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Brandon Palaniuk’s Take on Small Swimbaits for Largemouth, Smallmouth, & Spotted Bass

Small swimbaits are one of the most effective baits for targeting spots, largemouth, and smallmouth in almost any part of the water column throughout the year. MLF Bass Pro Tour pro, Brandon Palaniuk, breaks down when and how he targets all three species of bass with this bait.

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Does Bait Selection Differ for Smallmouth, Spots, and Largemouth?

For me, it really doesn’t differ a lot. Usually, I’ll throw a little bit bigger swimbait for largemouth unless it’s in the winter months when they’re still suspended in offshore stuff. I like that 3-inch swimbait size the most. 

I really like a 1/4-ounce jighead. That’s my go-to. A 1/4-ounce round ball head. Either that or the little screw lock Bill Lowen Slip Shad. It’s just a blank head with a screw lock on it with a line hole that runs through the top of the head. You run your line through and then you can tie a treble hook to it. That way your line lays flat on the back of your swimbait. Then you stick the treble hook in the back of the bait and when they bite it, the whole head and bait slide away from the treble hook. 

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I don’t think many people know about that option.

But I like using that rig on the bigger swimbaits, like 4-inch and 5-inch ones. I’ll use the 1/4-ounce one on a 3-inch swimbait sometimes but when you go bigger like 3/8th-ounce the head just looks too big for the 3-inch swimbait.

When Do You Target Each Species?

For largemouth, I think that wintertime bite seems to be the most productive for me. That’s when they’re going to be suspended around baitfish. They’re deep on a lot of the smaller bait. 

For smallmouth the best time of year is the immediate post-spawn. But you can catch them on it year round.

The best time of year for spots is probably summer. Not really immediate post-spawn though. Immediate post spawn for spots is when they kind of hunker down. They just go sit in a brush pile. They don’t chase as much and seem to be a little bit more finicky until a little later in the summer when the water temperatures really start to rise.

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Where Do You Target Smallmouth, Largemouth and Spots with Small Swimbaits?

For smallmouth, I’ll throw that bait when I’m searching on shallow flats, little break lines, and rock veins. For spotted bass and largemouth, it ends up being a tool more for suspended bass offshore. Using my graphs, I’m able to find the bait and those bass suspended near them and put those small swimbaits to work.

How Do You Fish Small Swimbaits? 

Sometimes for the smallmouth, I’ll let it sink all the way to the bottom. If you’re in cleaner water and there are a lot of smallmouth around, sometimes they’ll eat it on its way to the bottom. They’ll see that little tail kicking on the way down and they’ll either eat it on the fall or they’ll at least follow it to the bottom and as soon as you pick it up they’ll eat it.

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It’s pretty much a slow steady retrieve. 

Every once in a while, I’ll pause it if I want the bait to stay down in the water column. I really try to go with a 1/4-ounce head anytime I can. When you get into the smaller size swimbaits like the 3-inch stuff, I think it’s so effective on spots and smallmouth because the bait moves slow through the water column horizontally. 

It has a slow rate of stall, that’s like rate of fall, but horizontally. So the bait moves through the water column slowly but that tail kicks really fast. That fast tail action makes it look like a minnow that’s trying to get away but it’s just so small that it can’t move really fast. I think that triggers a lot of bites.

The difference between a 4-inch bait and 3-inch bait can cause that change in the tail action. I think that’s what draws the strike a lot of times more than the actual size decrease of the bait. The 3-inch tail will kick faster than the 4-inch tail at the same rate of retrieve. 

So, for the tail of a 4-inch bait and the tail of a 3-inch bait to kick at the same speed, the 4-inch bait has to be reeled faster. The 3-inch bait will come through the water at a slower speed with the same tail action and stay in the strike zone longer. When you’re dealing with smallmouth and spots that tend to feed up, it keeps it in their line of sight a lot longer.

Does Your Rod and Reel Setup Change?

My setup is pretty much the same across the board for all three species. I go back and forth between a spinning rod and a baitcaster but I prefer throwing it on a spinning rod. If I get around heavier cover I’ll use the bait caster but it seems like I can control the bait a little bit better with a spinning reel. It’s just easier to keep the bait down. If you’re casting into the wind you can cast a little bit further with a spinning reel too.

For my spinning setup, I use a 7’ Medium Alpha Angler Wrench paired with a Daiwa 3000 Exist reel. I’ll throw it on 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid with an 8-pound Tatsu leader.

We have a really cool baitcasting rod at Alpha Angler called The Clutch that we designed for drop shotting the California Delta and Cayuga Lake and some of that heavier cover drop-shotting stuff. It’s a 7’5” Medium action rod that has a light enough tip so you can still cast the light baits. That 7’5” length helps you cast farther too. I’ll put it on straight 10-pound Tatsu and then throw it on the Daiwa Steez A 6.3:1.

Editors Note: 

The images used to portray the small swimbaits do not depict the specific brands that Brandon Palaniuk uses on the water. They are simply there to show you the rigging options Brandon references throughout this article.

Megabass Magdraft | Megabass Swimbait Fishing With Chris Zaldain

There are fewer specialists these days touring the larger bass fishing tournament trails than in previous decades. There was a time when the Denny Brauers and Tommy Biffles of the world made a good living with one rod on the deck. In both their cases, a flipping stick. For others it may have been a crankbait or a frog. But now you have to be versatile to even survive on tour, much less thrive.

It seems though that those who win more often than not still have the edge on some technique. Though they can do it all, they still have the upper hand given the right situation. As versatile as Kevin VanDam is, should a crankbait come into play, he can still lock it in his hand and kick in the teeth of the competition. If you can get one blow up on a frog, Dean Rojas can get 10 and bury you with his expertise.

