Fishing Tips

‘Finesse Swim Baits’ Should Increase Your Summer Bass Catch

Posted 7/14/2015

For more than two decades, big eight-, 10-, and 12-inch trout-imitation lures known as ‘swim baits’ have enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for catching huge largemouths, especially in California where they originated. Now, however, a handful of anglers like Yamaha Pro Chris Zaldain have been equally successful using much smaller swim baits with light lines and spinning rods. 

“We call this presentation ‘finesse swim baiting’,” notes Zaldain, himself a Californian who grew up using the larger lures. 

“Finesse swim baits are only about three inches long, somewhat like a plastic grub, but they’re slimmer and extremely detailed like a larger swim bait, which is really important in clear water.

“Between late spring and early autumn, there are a lot of small baitfish in the water, and these lures look just like them. That’s why they’re so productive. The best ones also have swimming-type tails that create vibrations and make them even more appealing.”

As nearly all swim bait anglers have experienced, the larger lures attract a lot of bass that follow the baits but don’t strike. With smaller swim baits, however, fish seem to strike much faster. Zaldain believes this is because the three-inch swim baits are more subtle than the larger ones, and imitate the forage so well. 

“Although I have caught bass as heavy as seven pounds with these small lures, finesse swim baiting is not a technique for giant bass,” explains the Yamaha Pro. “Instead, I believe it’s a technique better suited for clear water during the hot summer, on lakes that receive heavy fishing pressure, or when bass are suspended and much less active. Traditionally, these are times and places where using smaller lures of any type often work better, and finesse swim baiting is another presentation to consider.”

Zaldain rigs his swim bait with a 1/8-ounce head, which is as detailed as the lure itself, and often features a small spinning propeller that increases water movement and vibration. He often fishes with 20-pound braided line with an added four- to five-foot leader of six- or eight-pound fluorocarbon. The limpness of the braided line allows for longer casts with such a light lure, while the fluorocarbon, practically invisible underwater, makes the lure itself appear to be swimming freely. Color-wise, he prefers white or pearl lures, with a slight hint of chartreuse if the water is cloudy.

“I fish these lures in the very same places I would fish a larger swim bait,” continues Zaldain, “and usually key on the most obvious types of structure or cover in a lake. My favorites are main lake points, but I won’t pass up isolated boat docks, bridge pilings, underwater humps, or even bluff walls if I find them. 


“The basic rule of thumb is to make long casts and let the swim bait sink just out of sight. Then, reel it back very slowly, letting it swim. This is the same way you fish the larger swim baits, and it’s easy to work these small lures as deep as 12 or 14 feet because all you’re doing is swimming them back to you. You’re not jerking your rod or trying to hit cover. You want the little swim bait to act just like a small shad moving through the water.”

One of the advantages Zaldain sees in finesse swim baiting over using the larger swim baits is that they catch bass on lakes throughout the country. As a Bassmaster® Elite angler, he’s used the technique successfully from Tennessee to Wisconsin to Texas. Bass have become accustomed to seeing larger jerkbaits, crankbaits, jigs and spinnerbaits, but thus far, they’ve seen very few finesse swimbaits.

“I think finesse swim baiting is a trend that will continue to grow as our lakes become more crowded and fishing pressure increases,” concludes the Yamaha Pro. “On clear water lakes, especially, these little swim baits may turn out to be one of the most effective lures we’ve seen in years.” Y