Tackle & Technique – Swim Jig/Swimbait

Tackle & Technique – Swim Jig/Swimbait

Sep 20, 2012

Swim Jig/Swimbait Combo Is a Quiet Killer

By Mike Pehanich

In our endless quest for the ultimate lure, we fishermen have tinkered, tampered, splattered the canvas, and tossed the dice for just about every new lure look and combination imaginable.

But sometimes we pass right over some of the best and simplest rigs during our charge!

Tools for the Swim Jig/Swimbait combo are a "northern style" swim jig and a soft swimbait in the three- to 4.5-inch range.

Swim jigs caught my attention several years ago, and I liked the “change-up” those lighter swimming jigs with grub tails delivered to the bass. Later I tried different trailers including some fatter bodies like the Berkley Chigger Toad and a couple of Strike King Rage products and whacked more and bigger fish than I had on the subtler offering the grubs provided. Still, I tended to view the swim jig combos as “situational“ rather than go-to rigs, using them primarily to fish around or over  cover.

But several small waters adventures this summer put me onto a combination so deadly and obvious that I’m still slapping myself on the side of the head for not dialing it in sooner.

It’s the swim jig/swimbait combination, and, if you are one of those guys who still thinks that swimbaits only catch fish in the West, see if this duo doesn’t change your mind!

What’s more, this combination is setting off  mix-and-match research and experimentation that has bred variants with equal promise, much like the Alabama Rig has done this season.

River swimmer

Jonn Graham, who earned his nickname “Stream Stalker” hunting smallmouth in central Illinois rivers, sparked my first epiphany. Jonn and I tested a variety of lures on lake and stream one day last June, but the swim jig/swimbait combo didn’t come up for serious discussion until late in the day when he mentioned his success with the combo on big river smallmouth. Jonn, also noted for his work with the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance, described the combo as a year-round producer that just seems to get better during the cold water periods of spring and fall.

Like father, like son! The young Stream Stalker follows in the footsteps of his father, Jonn Graham.

Well, out came the swim jig/swimbait combo on my next river outing in August. A couple of weeks earlier, a Terminator Swim Jig with Trigger X Slop Hopper had fooled 30 largemouth bass up to 21-1/2 inches. Would the bronzebacks in knee-deep waters in southern Wisconsin be equally receptive?

The skinny crystal clear water of the creek seemed to call for a more subtle look, so I I opted for a new Nories Spoon Tail Shad, a long, slender swimbait. The third cast produced a monstrous strike and, minutes later, a lip-grip on a black-backed 17-plus-inch smallie.

Why we love it

The swim jig and a paddletail-type swimbait combo not only triggers strikes from aggressive fish but seems to pique the hunger and curiosity of neutral fish as well. For that reason, it is a superb search bait. You can cover water quickly with a “stealth” bait that causes minimal disturbance yet displaces enough water for fish to find it even in dark water.

Think of the swim jig as a shy spinnerbait, which is more or less what it is – a spinnerbait without the bravado and vibration that comes when you wield a big blade!

The jig is designed to do what its name suggests – swim! The eye of the bait sits at a 28 to 30 degree angle on most styles of swim jig to facilitate horizontal movement rather than the drop, drag or hop of a conventional skirted jig made for pitching or flipping into cover or for bottom-dragging.

Increase hook ups with both the Trigger X Slop Hopper and Nories Spoon Tail Shad trailers by cutting off the head portion -- about 1/2 inch -- from the swim bait.

So-called “northern style” swim jigs, such as the two jigs described here, sport a thinner skirt and thinner weedguard than their cover-probing counterpart, and a lighter wire hook, too. (The “southern style” swim jig, by contrast, is a bulkier, stronger jig intended to fish near or in thick cover.)

Stops and starts and a little lift-and-drop action can prompt strikes when you need them, but your bread-and-butter retrieve is a simple steady swimming crank! Dial in the right speed and you may be set for the rest of the day!

Adding a swimbait to the jig – at least to the two jigheads I will reference here – gives the bait a rolling, side-to-side action that only accentuates the pulsating throb of the paddletail.

Round-bodied swimbaits seem to produce a wider roll and may have more fish-attracting power in darker water. Slender, long swimbaits will also roll, but with a little more subtlety. Both styles catch fish – lots of ‘em!

I’ve thrown my 3/8-ounce swim jigs with trailer on baitcasting tackle and 14-pound fluorocarbon line. But I’ve also outfitted friends fishing spinning tackle with ¼-ounce jigs fished on 20-pound braid. Both work so far, but there’s plenty of fine-tuning to do.  I’ve noticed short hits come frequently on the paddletails!

The swim jig/swimbait combo works well on both big waters and knee-deep streams, as this Wisconsin stream smallmouth proves.

Choose your weapon

The tapered bullet heads of the swim jigs from Terminator and Warrior are similar (The Warrior has a slightly more slender head). At this stage in my swim jig experience, they are the jigs of choice for the swimbait matchup. They swim well, allow the tantalizing side-to-side movement that also produces a baitfish-type flash, and just plain feel right with the swimbaits — a trait that seems to help me dial in the correct speed of retrieve.

Terminator Swim Jig – Like all Terminator jigs, this one is balanced and handsome. Available in ¼- and 3/8-ounce sizes, its features include a 30-degree eye, super-sharp VMC hook,wire baitkeeper to hold your plastic trailer, and a Quickskirt skirt.

Warrior Swim Jig – Jonn Graham began hand-tying his own custom skirts on swim jigs shortly into his swim jig exploration. He and his father-in-law have built a cottage industry around the baits, marketing them under the name Warrior Jigs. (Contact jonn@campsmallmouth.com ; phone 309-399-7055 )

The mix and match possibilities of the swim jig and swimbait combo are endless, and SWF will share more of them as we experiment and talk to the pros. But, match the Terminator or Warrior swim jigs with one of the swimbaits below, and I’m betting you will take fish consistently on most lakes and streams.

New Product: Trigger X Slop Hopper, 4.5-inch –Cut off the head of this bait to secure a better fit on the jig. The slightly shortened body will also add to your hookup percentage. The rounded belly produces a wonderful roll. Be sure to thread the hook below the hook notch along the top of the bait or it will dangle. You may want to secure the bait to the hook with a drop or two of super glue, but, then again, you may want to continue to bite the bait down a little at a time to combat short hits. Still, the biggest fish are apt to come on that initial rigging.

New Product: Nories Spoon Tail Shad – This new slender-bodied swimbait has a transparent outer layer and an inner core of flashy plastic mylar which seems to give off scale-like flash. The gentle rolling action may be an advantage in clear or cold water situations – or in situations where the preferred forage is a long slender baitfish. The bait was created by the design team of Japanese bass legend Norio Tanabe. (See The Japanese Connection)

Big Hammer Swimbait –Jonn Graham mates the three- and four-inch Big Hammers with his Warrior Swim Jig, and that thick squaretail delivers a nice thump indeed. Fish will find it in darker water and in or near current.

The algae bloom on this small water was as thick as paint on this hot August morning. But largemouth gobbled the Terminator Swim Jig/Slop Hopper combo all day long.

Give the swim jig/swimbait combo a try. Remember that “swimming” is the name of the game. Save your “jig” moves for the barn dance!

We’ll cover some of the details of how we fished this combo in coming SWF posts and videos.

Get ready for the big bite!

One of the deadliest search bait combinations you can conjure is the swim jig/swimbait rig, which seems to appeal to black bass in rivers and lakes everywhere.

Jonn Graham conducts a one-day school on smallmouth bass called “Camp Smallmouth.” Contact jonn@campsmallmouth.com ; phone 309-399-7055 


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