So can be said about Chris Zaldain when it comes to a swimbait, his favored Megabass Magdraft to be exact. As diverse and good of an all-around fisherman as Zaldain is, let the conditions align for his swimbait to leave the deck and enter his hand and you’ll be in for a home run hitting highlight reel. We sat down with Zaldain to discuss the ins and outs of his favorite technique.

Chris, tell us about the Megabass Magdraft swimbait.

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Megabass Magdraft | Selecting the Right Size

“There are 3 sizes to a Magdraft: 6, 8 and 10 inches. Being the tournament fisherman I am, the 6-inch Magdraft gets the most play because you get the most bites on it. It catches big ones still, but it also catches numbers. I catch a lot of 3-to-5-pound bass on that size. The 8-inch I mostly bring out as a tournament fisherman when we go to a fishery that has an abundance of gizzard shad in the system. Places like the Tennessee River or any of the big fish lakes in Texas. Every time I set the hook on the 8-inch Magdraft it’s likely to be in the 4-to-10-pound range.

I typically bring out the 10-inch version only when I’m trophy hunting outside of tournaments. This is my 8th year as a professional tournament fisherman and I may have broken out the 10-inch version a couple of times in a tournament situation.

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The two main colors I throw are the albino in stained water and then the white back shad in clear water.

When most people think of swimbait fishing they think of only clear water. But because of the Magdrafts signature head to tail wiggle it gets a lot of bites in stained water too. The 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville was a great example of that. The water clarity was maybe 2-1/2 feet but because of that wiggle the fish were able to feel my swimbait and search it out in the water and once they got close they were able to see that albino color and come up and eat it.

Megabass Magdraft | Do Bigger Baits Really Draw Bigger Bites?

Absolutely. We’ve all heard ‘the bigger the bait, the bigger the bass’ and that’s absolutely true. A great example of that happened in the Bull Shoals/Norfork Elite Series a few years ago. I had a really good limit on the 6-inch version and to see if I could get a bigger bite I broke out the 8-inch version and I ended up catching a big one.

I rarely catch a 3-pounder on the 8-inch, those bites are usually over 4. But I do get less bites on the 8-inch for sure. I don’t care what bass lake it is in the country, if I throw the 6-inch Magdraft all day, I think I can get at least 8 bites on it. But if I throw the 8-inch all day, I might get 1 or 2 bites. So there are a lot fewer bites on the 8-inch but they are going to be big.

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Megabass Magdraft | What Are Your Ideal Conditions for Throwing a Magdraft?

The Magdraft light comes on in mind when it’s sunny to partly cloudy and about a 10 mph wind. The more sun penetration I have, the more those fish are going to be able to see it. If a fish is 20 feet away from a swimbait and it’s cloudy, they just don’t see it as well. I don’t care if the water is crystal clear, they just don’t see it as well if it’s cloudy. So the optimal conditions is a 7-to-10 mph wind so it breaks up the light penetration but there’s still plenty of light and sunny with just a couple of clouds in the sky.

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As far as cover, I fish the most obvious stuff in the whole lake.

Yes, a million boats have fished that spot before me, but 99 percent of those anglers fish a spinnerbait or jig or crankbait. Still to this day not a lot of people throw a swimbait. So when I introduce a bait that isn’t thrown often to a spot that is fished often, my chances of catching the big one have gone up tremendously. That obvious spot obviously has fish on it, it’s a community spot for a reason. But you have to show them something different.

I don’t care if it’s spawn, pre-spawn or post-spawn, main lake points are what to look for. I’m a big believer that the biggest fish in the lake relate to the main lake. So I’m always going to start on the main lake then just fish the most visible stuff as possible like I said earlier.

Megabass Magdraft | How Do You Fish the Bait?

Slow and steady retrieve, just enough to keep the head and tail wiggling. I’ll hardly ever burn it. Whenever I can, I like to position my boat close to the bank almost like I’m fishing from the bank. Then I cast my bait out to deeper water and let it sink towards the bottom.

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As I reel my bait in, it stays in that deeper water and in that strike zone longer.

I also have a lot of fish follow the bait when I’m fishing a swimbait. And I get a lot more of those followers to commit when I’m fishing the bait deep to shallow than any other way. I feel like the fish thinks it has trapped that baitfish and a lot of times it will go ahead and commit.

Megabass Magdraft | Do You Ever Modify Your Magdrafts?

One thing I’ll do is weight the swimbait down a little if I want to fish it a little deeper. I don’t weight the 8 inch at all. Never have. But for the 6-inch version I’ll use an Eagle Claw Pagoda Nail Weight in the belly if I want to get the bait just a little deeper.

Straight out of the package, the 6-inch Magdraft works best in 4 to 6 feet of water. I’ll use a 1/16th ounce tungsten nail weight in the belly to get it to go deeper. A 1/16th ounce weight doesn’t sound like much when you’re talking about a bait that weighs more than an ounce but it’s just enough to throw the balance of the bait off and when you do that it will stay down in the 8 to 10 feet range.

Zaldain’s Megabass Magdraft Gear

Megabass Magdraft 6-inch

Megabass Magdraft 6-inch

Seaguar InvisX 15-pound

Orochi XX Perfect Pitch 7’2″

Shimano Metanium 7.4:1

Megabass Magdraft 8-inch

Megabass Magdraft 8-inch

Megabass Destroyer Mark 48

Seaguar InvisX 25-pound

Shimano Curado size 300

Big Swimbaits Catch Big Bass: Brandon Palaniuk’s Big Swimbait Overview

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.