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Published Mar. 2, 2020

The swimbait “revolution” is well over a decade old, but outside of the West and in certain pockets of the South, everyday anglers are still trying to figure out how to integrate these proven largemouth bass lures into their game plans. A big part of the resistance seems to be the terminology. Each of us has a different idea of what the term “swimbait” actually means.

So, what is a swimbait? Well, it can be a lot of things. For instance:

  • A swimbait can be soft plastic or made of hard materials.
  • A swimbait can be as short as 2 inches or longer than a foot.
  • A swimbait can be floating, suspending, or sinking.
  • A swimbait can be made to swim or to glide.
  • And a swimbait can be made to replicate all sorts of easy meals—from shad to trout to rodents, and everything in between.

In other words: You can ignore bass anglers who claim that “swimbait” only refers to those 12-inch trout imitators that cost $300. Swimbaits, as you’ll see in the choices below, are available in a variety of sizes (and prices), and you should stock your tackle box full of them. Because come springtime, when bass are fat and hungry, a swimbait is the best lure you can cast to catch giant largemouths.

Here are the five best swimbaits to use this spring, plus some tips on how to fish them.

Best Swimbait for Beginners: Keitech Fat Swing Impact

The Fat Swing Impact has spawned a legion of imitators not only because it works, but because it works in so many different ways. This boot-tailed, ribbed soft plastic can be rigged on a weedless hook and dragged through or over vegetation, but it also excels on a ballhead jig or in multiples on the back of a castable umbrella rig. What makes the lure so effective is that it swims enticingly at any speed, and even when left to fall on a slack line it still undulates on the fall. Start with the 4.8-inch version, going up to 5.8 (or even 6.8) if you’re around big fish and big forage, or down to 2.8 if the fish are finicky.

Best Bargain Swimbait: Storm Wildeye Shad

For years, the guides of Mexico’s top trophy lakes have sworn by the Wildeye, which comes in clamshell packaging in small groups for a buck or two apiece. At that price you’re getting a bait that falls straight, swims true, and has a quality hook, but also one that you’re not afraid to throw in the gnarliest cover. Because they’re so wind-resistant and run straight, they’re also deadly on schooling fish in the middle water column.

Best Swimbait for Anglers Who Want Speed: Mike Bucca Bull Shad

Even some of the most expensive hard swimbaits will blow out on a warp-speed retrieve, but Bucca’s jointed Bull Shad (available in sizes as small as 3 inches and up to 9 inches) is made to swim true at any speed. Nothing looks more like an injured threadfin or gizzard shad than this lure, and while you can get custom-painted models, the rougher looking bone or shad paint jobs straight from the factory are proven giant killers. The Bull Shad comes in floating, slow sinking, and fast sinking models.

Best Glide Bait Swimbait (That’s Easy to Fish): Storm Arashi Glide Bait

In the hands of a highly skilled bass angler, traditional single-jointed glide baits can be made to dance. But if you’re new to this style of swimbait, it can be difficult to if you’re fishing them correctly. Enter Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk, who worked with Storm to develop a 7.5-inch glider that offers a wide glide with just simple turns of the handle. From there, you can experiment with retrieves until you have more dance moves, with an assurance that anyone can make it work right out of the package.

Best Swimbait for Explosive Strikes: SPRO BBZ Rat

If you think that the bass on your home waters only feed on bluegills, shad, perch, and trout, well, you’re probably right. Still, even if the fish have never seen a rodent swimming across the water, the rat may be too much to resist. Retrieved slowly, the SPRO BBZ Rat swims in an “S” and makes a nails-across-the-chalkboard clacking sound. The 50 size, which has 5.25 inches of body and nearly another 5 inches of tail, might be too big for your local bass, but you’d be surprised at how often even 2-pounders will smoke this easy meal. The 25, 30, and 40 sizes are more appropriately sized lures—but err on the bigger size with this lure. The topwater strikes are unforgettable.

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