Weedless Saltwater Swimbaits

Solid Mexican Calico Bass on the MC Swimbaits Viejo weedless swimmer. Kelp colored bass and bait.

Cover shot!

Fishing the kelp in the saltwater, is a lot like fishing massive grass beds like you’d find in Franks Tract at low tide, or Lake Seminole or Okeechobee.  Your bait often comes out of the water, and you need to be prepared to drop it into holes and gaps.  Expect it.  Expect a fish ‘tracking’ your bait while its out of the water.  You need to choose your casts wisely.  Choose good swim lanes where you get  to run your bait thru juicy spots and long pools of water.  The guy who can cast the furthest, is off the front of the boat, and covers the most water with the best presentation will catch the fish.   Be ready, followers abound, and they tend to be big or bigger or way bigger, depending.  Your fishing partner needs to be on their toes when you hook one.  There’s usually more calicos around than the hooked one who are fired up and will bite.  

Weedless Saltwater Swimbaits are great for the saltwater kelp or any vegetation I suppose in salt or brackish water.   Also, if you’re hunting a big one a grass lake in the freshwater. I have to say, the boot tailed/paddle tailed/cut tailed swimmers, that are long and slender get bit really well.  You might give the 3-5-7 pounders a different look with the following couple?  

Split Belly

The following two baits both have a split belly.  Split belly baits are synonymous with weedless swimbaits.  It helps hide/hold the hook and make the bait more low profile and less likely to snag.  The beauty of things like the Weighted Owner Beast Hooks, 10/0 is a good choice w 1/2 oz, because it fits a lot of swimbaits with split bellys really well. 

 

MC Swimbaits Inshore Weedless swimbait

Kevin and everyone I know that fishes the MC Swimbaits refers to Corey.  Corey Sanden is the guy behind MC Swimbaits.  He is credited with many innovations, baits, and developments in the world of saltwater bass fishing.  The heavy floro leader attached to braid, for example, I believe Corey is credited with. The only downside of braid is that sharp teeth will cut it.  Calico Bass have sharp teeth, so do the 10+ pound largemouth bass and trophy spotted/smallmouth bass.  You can cut braid on a bass’s teeth, if they inhale/choke your bait deep enough.   Many calico bass have been lost by the braid cutting against the fish’s teeth, hence the 12″ floro leader of 50 or 60# 100% floro.  Corey is in a position to design weedless baits and make modifications from a place of authority.  

Long, skinny, split belly and sorta penny colored is always good for calicos 

Magnum calico choked the MC Inshore swimmer

Kevin fishes Corey’s MC Inshore Swimbaits exclusively. I have now fished it quite a bit too.  Great running and fishing bait.  Pairs up nicely with the Owner and Trokar weighted swimbait hooks out there. Kevin does a lot of damage, and is all about the tons of MC Swimbaits plastic Kevin carries around.   Slender profile, yet beefy, nice little boot tail.  Great colors and offerings.  Very resilient and will last multiple fishes.  Catches big ones.   The split belly helps make it hold and rig on a screw lock style hook really well.

 

I love trying new baits, other peoples’ gear, new gear, new setups. Believe me, I wanted to fish one of Kevin’s MC Swimbaits to get a feel for them. Yeah, they work! Daiwa Tatula HDs are a great wider than normal/bigger spool bass reel, built w saltwater grade components. Casts a frickin mile reel.

Shellback Customs Swimbaits

Chad Yates came onto the weedless swimbait scene with his Shellback Customs series of swimmers.   His bait is fatter/wider than the other weedless baits.  It has the largest profile, and a large paddle tail.   The Shellback Customs baits have a really neat slender profile in the water.  They have a really tight body movement yet, loud, obnoxious and vibrant tail doing some good thumping and displacing mad water. 

Shellback Custom Swimbaits in a safety / garibaldi orange

 

 

Extremely resilient bait

Check out Chad and his baits on Instagram: http://instagram.com/shellback_custom_swimbaits

 

Kelp burying fools

Saltwater Grade Spinnerbaits for Calico Bass

Not a giant fish, but I don’t get tired of ‘keeper’ sized bass of any flavor. Daiwa Tatula HD reels, 65# Braid, and Low Down Customs 8 footer.  Times they are a changin’. 

 

My longtime friend Brett Woodward, from Dana Point, who now lives in Laguna Niguel, gave me my first calico bass exposure.  Brett is a really good hook and lethal as a team partner.  Brett got me hooked on slow rolling spinnerbaits in the kelp for calico bass well over a decade ago now, from his Boston Whaler. 

