This blog is a built on anglers sharing their knowledge with other anglers. There is such a wealth of fishing knowledge out there waiting to be share. My interview with Jesse Hall is the perfect example of this. Jesse is fishing big swimbaits throughout the year in Maine and catching big bass. He was willing to share his knowledge with us. The result is an amazing article on swimbaits. I dare you to find a more detailed description of swimbait fishing anywhere, especially keys to fishing swimbaits in the Northeast. So thank you Jesse for taking the time to provide information that will help us catch more big bass.
Why do you love fishing swimbaits so much?
I’ve been bass fishing for almost 20 years. I have caught an awful lot of fish. Enough so catching piles of 2 to 4 pounders became boring and dull. When I started fishing swimbaits, it opened up a whole new world to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something in my life as I am about fishing big baits. I have also caught more fish over 5 pounds since I started swimbaiting than I ever could have imagined.
When I was 18 years old I caught a 7 pound 6 ounce fish on conventional gear. This was my long-standing personal best. It lasted 14 years. I was determined to break that personal best…even obsessed with it. It was like a weight on my shoulders I can’t even explain. So I started throwing huge baits. Then this November 1st, 2016, the day before my 32nd birthday, I finally broke that PB with a 7 pound 9 ounce fish on a Blackdog Baits G2 Shellcracker at night. And THAT is why I love swimbaits so much. The feeling that the very next cast is going to be the fish of a lifetime is overwhelming!
When did you start fishing swimbaits?
I started playing with the concept of big baits when I was in my late teens, but at that time it was more about big worms, jigs, and lipless crankbaits. I didn’t actually start fishing swimbaits until I was 20. I started off with cheap, poorly made Storm and Tsunami paddle tail baits. They sank like a rock and were not easy to fish. But I did catch a few fish on them over the several years I fished them. I played around with these types of bait for several years before getting into the better quality, “true” swimbaits I fish now. I got into these swimbaits about 5 years ago.
What advice do you have for someone who has never fished swimbaits in getting started?
The best advice I could give a beginner is to take the advice given by the guys that have been doing this a long time. They have spent many hours on the water and can save a beginner all the headaches that come with trial and error. One of the biggest pieces of advice an elite swimbaiter will give is to spend the money it takes to start out with quality equipment. Don’t skimp on your first rod and reel setup. If you buy cheap gear you are just going to end up having to sell it later on and start over. Get the gear you need to be successful from the beginning and save a lot of frustration.
Another piece of advice is to make sure you have a solid conventional fishing background. This is a technique that can be very frustrating at times. There will be times where you go days and weeks without a fish. You need to have a general patience for fishing to do this. If you’re goal is to catch numbers of fish, you are likely better off sticking with conventional baits.
It seems like that you are willing to use some really big swimbaits. You need some confidence to be throwing such big baits. How do you maintain that confidence throughout the day, even if you are not catching a lot of fish?
The first part of maintaining confidence for me is that I am always seeing other people around the country catching fish on these giant baits. I know that if a 6lb bass will eat a bait in California or Texas, a 6lb bass will eat it here in Maine too.
Another part of having this confidence is by finding your “confidence baits”. These are the baits that produce fish for you day in and day out. The only way to figure out what these baits are is by spending endless hours on the water. Once you have established these confidence baits, you can tie one on, and just go fishing. It doesn’t matter the day, lake, weather, or conditions. You can just know that you will get bit eventually. For me, that bait is a 9″ MS Slammer. When I am fishing this bait, I know I’m going to catch fish.
The last part of keeping your confidence high is to remember that you’re not fishing swimbaits to catch a lot of fish. You’re looking for a few BIG fish. Even if I have been fishing a big bait for 4 hours without a bite, it doesn’t worry me. Because in my mind, my next cast is going to be a giant fish.
How does your choice of swimbaits change through the seasons of fishing?
This requires a very complex answer, but I will give a summary. Here in Maine, we have ice from about early December until mid March, so there is no fishing during that time. Immediately after ice-out, the water temps are around 36-39 degrees. At this point the fish are extremely sluggish. They have a very low metabolism so they don’t need to eat often. You need to fish slow! Slow moving soft plastic baits, like the Huddleston Deluxe and Realprey Alewive are great baits for cold water. The first three baits I throw after ice-out are a 6″ Huddleston, Realprey Alewive, and a River2sea Swaver 200 glide bait. These are baits I can fish at slow speeds, so they don’t require a fish to move far or fast to get a hold of it.
