaster Western Invitational on Clear Lake California. This showed the world they could win a major tournament (his record for largest 3 day total still stands). Fast forward over a decade and the popularity continues to grow. When asked if bass have become used to them, Velvick says “Bass see more and more of them and are more conditioned to seeing them, but they still work.” The design of the baits and refining of the craft has helped them continue to be successful.
The Biggest Mistake Anglers Make
According to Byron Velvick, the biggest mistake anglers make when fishing a swimbait is fishing it too fast. To make sure he slows down, he is a firm believer in using a reel with a slower gear ratio. “I’ll almost always fish it real slow and cruise it along slower than the rest of the guys,” shares Velvick.
Retrieve and Depth
Typically, Velvick will fish a swimbait slowly along the bottom, but he admits that that is not always the only way. “One day they may want it on the bottom, but other times you need to burn it on top. It can change daily or even hourly, you just need to see how they want it,” says Velvick. He will also mix up depths and check different variables to ensure his success. “During the colder months, you mostly want it as deep as you can, down into the land of jigs,” mentions Velvick.
Rod and Line
According to Byron Velvick there is no one single rod for all swimbaits. “Swimbaits can be anywhere from 3 to 13 inches or bigger, there isn’t one rod that will handle them all. I designed a rod for Duckett Rods that will be ideal for what most everyone across the country will be throwing, baits from 5-9 inches long,” adds Velvick. The Byron Velvick Pro Series Model measures 7’11” and is a heavy action. It will handle medium to large swimbaits and also doubles as an Alabama-rig rod. Talking about the rod got Velvick very excited. “This rod was actually built by matching one of my favorite all time swimbait rods that is no longer in production. It’s part of the White Ice series and really works well for the most commonly used swimbaits,” states Velvick.
Line choice is often debated when talking swimbaits, but Velvick prefers to keep it simple. Monofilament is his choice and it’s 20-25lb Berkley XT. “It absorbs the shock of the big bait and big fish and is really abrasion resistant. I’ll use mono as much as possible for swimbait fishing,” shares Velvick.
Regional differences will undoubtedly shape the most productive swimbaits. Not every lake will hold trout and require monster sized swimbaits. To be successful across the country, Velvick utilizes a variety of different swimbaits. He believes you can never go wrong with a hollow belly swimbait like a Basstrix or Berkley Hollow Belly. He uses a variety of colors and shapes and adjusts them based on the forage in the lake. He also mentions a new line of swimbaits from Tightlines UV that is an internet exclusive. The UV Rago Swimbaits come in three models, a 5.5 inch (top hook and lower treble) as well as a 7 inch with a lower treble hook. “They are hard to find but they’re really good swimbaits,” states Velvick. He added that the entire line of Rago Swimbaits from Jerry Rago are great and cover a variety of shapes and forage patterns. His 2010 Elite Series win on Clear Lake, California came by using 7” Rago Top Hook BV3D Swimbait.
How to Match the Hatch
“Matching the hatch” is probably one of the biggest clichés and overused terms in fishing, but when it comes to a swimbait it can be crucial according to Byron Velvick. “One thing I always like to do is go to the local bait stores and see what size and kind of baitfish they sell the most of, that will give me a better idea of what baitfish are in the lake and what size the bass will be keying on,” shares Velvick. In addition, he will look for any other indicators to see the size of bluegill, herring or other forage. If you are in a location where trout are stocked into the lake, the best thing to do is see what size they are stocking as it can be vital according to Velvick. “If the fish are used to seeing trout stocked that are 8 inches long, you need a swimbait that size. I have seen it in California, where they are stocking 13 inch trout and the only thing that will catch bass are 13 inch swimbaits, they won’t touch smaller baits,” acknowledges Velvick. “I think a lot of guys totally miss it when it comes to matching the hatch,” adds the Elite Series pro.
Swimbaits have proven to catch large bass and have moved from the status of being a novelty to a reliable pattern. Utilizing some of Byron Velvick’s tips gained from years of experience with the big baits will shed light on more ways to catch bass on swimbaits from East to West.