Kelp = Hard Grass

If you’ve never felt or touched Pacific Ocean kelp, you may not know its super hard.  Hard grass, like the good kind of hydrilla you look for on Okeechobee or Seminole.  Hard grass means your bait doesn’t muck up in it while fishing.  Hard grass means really fishable grass.  Hard grass means it’s healthy and likely has an entire ecosystem of life living under/within it.  

Box O Saltwater Grade Spinnerbaits

Spinnerbaits are really ‘old school’ in the freshwater bass world, especially over grass.  Spinnerbaits are weedless and fish really well in the grass, and do a great job of creating a bait ball/chaser rig.  It makes a ton of sense to fish them in the kelp.  I am sure lots of guys are throwing swimbaits in the kelp, including myself.  I feel like the spinnerbait is a go-to to ‘catch a fish’ and see if any little calico bass are around or sorta see how aggressive the fish are.  

I am new to calico bass fishing.  I love to throw weedless swimbaits.  Believe me.  Braided line, Owner screw lock hooks, and weedless paddle/boot tailed swimmers are key part of my progression as a fisherman, swimming bait fisherman.   However, the spinnerbait gets down and can be slow rolled.  It get’s in the funky zone where you lose visibility, where there are deep shade pockets created by the kelp stringers.  Calico bass are aggressive and bold, but they aren’t dumb.  They have been picked over pretty good around Dana Point area, but it’s still really fun fishing.  You have to work hard for smaller fish I feel like than 10-15 years ago, but then again, what place gets better over time?  

Here are some thoughts on spinnerbaits I carry for saltwater bass fishing:  

WarBaits Spinnerbait HD 1 oz

I like all things WarBaits.  They have a no-nonsense 1 oz spinnerbait that keeps it simple, keeps it heavy duty, and has one heck of an Owner Hook that dwarfs most spinnerbait hooks.  The colors and durability are awesome and the baits will catch ‘many’ fishes before the wire and bait become useless.  Highly recommend them.  Here is a link to an Instagram video I made fishing the Warbaits HD 1 oz Spinnerbait somewhere near Trestles:  https://instagram.com/p/BRlhPf4B91e/

Nichols Pulsator Depth Finder Spinnerbait

Nichols is a favorite of mine. I’ve caught many spinnerbaits fish on Nichols bass. I love their colors, painted blades and fishability of the double willow spinnerbaits they make.  I realized they make a 1 oz version, made with heavy wire, dubbed the Nichols Pulsator Depth Finder.  Nice and compact, nice hook, but nowhere near the Owner hook on the Warbaits HD Spinnerbait.   Really cool color combinations and a good choice of 1 oz weights. 

The Warbaits Spinnerbait HD 1 oz come with a big and stout 10/0 and 3X Strong Owner hook. The hook is ‘significantly’ beefier gauge and reaches way further back than any other spinnerbaits I own. Beast of a hook on a beast of a spinnerbait.

Blade Runner 1.5 oz

I have fished the Blade Runner 1.5 and it definitely is heavy duty and the flat sided nature of the bait make it keel very well.  Keels tend to work well or work against you.  I find this 1.5 oz bait is really easy to throw and I liked having the turtle shell/willow combination.  Heavy duty Wire too. 

Blade Runner Guppy Spinnerbait 2.5 oz  

Maybe the guys wanted to build a better mouse-trap?  I just noticed Blade Runner makes a 2.5 oz spinnerbait now?  Check out the Guppy.  It says flat bottom, so maybe this bait has less keel and is even more a deep creeping thumper.  Will get some and advise. 

Revenge Heavy Duty Spinnerbaits

Revenge makes really good baits in general.  They have all kinds of spinnerbaits.  They make a heavy duty and a deep runner that are saltwater worthy.  I find the Heavy Duty have heavier wire and are more geared to salt than the deep runners.  I have always liked the way Revenge distributes the weight of the spinnerbait into the body shape of spinnerbait.  Most spinnerbaits are all head.  Revenge has a good sized body and is a compact bait.  I like gold shiner color! 

Notice the body resembles a baitfish and the weight is distributed to more than just the head of the spinnerbait

 

 

 

 

Saltwater Bass and Cut Tailed Triple Trouts

Saltwater bass fishing is really similar to freshwater bass fishing.  I’m getting better at using weedless swimbaits, hardbaits, and lead head/big swim jigs to probe the depths.  I have spinnerbaits and jerkbaits in my game.   You rarely fish super shallow, for any period of time, but if you are fishing shallow, you’re likely looking over your shoulder for a wave.  Boiler rocks, crashing waves, beds of kelp—these are where big calico bass live.  

