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Feely fish theories and swimbaits


Here's a stupid fish theory for you: The "feel" of a lure can be just as important as its "look..."


July 01, 2019
We came up with this stupid fish theory long ago while trolling for salmon. Stupid fish theories, by the way, are things that anglers think up usually while waiting for fish to bite. There's no way for mere anglers or maybe even serious scientists to prove them. But we anglers create them to explain certain observations about fish behavior.

In the case of trolling for salmon, the "feely theory" explained why a spoon that fish had smacked so often that almost all of its paint was gone, still caught fish. It still continued to outperform all the nicely painted, new spoons of the same size and brand in your box. The theory goes on to say that all that red meat extending out from the salmon's lateral line is nerve tissue, making the side of the salmon one great big vibrational receptor. A salmon's side is like a radar dish, except it picks up vibrations from baitfish swimming. When you have that one odd spoon on a leadcore line out on a planer board speeding up and slowing down, at some point it emits a certain vibration that "feels" like what a salmon or steelhead has been eating and therefore provokes that fish to strike.

Does this theory hold water?

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Author shows an 18-inch largemouth that hit a 2 1/2-inch Slim SwimZ last fall on Morrow Pond near Kalamazoo.
Only the fish know for sure, and until we perfect the Vulcan mind meld, we'll never get our finned quarry to tell us.

But this "feely" theory seems applicable when casting to inland gamefish, too. Many hardcore bass anglers have that special flat tackle tray with a handful of crankbaits that ought to have their own armed guard. For some reason, that one plastic diving lure always gets strikes when others of the same make, size and color simply don't work as well. The effectiveness of spinnerbaits seems to support this feely theory, too. Those things with wavy tails of chartreuse, white and other colors and revolving, flashing blades don't look like anything that a fish normally eats, yet there are times when a spinnerbait works better than anything else. Perhaps fish hit it despite what it looks like because it feels so much like something the fish have eaten before.

The Finesse Connection

The question was on the Finesse News Network Facebook page: "If you were limited to one finesse bait, what would it be?"

The winner was the Z-Man 2 3/4-inch T.R.D. Those three letters officially stand for The Real Deal, but the story goes that the folks at Z-Man were calling the bait a turd. Place a green pumpkin T.R.D. next to goose poop and you'll see why.

No matter what it looks like, the T.R.D. is a great lure, but, it ranks second favorite as a finesse bait. My top choice is a small swimbait, and they are, in my opinion, the most indispensable soft plastic lure around. In the finesse world of lighter tackle and line, three swimbaits rank at the top: A 3-inch MinnowZ, a 3-inch Slim SwimZ and a Keitech 4-inch Swing Impact. The first two are Z-Man Products, made of the nearly indestructible Elaztech plastic; the Keitech is an import made by Keitech.

All three of these swimbaits have boot tails, and each of them can catch fish in a wide variety of situations—I firmly believe the action of the tail appeals to a fish's sense of feel. The MinnowZ and Slim SwimZ baits look more like natural baitfish, while the Keitech apparently gets bites thanks to its ringed body and the kind of vibration it gives off.

Small swimbaits are, arguably, the most versatile bait made. On an open-hook jighead, these baits can be hopped or dragged along the bottom like a Texas-rig worm, slow-rolled just above bottom like a spinnerbait or burned right on the surface like a buzzbait. Rig one weedless and drag it right through weeds. Put it as a trailer on a rubber-skirt jig and you create a swim jig that can be as effective when you drag it through lily pads as it is when you cast it to bass firing on minnows over deep, open water.

I've gathered a lot of anecdotal evidence to support the notion that bass anglers really ought to have a small swimnbait tied on one of their rods all the time.

I'm a slow learner, so it took me awhile to realize that in almost every kayak bass tournament in which I didn't embarrass myself, I caught at least one fish on a swimbait. Sometimes a swimbait caught all of my keepers.

And we're not just talking about bass. For some fun this fall, try a Keitech 4-inch Swing Impact on a 1/6-ounce ShroomZ head from Z-Man. This combo is heavy enough to throw on a medium-heavy baitcast combo and 10-pound test flurocarbon. Last October on Morrow Pond near Kalamazoo, I won a kayak pike tournament with a red ShroomZ and pearl-colored Keitech 4-inch Swing Impact. I measured pike of 25, 29 and 33 inches, and was the only contestant to catch three pike. The same lure also caught a 17 1/2-inch largemouth, which tied for big bass and won more cash. (Qualifier: Only six guys showed up to fish the Inaugural Mainstream Tackle & Outdoors Gator Grab. But I still won it and obviously still want to brag about it).

Anyway, that day it was a slow-roll kind of retrieve that scored with all those fish. I anchored my Old Town Predator PDL along the drop-off above the dam and just cast into about 16 feet of water, letting the lure sink all the way to the bottom, and then reeled just fast enough to stay above bottom. The pike and bass jumped all over it.

Both of these little swimbaits are great for snapping through weeds, too. In a late April tournament a couple of years ago on Kent Lake near Brighton I got 6th among 60-some anglers doing just that. I had a Bluegill Flash pattern Keitech on a 1/10-ounce ShroomZ head and set up on the shallow edge of a big weed bed. I could cast all the way across it into deeper water, and just swam the lure back fast enough to stay right at the top of the weeds, which weren't yet fully developed. When the lure snagged, I just popped it free—and several strikes occurred as the lure tore free from the green stuff.

Like many finesse-type lures, small swimbaits are no-brainer fish-catchers. You don't need to do anything fancy—just cast and reel or even cast out and troll them. One September evening while heading back to the ramp on Morrow Pond, I cast the smallest swimbait in my arsenal, a 2 1/2-inch Slim SwimZ on a 1/16-ounce tin-bismuth head from Jade's Jigs behind my Bonafide kayak and lazily paddled while chatting with my buddies. In about 10 minutes I caught an 11-inch crappie and an 18-inch largemouth.

If you're a fan of finesse but haven't spent much time with swimbaits, give them a try. You won't be disappointed.

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