Brandon Palaniuk is nothing if not a student of the game of bass fishing. As you’ll find with most anglers at the top of their game, he has a desire to learn and incorporate every style of fishing into his repertoire, even big swimbaits.
Hardcore tournament fisherman aren’t usually hardcore big bait fisherman. But Palaniuk is as hardcore of a tournament fisherman as it gets, sporting many accolades including the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year title. And he’s also pretty deep into the big swimbait game as illustrated by this pre-spawn 12-pound, 4-ounce monster he landed on a Huddleston a few years ago.
So we sat down with MLF Bass Pro Tour pro, Brandon Palaniuk, to glean a little of that knowledge as it pertains to cold water, pre-spawn bass.
Big Swimbait Terminology
Before we get too in depth, here’s a brief rundown of some of the lingo coming up.
For starters, ROF refers to the Rate Of Fall of a bait. The ROF is calculated based on how far the bait will sink in 10-seconds. So an ROF 5 will sink to 5-feet below the surface of the water after 10-seconds. An ROF 12, 12-feet after 10 seconds.
Naturally the baits that fall faster weigh more than the baits that fall slower.
The Huddleston swimbaits also come in various lengths. But each length is available in multiple ROF’s. So a Huddleston 8” is available in ROF 0, ROF 5, ROF 10 and ROF 16. All those 8-inch baits look the same, they just have different weights and ROF’s.
The next variation is the setup of the hook. There are some weedless versions of the Hud that have recessed hooks, but there are primarily two ways anglers think of hooks when it comes to Huds: single top hook or treble hook harness beneath the bait.
“If I’m throwing the ROF 5, I feel like I can get away with just the top hook, but when you start talking about the ROF 12 and you’re crawling it on the bottom, I like the treble hook a little bit more.”
The reason being, the heavier the weight of the bait, the easier it is for a fish to throw it. It’s easier for a bass to throw that single hook during the fight than it is for one to throw the treble hook harness which separates itself from the bait during the fight. This hinged separation makes it harder for even a big bass to throw a heavier bait, and you’re talking about some big bass when you’re fishing big swimbaits. And some big swimbaits like an 8-inch Hud ROF 12 weigh-in at 4.8-ounces. And that’s just a midrange big bait.
So when does Brandon Palaniuk throw a Huddleston?
“For colder water stuff, I definitely have more confidence throwing an 8-inch Hud,” said Palaniuk in reference to one of the most popular swimbaits of all time, the Huddleston.
“That’s definitely my single favorite, cold-water, go-to swimbait.”
Targeting Pre-Spawn Bass with Big Swimbaits
“It seems like when the water hits that 50-degree mark, that’s when the Huddleston comes into play. You can get bit below 50-degrees but it’s a lot tougher. When the water temperature gets to 55-degrees, I’ll start mixing the glide baits in. But they’ll still eat a Hud, even on the bed.”
“Earlier in the year when the water is still cold, I’m mostly counting that bait down and just crawling it on the bottom with a super slow and steady retrieve. One trick to get more action out of the bait at that slower speed is to boil water and then drop the bait in it for 15-to-20-seconds and soften it up. Then I’ll hang them overnight by the line-tie so that they get nice and straight.”
“I’ll tend to fish the Huddleston around the base of riprap or offshore rock piles. Those first places where pre-spawn fish pull up before they start to move up onto the flats and stuff. Those first little staging places where you can cast past that stuff and fish slow and steady by it. They’re a lot of the same places where guys are throwing football jigs that time of year.”
“When I’m fishing a Hud, I hold my rod tip down and across my body. I’m trying to keep the bait down on the bottom and I also want to be able to deliver the biggest hookset possible. So having the rod across my body and down allows me to be headed in the right direction as soon as one eats it.”
How Hard Is It as a Tournament Angler Not to Throw Big Swimbaits?
“For me as a tournament angler, it’s tough. I love to doing it so much that knowing when to keep it in your hand and when to put it down is probably the hardest thing. It really just comes down to what body of water you’re on, what time of year it is, and intuition.”
