By Jason Haberstoh
Soft plastic swimbaits have swelled in popularity over the past couple of decades. The pliable lures own realistic colors, movements and feel that appeal to fishes’ senses and fix their brains in a sort of hypnotic way.
With innumerable sizes, shapes and rigging options, swimbaits catch fish very well, which is the obvious reason for their increase in application wherever fish swim, including Pennsylvania waters.
Swimbaits are certainly a necessity in my tackle arsenal. I have a strange sense of obligation to use them every outing, I guess for the above-mentioned reasons. Their swimming action mesmerizes me as much as the fish I’m trying to catch. Just about every day on the water has me tossing one.
One of those days was a picturesque autumn day in the gorge of Pine Creek over a decade ago. Besides seeking my fill of the ambient beauty, I wanted my fill of battling smallmouth bass.
Swimbaits are a usual choice for smallies. However, the first fish to grab my little thumper in a deep run was a gorgeously colored, 16-inch rainbow, followed in five minutes by another trout of similar dimensions. As the day progressed, somehow trout became more interesting to me than smallmouths.
In seasons to follow, I found that swimbaits are solid trout catchers, especially hefty trout. The largest trout on my bragging resume came buttoned on a small swimbait from Loyalhanna Creek’s delayed harvest section.
Of all the fish swimbaits catch, I did not expect such productivity for trout given to persnickety moods. However, all fish are picky in some seasons and times. And, like other fish, at times, trout can be aggressive.
When minnows and other baitfish are plentiful and relatively easy to seize, trout vigorously eat them. Swimbaits then stand out as an excellent way to match the hatch.
To be specific, the swimbaits to which I am referring are generic, 2- and 3-inch paddle-tail versions. I typically use the 2-incher, unless fishing a section of stream that has a strong share of large fish, such as delayed harvest or trophy segments.
The rigging consists of simply threading the plastic onto an ⅛- to ¼-ounce jighead, depending on current and depth. Specific swimbait heads work well, except when an elevated current requires a bit different head.
Then, I utilize a type of tube jighead, cylindrical, with a 90-degree eyelet, which seems to balance the bait better in current, providing a true swimming action.
No swimming action occurs, though, if the bait is balled up. Soft plastics, including swimbaits, have the bad habit of frequently sliding down the hook. Terminal mending becomes an interminable chore.
One way to combat this problem is by choosing jigheads with double baitholder barbs, usually one on the front side, another on the back. This jighead feature assists in keeping a swimbait firmly in place, even after a few fish are caught.
It may seem obtrusive to plop down a ¼-ounce hunk of lead with accompanying plastic into a pool or run holding skittish trout. But, as anglers who use swimbaits know, the lure’s tendency is to swim high during the retrieve.
To keep them down, especially when cutting through any kind of moderate to swift current, that sort of weight is necessary. Besides, trout feeding on minnows are not tranquilly watching and waiting for a minuscule blue-wing olive to drift by.
In other words, a little splash and commotion is expected. Not that a trout will never spook from a clumsy cast, but that one might not hit a swimbait anyway. This presentation jibes with trout in a feisty mood.
There is a kind of beauty in catching trout in such an excited state. However, as I grow older, during October I care a bit less about the trout tally and much more about the surrounding brilliance.
That said, as all of those brightly colored beauties waft through the sky seeking to touch down and swirl through a creek in order to foil anglers’ plans, I sometimes really have to persuade myself of their splendor.
A single-hooked swimbait navigates fairly well through fallen, drifting leaves and can make seemingly unfishable zones at least possibilities.
Speaking of possibilities, one benefit of using a swimbait is its endless retrieval options.
A conventional, steady swimming retrieve works well in shallow runs and can produce in any trouty section, but the bait will remain rather shallow, which is fine even in deeper water if trout are feeding high.
Trout do seem to like that steady swimming/thumping action, as that of classic spinners and spoons. At times, some erratic stutters and jerks during the retrieve increases appeal.
In deep runs and pools, the slow-roll and swim-stop-swim approaches normally provide better styles. Both methods allow a swimbait to remain much deeper through the retrieve.
At a slow speed, supple swimbaits still vibrate and thump, albeit weaker, to remain natural looking. Trout may simply favor that lazy action at certain times. The representation of an easily caught meal is an instinctual trigger for opportunistic fish.
Swimbaits may not make the short list of trout anglers’ favorite lures, but autumn is an excellent time to try them for big, hungry trout.