Admittedly, a lot of my fishing days smell like the south end of a north-bound moose, but during a recent outing, I did okay, thanks to the right input plus the right bait.
The advice came from legendary bass angler Shaw Grigsby, who suggested I throw a 3/8-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Swim Jig around the sporadic pads and weed clumps accenting a shallow Florida lake. In a scenario that replicates nationwide, prespawn fish were staging in the vegetation and leveraging a sporty afternoon wind for feeding opportunities.
My first of two quality bites in the 5-pound range exemplified one of the key features the makes the swim jig a must-have bait.
As we passed a topped-out grass bed smattered with various floating vegetation, I tried to make a sharp side-arm cast into a little windward notch. My cast went a little wide and the swim jig landed atop the mat. Thanks to the upturned head and the Rage Craw trailer’s balancing profile, I was able to twitch the jig smoothly across three feet of gnarly weeds and out to the edge.
I’ll admit, my first reaction was to quickly reel up and try again, but as I watched the swim jig work its way to the grassy drop, I thought, “Why not give it a chance?” As my bait fell, the trailer’s waving claws must have looked awfully tempting because three cranks into the retrieve, a green chunk thumped it.
About 10 minutes later, I was chattering on about a banner day of swim jigging Southern Louisiana pad stems when Grigsby spotted an isolated patch of newly emergent pads that still had that thinned-out feel. With frothy surface streaks clearly marking this wind-blown habitat, I launched my swim jig into the field, bumped two stems and came tight on another good one that meant business.
“With the wind blowing into those pads, I knew that was going to be the spot for your swim jig,” Grigsby grinned.
Noting a strategic pairing, Grigsby said he commonly uses the swim jig in tandem with a Strike King Thunder Cricket (vibrating jig). The latter excels in sparser cover and open water; often tickling the tops of grass beds and occasionally snapping it free from temporary snags to trigger bites.
The swim jig serves as hie 4-wheel-drive, go-anywhere bait that smoothly traverses a variety of emergent cover such as pencil reeds, water willow, eel grass, Texas/Louisiana hay grass and Florida’s Kissimmee grass. Obviously, you don’t want to toss this bait into a dense lily pad field, but flaring that weed guard a little affords the confidence to pull it through much of the shallow cover where the big ones hide.
Fellow Floridian Jared McMillan’s also big fan of the swim jig. As he points out, this is not only a stellar search bait for locating unseen bed fish, it’s also an all-star utility player throughout much of the year.
“I think it’s definitely the most versatile member of the jig family; you can swim it, pitch it, drag it on the bottom. You can cover a lot of scenarios with this bait.”
Doing a great job of mimicking bluegill, sunfish, etc., swim jigs present an appealing profile on a straight, but McMillan adds the occasional rod twitch to better imitate a fleeing panfish. Bumping pad stems is usually a random deal, but whenever my line’s tracing an open lane, I’ll angle my rod one way or the other to increase the likelihood of making contact and possibly triggering a bite.
Adaptable: Everyone’s a hero when they’re throwing downwind, but when you need to punch into or across the breeze for a natural looking downwind presentation, the swim jig’s slender profile won’t kite like a spinnerbait or buzzbait. Subsurface dynamics are equally impressive, as varying the swim jig’s trailer changes not only the look, but also the performance.
The Strike King Rage Craw is McMillan’s go-to, as those super-active claws create a tantalizing swimming motion. When he wants a larger profile with more of a slender baitfish look, a Strike King Rage Swimmer gets the nod.
“The more bulk that trailer has the higher the swim jig rides in the water column, while the trailers with less bulk allow the bait to sink faster,” McMillan said.
As McMillan notes, that extra buoyancy serves him well during the postspawn when bass are guarding fry and then later into summer when the panfish bed pattern takes center stage. For both of these, he’ll use a Strike King Menace, a grub style trailer with a border tail that allows him to keep the swim jig higher in the water column — even at slower speeds.
And how ‘bout a kicker ending: As our day concluded, Grigsby and I eased up to a picturesque tree at the tip of a little reed-lined bar where I wanted to set up a habitat-based photo. Twenty feet out, Grigsby skipped his swim jig under the overhanging branches and immediately came tight.
When I saw the fish boil and flash, it looked like a straight-up ‘Gram-worthy giant. Ten seconds later, Grigsby was grinning over a whopper tilapia wider than his steering wheel.
Apparently, swim jigs appeal to a broad audience — including this angler.