Around 40 degrees I’m fishing those same baits, but can speed up my retrieve slightly. Fish begin to feed a bit more actively. By 44-45 degrees, I’m fishing the same baits heavily, but mixing in a few others. I start using other glide baits, like a Deps 250 Slide Swimmer, Hinkle Shad, and Hiroshima trout. I also start tossing a Pats perch.
This is also the water temperature that I begin night fishing. Baits for night fishing stay quite consistent for me throughout the year. I stick to topwaters for the most part. Favorite night baits are the Woodenswimbaits Wake 125 Rat and Wake gill, 9″ MS Slammer, Blackdog Baits G2 Shellcracker, 8″ Spro BBZ, Pats, 11″ Triple Trout, and a Defcon. These baits don’t really change with the seasons.
Once the water hits 50 degrees, all baits are fair game. I am fishing soft baits, trick baits, topwaters, glides, and everything in between. The fish are more active and willing to eat just about anything they can.
When the water reaches 60 degrees I shy away from soft baits and glides for the most part. They seem to stop producing for me. This is the time I start really concentrating on topwater baits like the MS Slammer, Woodenswimbaits, and Triple Trout, as well as a Pats. These will be my best producing baits through summer. When Fall rolls around and the water drops back to 60 degrees or so, I’ll start working glides and soft baits back into the mix. From this point through late fall, I’ll do just what I did in spring, but in reverse order.
You fish between wood and plastic swimbaits. What is the difference between both?
I actually don’t pay much attention to the material a bait is made of. There are great baits made of all materials. The only difference is what the different baits can do. Wood baits tend to float up faster and float higher than plastic baits. The also often have louder knocking sounds, especially with surface baits. One advantage to plastic baits is that rattles can be added to the bait. These baits often excel in low light conditions because fish can find them easier. But I fish all different styles of baits in all conditions.
What do you consider the best brands of swimbaits?
There are many great brands of baits out there. There are also a handful of baits that will pretty much work anywhere in the country. Some of the better brands that come to mind are: Deps, MS Slammer, Woodenswimbaits, Hinkle, Pats, River2sea, Def Con, Blackdog Baits, Hiroshima Customs, Roman Made, Huddleston, Realprey, Spro, 22nd Century, and many more.
My favorite bait is probably an MS Slammer. It’s just so versatile I can throw it anywhere, anytime. It’s a surface wake bait, but can be cranked down a couple feet. It catches fish all over the country, in all waters. It catches quantity as well as quality fish. I can wake it, walk it, deadstick it and crank it. I have more 5 pound fish on this bait than any other.
All this being said, there are many other brands that are a close second to MS Slammer. I have caught big fish on many different baits.
How much does color play an important role in such a big bait? What are your favorite colors?
It’s strange how color works with swimbaits. There are times when color doesn’t matter at all, and there are times when it is extremely important. I choose colors appropriate to the weather conditions more than anything else. I like to try a bright chartreuse or fire tiger bait on dark, rainy days. The bright baits practically glow. On bright days I like to go with something natural like Shad or trout colors. For the most part, I keep it that simple. Some people get very technical with colors, but I really don’t. My favorite colors are trout and Shad variations. But action and profile play a much larger role in how I choose baits. I can throw a trout bait in a lake with no trout and be fully confident I’m going to catch fish.
Color can play an important role at night, however. But for me, the choices are simple. Either white, or black. Very often, one color will do very well and the other won’t. White is actually my favorite night color, followed by black, and then all other colors after that. When I night fish I always try to have at least one black, and one white bait tied on.
What are your rod and reel choices for fishing swimbaits?
The rod and reel a person chooses is the most important part of swimbait fishing. More important than the baits themselves. You need to have big gear for tossing big baits and catching big fish. It’s needs to be a setup specifically made for swimbait fishing.
For reels, there are many different styles and options to choose from. You can choose between a round reel or a low profile reel. That is completely personal preference. The specifications that are required are that the reel holds a lot of line, and has a solid drag. This will allow you to spool up with heavy, 20-30# mono, and the solid drag will let you lock down your drag if you choose and still not allow for any line to slip on those hard hooksets.
