By Rob McComas
Learning about swimbaits and swimbait fishing was a tough road
for me. Before the days of Facebook, email, Southern Trout Eaters, and
even the www, (I know the www was around then but not for most of us),
I was learning thru a wide curve how to swimbait fish.
I had gotten hold of an A.C. Plug in the early nineties from a
local hardware store that sold them for Muskie fishing. With an old
school Quantum flippin’ reel and a 7’6” B.P.S. flippin’ stick, and 17
lb test Stren Easy Cast, I set out to see if the giant trout eating
fish that were being caught in California were inhabiting the very
similar waters here in the mountains of North and South Carolina.
After countless hours hauling water, I finally started putting
pieces of the puzzle together. From things like only taking one rod in
your boat, with only swimbaits tied on so you are not tempted to lay it down
for something else, to weather patterns, to times of year, and so
This grueling process I feel caused two negatives in my fishing.
One was being ultra secretive. I mean, give me a little sympathy, the
number of miserable days and cost of fuel I spent to learn to catch a
swimbait fish was something I was not going to give away so that
everybody and their brother could catch all my fish. I couldn’t just
watch Southern Trout Eaters, visit CalFishing.com, or email a friend and
expedite my learning process. I had been burnt by friends in other
types of fishing this way so it wasn’t going to happen this time.
The second negative was getting stuck in a rut. I had so much time
spent catching nothing, that when I finally got something going, and I
might add it was going very good, I was not going to change anything.
This worked for years, but finally newer and better baits, more
swimbaiters, and the education I had given the fish were catching up
to me, and the refusal to change was now keeping me from catching
The rut or ruts I was stuck in were many, so let me be brief and summarize:
Many of us develop ’milk runs” in our fishing. And although I
still have and use them, you can rely on them too much. I had got to
where I would fish my same spots from the same direction at the same
time of day. I feel this not only educates the big bruisers we pursue,
but it keeps us from thinking and observing.
I was amazed after my milk run had apparently dried up, that if I
fished the same spots from different angles or different times of the
day, that I was catching fish again. You’ll have a hard time
convincing me this type of rut fishing is not harmful.
I love to fish fronts, and I had done well fishing them. I think
fish operate much differently before a front. But that being said and
understood, there are fish to be caught between fronts. After all,
most folks can’t go fishing just whenever the conditions are perfect,
so learning how fish behave on those “less than perfect days” is a
I will still hold to the thought that I catch bigger fish when its
raining, snowing, windy etc, but there are still big fish to be
I despised sunny days, I would fish my milk run in the sun and
score a goose egg. I finally realized by seeing the changes the
conditions made that I needed to fish other areas on those bright
days, or change my retrieve.
Part of my front theory is lowlight, well if fish like low light I
needed to find it on a bluebird day. Its amazing at the “dark places”
that exist on a lake in the full sun. Besides the obvious docks and
shady coves, a small drop off can make quite the dark spot. A stump or
lay down will provide just enough dark to hold a fish. And a bluff
wall has jot outs in the rocks that fish can feel hidden in.
A small shade line of just 2-4 ft is plenty enough shade to hold
fish. And if you think of it in the right perspective, the sun that I
so dreaded seeing on water, is the very thing that “positions” the
fish on these areas. It can actually reduce the amount of water you
need to fish so you can focus on the key areas.
I made 2 changes in my technique that helped me along with the
changes mentioned below in the tackle segment.
One really bad habit I have had since I first started bass fishing
as a young teenager is setting the hook hard, and I mean ridiculously
hard. The men I learned to bass fish from were primarily worm
fishermen, and they took a great deal of pride on how hard they set
the hook. Well, I fell in line with that mindset, but with age (and
many lost big fish) came wisdom. After 25+ years of slamming it home,
it was hard for me to stop, but it was easy for me to start setting
the hook with a backhand hook set. I am left handed so instead of
setting the hook to my left, I now set across my right side which has
softened my hook set a lot, but not too much.
I decided to change my hookset after watching Matt Peters set the
hook. He honestly has the smoothest, most fluid hookset I have ever
seen, in person and on film. And since he had a very good bite/hookup
ratio I figured that might be for me.
I also started parallel fishing some. Now I am a firm believer in
fishing perpendicular to the bank, but there are situations that are
more efficient when fish parallel.
I feel like a lot of the fish in our deep mountain lakes are
suspended away from the banks a lot of times, and you can get these
fish by fishing perpendicular, but when the fish are keyed in tight to
cover, or hugging a shade line, paralleling is the way to go.
It is a new angle to present your bait, and a way to stay in the
strike zone a bit longer (you’ve heard that a 1,000 times) , and you
can also learn more about the cover/structure the fish are holding on,
this was a big big plus for me.
There is A LOT of equipment geared toward the ever growing swimbait following.The days of 7 ‘6” flippin’ sticks and 17lb Easy Cast
are gone, but I will add, to the dismay of some, that set up was
highly effective for some reason. Anyway, I progressed rapidly to
custom built rods and Muskie gear, much to the frowns of my swimbait
colleagues, but I wanted some serious horsepower. The custom built
Calstar 800L was a clydesdale among horses. The unbendable lower section
of this hybrid rod was a brute, and the flexible fiberglass tip gave
it enough flex to be fishable. Otherwise a pool stick would have been
about the same. The Calstar was my Hudd rod.
And the 8’6” Muskie crank bait rod I used for super long casts with
MS Slammers was no small toy. This bad boy would bomb the lighter Slammer
wood bait a mile, and cast it a good distance in the wind.
The “extras” that came with the rods had their side effects. These
rods were heavy. Fatigue will cause you to have poor rod position and
cause you to cut your day short. And after some health issues that
caused a lot of forearm and wrist pain, I had to concede and lighten
up. I switched to the much lighter Okuma big bait rods. And to be
honest, at first they felt like snoopy rods, and I had serious
reservations that these “ultra light rods” would be capable to handle
swim bait fishing. But after a fish or two, and being able to fish
correctly for a full day, I was glad for the change and have no
regrets. Now if you are the big bull in the pasture and can handle the
big stuff have at it, but for most folks you can get too big with your
equipment, causing adverse side effects.
Terminal tackle was another improvement. This was another hard
lesson. The number of good fish lost was ridiculous, and even though I
have still lost fish, the catch ratio jumped dramatically after I
started changing my stock hooks to Owner hooks. I’m talking a 70-80%
increase. There are times to save money, but hooks are not the place.
Sticky hooks will hold better, and get some of those curious
“nibblers” that otherwise would never be caught.
Line has been a real circus for me. After the end of the Easy Cast
era, crazy but that line would very rarely break for me, I went thru a
difficult search for the right line. Everyone would swear by such and
such, and it would end in broke fish for me. From 20-30 lb I broke on
a regular basis, till I finally started using Berkley big Game 30 lb.
in green, you know that really really cheap line that comes in big
spools, that I walked by because it didn’t cost enough or have the
right name. That line has proven great. The 25 lb I still broke but
the 30 is just right for me.
I guess the old saying that you are never too old to learn is
true, and even though it may be difficult, change can be a good thing.
I really feel like the changes I have made has improved my fishing. So
don’t get so set in your ways that you quit learning, fishing is ever
changing and you need to as well. And if you haven’t figured it out
yet, I got over the sharing information hurdle as well. RM