If you haven’t tied on a swimbait hook in your pursuit of trout, then allow me to try and convince you to start. Swimbaits paired with EWG (Extra Wide Gap)-style hooks and screw locks are quickly becoming one of my go-to techniques. This style of fishing, time and time again, has proven its worth especially in areas with structure and heavily pressured or finicky trout—to be more specific, big trout. I’m not going to go into great detail on what draws big trout because that’s not the scope of this post. However, I will say it often involves structure or foliage that results in our lures looking like a mangled mess, or worse, not returning back to us at all.
So with the stage set let's look at some of the benefits of fishing weedless swimbaits for big speckled trout.
WHY SHOULD I FISH THEM?
Jerkbaits paired with the right swimbait hook are weedless, or more relevant to us inshore guys, they’re rockless, oysterless, rebarless, sunken shrimp boatless etc… A key feature is the fact that I can work the bait relative to the condition and mood of the trout. By adopting different cadences and varying size belly weights, the entire water column can be explored in an area that is littered with structure. While it is true that structure naturally attracts bait, it also provides cover and ambush points for trout.
For example, in my fishery of South Mississippi, I fish a lot of submerged bars made up of crushed and large rock. As water levels vary based on tidal conditions and range, I've found that weedless swimbaits often out produce a lot of our "conventional" tackle. One particular instance the fish told me they wanted the bait bounced off the bottom. Previous times where I would've been apprehensive about fishing confidently in this structure, I found this time that slow-rolling it was best. I also don't mean slow rolling it in the column, I mean "slow rolling" it to where the belly weight drags on the rock (maybe producing noise, stirring up bottom dust or a myriad of other things). The fish in this particular instance were staged just on an adjacent drop off and with the bait so close to the bottom, when it fell of the ledge it was to much for them to withstand.
Although Mississippi is different from a lot of other trout fishing estuaries, this particular instance serves as a stark reminder that going weedless could be the difference between success or failure.
NOTHING NEW HERE EXCEPT A BETTER UNDERSTANDING
One thing's for certain this technique and bait choice is not reinventing the wheel on how to work a lure in the presence of fish. However, for us trying to add a valuable technique to an inshore anglers repertoire, it allows you the option to work an area freely without being limited to the top half of the water column because of your concern with getting snagged.
One of the most prominent places I find this especially effective is if I'm fishing grass or vegetation. Often times, anglers don't want to embrace the pain of fishing grass because of the work that will ensue fishing a top hook open style jig. Nature tells us otherwise. Forage of all kinds typically use this structure to traverse the dangerous waterways in hopes to avoid trout and other large predators. So by shifting to a weedless jerkbait/swimbait your getting as natural of a presentation as possible. My encouragement to you is to fish THROUGH the grass, not ABOVE it. This can be employed in a variety of methods whether it's bounced, twitched or a straight retrieve, pending the decision you make as to which swimbait hook you choose.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT WEEDLESS SWIMBAIT HOOK & SOFT PLASTIC
There are many benefits to fishing weedless swimbaits as we already discussed. Having said that, one of the most overlooked is how choosing the right hook allows your bait to rest in the water. The position of the belly weight allows for a more horizontal descent, especially when using paddle tails. Jerk shads, however, have more versatility on a weedless swimbait hook. They cut through the water and turn easily, as opposed to a conventional jig head. More often than not, you can typically "walk the dog" with most 5” jerk shads, depending on the cadence you choose. This is typically one of my go-to methods, when fishing aggressive or an area with a lot of baitfish present.
No doubt, there are a lot of options for types and variations of swimbaits on the market. They are designed to achieve different elements whether it be appearance, action or profile, but what really attracts me to this style of bait was the swimbait hook itself. Let's take a look at some swimbait hook specifics.
As far as different types of swimbait hooks, I lean toward 3/0 and 5/0 depending on the thickness of the bait. In regards to weight, I prefer 1/16oz but conditions may require me to go to an 1/8oz. I would venture to say that I’d be confident with using 1/8 oz. in up to 10 feet of water, but know that I'm typically fishing 5' or less.
Regarding brands and styles of plastics, I've tried a lot of different baits and had success with most, but if you looked in my tackle box you would find the following:
All of these baits offer something the others don’t which is why I like having all of them. Some sink slower, some have more tail action some jerk and flip in the water, etc... As an angler it is important for me to not only fish smart, but be creative as well. The pursuit and process to uncover what combination will produce a bite is what drives me to become a more complete angler, and weedless jerkbaits are a part of that journey.
THEY WORK FOR THIS MISSISSIPPI BOY, SO WHY NOT YOU?
As mentioned, Mississippi has a very small coastline but it offers unlimited options. From the same launch site, I can either fish up the rivers targeting bars and ledges in the turns and bayous or run out to the barrier islands and fish crystal clear water over lush grass flats. My point to you is somewhere in between a correlation can be made to your homewaters. For me, learning and refining my weedless swimbait arsenal has made me a more complete angler and I would venture to say it would do the same for you. So next time you're fishing your area, target heavy structure or grass and go through not above it!
Hope all is well!