“If you’re on Guntersville in April, you can pick up one of those big baits and throw it all day and catch enough fish on it to compete. But say it’s Guntersville in February, you’re probably not going to be able to get enough bites. There’s times and places for it in tournament fishing, you just have to determine how the fish are positioned and what type of mood they’re in and if you’re able to come across enough fish that are willing to bite.”
What Does an Ideal Tournament Fishery Look like for Brandon Palaniuk When Trying to Decide to Throw a Big Bait or Not?
Big swimbait fishing is a different beast entirely on the West Coast and has been well documented. Applying big bait principles to tournament fishing which is primarily focused eastward is still relatively obscure in the overall big swimbait world. (Although you should also check out Southern Trout Eaters with Matt Peters, the godfather of the swimbait down south.)
“I love throwing them anywhere you have mild water clarity. What I’ve figured out in the south is it doesn’t have to be super clear, just like a Guntersville clear where you can see 3-feet or so is sometimes easier to get bit because they can’t see the bait as well. And they get positioned where you can catch them a little better.”
“Like with a glide bait, I like to concentrate on areas with really good ambush points like docks and riprap. Something with a really good edge like bluff walls and bluff ends. A lot of the same places other people are throwing a spinnerbait. It just gives me a different presentation to target the bigger fish.”
“What I’m trying to do is catch the 5-pounder and have the 2-pounder follow it out instead of catching the 2-pounder and having the 5-pounder follow it out.”
“And the fishery doesn’t have to have big baitfish in it. You just need fish big enough to fit the swimbait in their mouth is all. Bass are opportunistic feeders. So, I feel like if you’re trying to catch the biggest bass on a body of water, big swimbaits are going to draw that bite quicker.”
Palaniuk’s Big Swimbait Gear:
Big Swimbait Rod:
“I like a little bit stiffer rod for the Huds. When you hook a big one, they’ve got so much power that you’ve got to have that stiffer rod to turn them and to drive through all that plastic. We’re prototyping a new swimbait rod right now with Alpha Angler that will be out soon. But right now, I throw it on our Mag-Hitter. Our new swimbait rod will have a little bit different balance point and a little bit different handle length. Our Mag-Hitter is built for punching but the action will be pretty similar. We’re just trying to dial in the swimbait rod to help make longer casts and drive that hook home on the big Huds.”
“We’re prototyping a rod for the glide baits right now too. I like a little more of a parabolic bend for the glide baits because the strike comes close to the boat a lot of times and you need the rod to load up and absorb that shock. Something in the 7’9” heavy-action range but still has that a little bit of a parabolic bend to it works well for those”
Big Swimbait Line:
“I like to throw that Huddleston on 25-pound test Seaguar Tatsu. It’s super strong and has a little bit more stretch to it than some other fluorocarbons.”
Big Swimbait Reel:
“I’ve been throwing the Huds on the Daiwa Tatula 150 and the 200 lately. I’ve never gotten into the big round reel like a lot of guys do. I just like the lower-profile reels. I can grip the rod and reel a lot better while still having more control.”
Big Swimbait Takeaways
Big swimbait fishing is a lot of fun, but not just when you’re fun fishing. It has its place in serious tournament fishing but like many big bite techniques, it can be a hero a zero kind of deal. The biggest key is knowing when to keep it in your hand and when to put it down, something even the most seasoned professionals like Brandon Palaniuk struggle with. The only way to figure that out is to fish with it as much as possible.
When throwing a Hud, bites don’t come often so be ready. Have the right gear and technique to drive the hook home. When getting into ROFs, hook harnesses and bait sizes, it’s important to know exactly which big bait you’re using and what scenarios it’s best suited for. Take note from and learn as much as you can from others’ past successes and failures. Big swimbaits lead to big bites, perhaps the biggest of your life. You’ll want to be ready when that personal best bites.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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