I had the chance to fish some water near the Mexico/US Border with Kevin Mattson.  We took his boat and he got us around fish, and did the heavy lifting.  Great trip.  Here are some highlights and things I’m confident to share: 

Cut Tailed Triple Trout

If I wasn’t so dumb, I would have picked one of these up sooner and committed to it.  The cut tailed Triple Trout floats, which means it can be fished extremely slow.  Much slower with the an awesome waking action you only get when you burn the standard Triple Trout.  You get a great wake at a much slower speed, is the net net.  You can ‘stall’ it around the sweet spots and let the bait dead stick a little to draw a bite.  Very ideal for grass fishing and a little theory of fishing truth I like to call ‘rate of stall’.  You can fish the Cut Tail Triple Trout around grass pockets, laydowns, big shade spots—-and really milk the spot.  You spend a lot of time with your Triple Trout  making killer S Turn surface wakes vs. burning it for 3-5 feet before it gets waking on the surface.  And it fishes much slower and can be twitched/jerked.  I am getting blown up on calico bass in the kelp around Dana Point, and recently smashed some good ones with Kevin: 

The Cut Tailed Triple Trout comes in a few sizes.  I like the 8″ and the 10″ Models. I have a couple of sweet ones Scott has made me.  You can get them at Tackle Warehouse or you can order them directly from Scott’s website:  www.tripletrout.com   They have a similar, yet slightly looser action.  More joints = more clack and more foldability of the bait.  The tail is really lazy and whips around nicely.  

I fished mine on 80# PowerPro and upgraded my hooks to Owner ST-66 Trebles, and Owner Hyper Wire Split rings.  I direct tied my 80# Braid and always use Fitzgerald Braided Line Paint.  I have been fishing the Cut Tail on a Daiwa Lexa HD 300.  I am exploring a bunch of low profile saltwater grade bass reels.  I’ll do a review on them at some point.  The Lexa is good, but I’ve blown it up a couple times.  I have to admit, being a back seater cramps my bigbait lobbing style.   I have the 8:1 which makes it fish fast, but you lose that torque and low end.   If you are good with your rod and have the drop on the fish, you can make it all work, but I wonder if I’m setting myself up for disaster on a really big calico bite or one that gets me out of position.  Too fast of gear ratio and big fish that live around heavy cover can spell disaster.  That is what makes bass fishing fun, a lot of times.  Fishing around visible structure, and literally, yanking them out from their ambush spots.  Calico bass are no different. 

 

We threw the 8″ standard Triple Trouts and caught some fish, but the better quality, and most action was on the Cut Tail. 

 

The ROF 0

Perhaps video is better than words, pictures and blog posts.  I find the STE Rig, matches up with the ROF 0 quite well.   The ROF 0 is really misunderstood.

 

2016 WON BASS US Open Recap

instagram-triple-trout-mead

You have to understand, I haven’t been on Lake Mead since 2002 (ish).  The very last time I fished it as a Non Boater for a BassMaster in the early 2000s!  Crazy.  I used to hit Mead hard with my traveling partner, Dan Frazier, when I was in college from 1996-1999.   Back then, Lake Mead was a largemouth bass only fishery.  Now, smallmouth are the dominant fish, and there is grass.  Great grass, in Lake Mead.  I was super pumped when I heard there was grass.   I love grass fishing and honestly, the US Open was a really good excuse to take a vacation from my software gig, and get my fishing hat back on.

temple-bar-grass

 

I worked out a deal with Kevin Mattson from San Diego to join me for practice and the tournament.  Kevin is a really really good fisherman, and the guy you want onboard whether you are fishing for largemouths or tuna fishes.  I spent a lot of time leading up to the tournament getting the boat ready for action.   I needed to get my fishing gear in order too.  That was a really lengthy process I’m still trying to sort out.  I don’t have a garage, so my apartment becomes a tackle shop in a hurry.   Bottom line, I just invested in a bunch of new equipment.  I bought a bunch of Daiwa, Quantum and Lew’s reels….the kind that can handle saltwater.  I feel like it’s wise for me to be buying stuff that will serve salt and fresh purposes for the future.   Reels are now 8:1 or >7:1 anyway.  I realize you trade torque and ability to move big fish with faster gear ratios…..however, there are many more GOOD reasons why faster gear ratios are better.  Especially if you are a power fisherman.  Especially if you like to fish Triple Trouts, buzz baits, spinnerbaits, walkin’ baits….heck, even worm and jig fishing requires fast gear ratios for better line pickup and catching up with fish who run at you.  mattson-mead-grass-lake

