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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.