The rod you choose is a bit more complicated, and will vary drastically according to what baits you will be using. You will need multiple rods to effectively throw a variety of swimbaits weighing from 1oz. to 12oz. Swimbait rods vary from medium heavy, heavy, extra heavy, and extra, extra heavy. These will allow you to toss those small shellcrackers, medium sized slammers, Hudds, and Triple Trouts, and larger Deps 250’s, Hinkles, and Mothers.
My favorite reel for swimbaits is a Diawa Lexa 300PWR. It’s a low profile reel, so it fits well in my palm. It has a huge line capacity. The 22 pound drag is more than enough. And last, but maybe most importantly, it is available in a 5.1:1 gear ratio, which is a very slow ratio. This does two things. It allows me to slow my presentation far better than can be done with a 6.2 ratio or higher. Big fish are lazy. They don’t want to have to chase a bait when they can get the same big meal swimming slowly by. The other thing the low gear ratio provides is a significantly easier retrieve. I fish many large wake baits or lipped cranking baits. The low ratio allows you to retrieve these baits effortlessly. These all combine to make the perfect reel for me. I own six Lexa 300s and absolutely love them.
The best swimbait rod I have fished thus far is the Dobyns Champion series swimbait rods. They’re available in several different models that will cover any bait I will ever use. They have the 795, which is a 7’9″, 5 power rod. This is a great rod for those 3/4oz to 2.5oz baits. And they make rods as heavy as the 908 which is a 9′, 8 power rod and is capable of throwing baits up around 15oz. or more.
There are many other reason to like a Dobyns. The handle length is perfect for me. Not too long so it gets in the way, but long enough to help with good, hard hooksets. They’re built with quality blanks and components. They look great with a black and blue finish. But most importantly, the taper of the rod is absolutely perfect. Essentially, what this means is that the rods are not too stiff, and not too soft. They have backbone where it is needed, and they flex where they should. I really like the 807 model. It is an 8′, 7 power rod. This rod has a light tip that will flex down about 12″-18″, but is absolutely solid beyond that. What this allows me to do is to throw a small soft bait like a Realprey or a Huddleston. The soft tip will help spring, or launch that bait a long distance, while the heavy backbone allows for me to get a solid hookset and drive that big jig hook into the roof of the fishes mouth.
Swimbaits have big hooks that can combine with the skin as evidenced by one of your pics on Instagram. Do you carry any safety equipment with you because of this?
Hahaha! I actually have a video of my father pulling the 2/0 st-41 out of my finger. It wasn’t fun at all, but a lot less painful than I expected. Hey, I still got back in the boat and went back out on the water and caught some more solid fish that day!
You know, I was actually quite reluctant to lip a bass for a while after that, but you can’t let something like that worry you all the time on the water. It was the first time I had impaled myself that badly, so it is a rare occurrence. I don’t particularly carry any safety equipment with me, but I would recommend it to anyone. You just never know what will happen out there. I do try to make sure I have a few band-aids in the boat just in case I cut myself on a hook or more likely, a Pike’s teeth. It’s just a nuisance to be bleeding on your clothes and gear more than anything. One thing I do always have is a good pair of diagonal cutters or dikes. If you ever do stick yourself badly and the hook pushes through, you can cut the end off and pull it out. They’re also great for removing the hook from a badly hook fish. It’s always most important to get a fish released safely and unharmed!
What are your favorite swimbait waters to fish?
I fish mostly smaller ponds and lakes. Generally 100 to 1,000 acres. Occasionally I’ll get out on a bigger lake, upwards of 5,000 acres. I prefer a body of water that is clear. “Clear” being a relative term. Here in Maine, I’m looking a water clarity of 5 to 15 feet. The reason for this is that I can greatly expand the type of different baits that are more effective. Glide baits and topwater baits seem to do much better in clear water. A fish can see your bait from further away, and is more likely to move a longer distance to hit your bait. I have caught fish on a topwater that come from over 20′ feet down to strike.
Stained and muddy water is harder to fish. You need to fish baits that are bigger, louder, and slower. Loud topwater wake baits like an MS Slammer, floatig BBZ 8″, or a Woodenswimbaits wake rat are great choices on top. A sinking BBZ, Pats, and slow moving Huddleston are good subsurface choices.
Talk about a Northeast fishing swimbait tutorial. Thank you so much Jesse. I have read it ten times and still pick up something new each time. I will be following Jesse on Instagram to watch him catch all of his giant Maine swimbait bass.