 

mattson-triple-trout-meadI’m stuck in an old school world of rods and reels.  I literally have 20+ Shimano Curado 200s.   They are cool, but sorta all 6.3:1 and just sorta blah.  I will use some for cranking, but other than that, my fishing is all around >7:1 gear ratios.  It just works and fishes better.  Lake Mead is a great place to test things like gear ratio, rod length, braided line, casting distance, ability to cover water, ability to hook fish way away from the boat, and ability to power fish.   Besides investing in a bunch of new reels, I’ve been investing in rods too.  Daiwa makes some really inexpensive swimbait rods, so does Okuma.  I like having a quiver of light action 8 footers.  I want to have light action 8 footers and fast reels for the majority of my fishing, I’ve decided.    And on the spinning rod front, more like 7 and a half foot spinning rods, with new, faster pickup gear ratios, saltwater grade spinning reels.

lake-mead-hackstacks-champion-boat

Storage:

I spent a ton of time trying to get my tackle organized.  I have lots of stuff, and it sorta is either big or small.  And soon, will be salt vs. fresh too.   So, trying to get my fishing gear better organized and ready for action was another derivative of the US Open exercise.   I have to say, I’m impressed thus far with the Flambeau boxes.  I’m a big fan of the zerust idea.  Rusty hooks and terminal tackle are the worst.   I bought a bunch of boxes to get organized and containerized.   You have to be able to grab your ‘drop shot box’ or your wacky box or your treble hooks, etc.   The good news continues to be how much space I’m saving by putting stuff into real tackle boxes and getting it out of the OEM packaging and having it in large boxes in closets.   Consolidation and organization.

wrecked-house-us-open

triple-trout-soul-box

The Tournament

Kevin and I won the practice, hands down.  We had a wonderful 5 day practice, a decent hotel (thank you Boulder Station Casino) with excellent security and plug-ins, and great weather.   We fished, we took pictures, we hiked, we swam, we made food, enjoyed icy cold beverages and generally put things together.    The fish were in pockets, grassy pockets.  The kind you can find by driving down the lake and looking for green bushes and trees.  You could literally cover water and get a good feel for the grass and the pockets via the shoreline ‘green’.    We were not the only folks who found these fish, and they got pounded.    Kevin is not a drop shot/slow down sorta fisherman.   So, power fishing it was to be.  Topwater, jerkbaits, and the Triple Trout was our practice.   Over the grass, along the grass, on the deep edges of grass, or all the way in the back of pockets.

mattson-balisong-smallie-mead

 

kevin-mattson-lake-mead-us-open-2016-deps-balisongmorning-dawn-triple-trout

Sunday, 9/11, was our day off and pre-tournament meeting.  That was when the wind first started blowing.  It blew a good 15-20 MPH on Sunday before the event.  Monday, Day 1 of the event, we had 15-20 MPH winds too.  The upwelling cooled the surface temps.  Things changed badly for me.  My areas were getting directly hit by wind, and the water temps were dropping …..two things that usually re-position fish.  Not good.  Day 2, we had literally 30-40 MPH winds.  I actually had my best day, but it was the worst conditions ever.  No clue why they bit for me on Day 2, but my practice was sorta de-railed by the wind.  I did my best to adjust, but boy, Mead kicked my butt.  Day 3, things calmed down much more, but man, I couldn’t make a good decision or get a bite or anything going.  It was awful.

lews-inshore-reel-triple-trout-quantum-smoke-8-1

quantum-spinning-reel

grass-mead-miners

Lake Mead and the US Open were a proving ground for me.   I have this strange itch to take my fishing into the saltwater.  The freshwater fishing around Southern California, is a bit fickle.  Not lots of water and options. I have bay and calico bass on my mind, honestly.  I feel like all my setups need to be ‘saltwater grade’ so to speak.  All my gear needs to be ‘saltwater’ grade.  If things are saltwater grade, you can take them to the ocean without fear.  There is a an explosion of inshore fishing around me, and its effecting how I approach gear I’ll use in freshwater.   Here were some new setups:

  • Quantum Smoke 100 Inshore PT Casting Reels – Fast 8:1.  I’m all about fast reels lately.  I know some big fishes gonna kick my butt, but yeah, I like fast reels.  Add a small spool, saltwater ready, braid ready reels that performed and fished really well.  Hello Bay Bass.  Hello Calicos. Hello Largies and Smallies.  Burning 5 & 6″ Triple Trouts.  Buzz Baits, Spinner crickets, swim jigs, swim worms,  and a whole bunch of swimbaits.   The Quantum 100s kicked butt.  They aren’t the super casters I found the Lews to be, but man, I really like how smooth and consistent they were.  I fished in the a lot of wind and the did great with braid.  I can see myself fishing lots of Quantum and Lews reels in my fresh and salt approaches.
  • Lew’s Speed Spool Inshore LFS MCS Casting Reels – Not quite 8:1, but a great value reel at $129 and again, saltwater ready.  These Lews are really impressive.  I’m like whoa this things cast a mile.  Very smooth.  Flat out get it done.  Amazing value and functionality for my quiver.
  • Daiwa Tatula Type-HD Casting Reels:  TWS T-Wing System is killer.  Way long casting reels.  Lots of room on the spool.  7.3:1 and definitely geared for inshore fishing.
  • Daiwa Lexa 300 HD Casting Reel – Big ole knob, sweet saltwater grade reel, made for power fishing.  8:1
  • 30-40-50# PowerPro – whatever your braid of choice, just trust me, throw braid, smaller diameters rock for small Triple Trouts
  • KVD Mustad Short Shank Triple Grip Treble Hooks– You can quite simply fish a bigger hook and don’t have to worry about the hook getting fouled around the tail section of the Triple Trout.  Very simple yet effective solution to a pain point we have all experienced with Triple Trouts and fouling.  Braid ready too. Strong little hooks with sharp points and small barbs.  I mean, KVD style.
  • 5″ Triple Trout – I love me some 5″ Triple Trouts.  These things are beautiful.  They match the hatch of smaller baitfish, and when you see it swim on a good grind, you will be impressed.   Scott is selling these things off his website, and I have to say, the Morning Dawn, the Chartreuse Bass, and Bubble Gum Bass look really good on this size bait.  Candy bars.
  • 6″ Heavy Triple Trouts –  Heavy Triple Trouts, that have and “H” or perhaps a 1/8 or some other form of weighting system stamped on the head, are good for burning.  The smaller Triple Trouts will blow out if they aren’t weighted, at super high speeds.  Blowing out or slip/skipping across the face of windy or wakey surfaces, is not usually bueno. You cannot get the bait to swim. The Heavies fix that problem.  You can burn your 8:1 reel and keep the bait in the water, down an inch or two.  You can fish windier, more blown out stuff, you can fish wavey/wakey water that otherwise would be hard to burn a Triple Trout in.  Spinnerbait roughness.   Really impressed with the Heavy 6″ Triple Trouts and the swim.  It’s going to tear up Desert Lake fish for me, and salty bass too.   I am secretly planning a trip to Lake Havasu sometime this Fall/Winter.  Get out to TripleTrout.com and get some 6″ Heavies for your game.  The heavies don’t stall and have the radical kicks, but they are good enough, definitely meant to keep moving and make our pauses be really brief and understated.
  • The Deps Balisong  130 – Kevin will be annoyed I even am mentioning this.  There is this company called Deps.  They make the Slide Swimmer and some really killer & innovative baits.  The Balisong is a jerkbait you need to ‘explore’.  This thing is a 130, so it’s big.  It casts like a bullet at 7/8 oz and brother, let me tell you….this is a deep running, walky walky walk stall bait, if there ever was one.  Definitely a suspending jerkbait.  Very deep runner and very good suspender.  Owner ST36 trebles, and a knocker that well, they haven’t heard.  Clank clank clankity clank as this thing is walking and stalling and dying down 8-12 feeet.  Loud knocker.  Very vocal jerkbait. 12# mono. The only non braid setup we fished.  The Bali Bali Bali—–Song as it became known in the boat, straight wacked fishes of all shapes, colors and sizes.   Mono is good to stretch and give great action to the Balisong.  7 foot Heavy rod.  Jerkbaits, are one of those baits that catches fish in really tough conditions, and triggers strikes in really good conditions, easily.  Great lure for bass.
  • Walking baits – Bone White Super Spooks, duh.  Vixens, duh.   But whatever secret tricky walking baits you have, they eat them good on Mead.  The problem is you catch 10-15 stripers in an area looking for a largie or smallie.  The stripers eat all your lures, but the walking baits are particular favorites.  There are usually bass mixed in or nearby.  But man, we caught the beegeezus out of stripers on Mead.  In practice and tournament days.

 

Super Bummed I couldn’t the bite I wanted going, and my fallback positions sucked.  I thought I could fish the narrows and catch easy limits. I caught fish, but man, I struggled to catch 13″ fish.  Sad.   Not much else to reflect on.   Boat ran great.  That is a whole other story. I’m ready to upgrade into a saltwater rig already!  I have a super sick box of Micro Triple Trouts I’m looking forward to getting around some active fishes that will chase a swimbait down.  Bay, Calico or Havasu Smallmouth….one of these days.  San Vicente opened and apparently they are all 50+ feet!?!?!?!  Whatever.  Go West Young Man!