Finally, the change of the seasons. Birds chirping and flowers blooming, but let's face it none of us care that much about that. What we do care about is the signs of spring and what's to come. While most anglers are stuck obsessed over bed fish, I'm chomping at the bit knowing the clouds of gills are coming out of the wood works to overpopulate the banks and make for quick snacks as bass lurk in the shadows. If you're still relatively new to swimbaits or are still struggling to find the confidence to throw them, this article is for you.
This is the beginning of the best time of year in my opinion. Forage is in abundance and gill hard baits are the name of the game. I get a lot of questions on how I throw gill baits. There are a lot of things that I like to key in on but it all starts with learning the baits that you chose to throw. There are so many options out there and it can start to become overwhelming when trying to make a decision. The best place to start is to simplify. Narrow down your options and learn those baits. Treat them as a tool. No bait is the same so spend the time to get to know what you’re throwing. See how the bait reacts at different speeds. Throw in the occasional twitch or burn the bait back to the boat. By doing this, you give yourself the best chance to possibly make that future follower commit. Sometimes a subtle twitch of the bait or change in cadence is all it takes to make that fish react.
The average angler sees a billed hard bait and assumes it’s a wake. In doing this, you aren’t seeing a bait for its full potential. Nine times out of ten I’m not fishing a gill bait on the surface. Most of my damage is done below the surface on the crank down. That being said, under certain circumstances I will creep a wake and that all depends on the situation. One of them is wind. If there’s wind, I won’t hesitate to fish it on top. That added disturbance is key. Rarely do I get them to eat a hard bait on top when its glass calm. I will also fish it on top around structure. This goes for both wakes and crank downs. Overhead cover can be one of the deadliest areas to fish gill baits. I like to look for wood, docks, lay downs, tullies, and last but not least is vegetation. Vegetation will always hold fish. Whether it is isolated weed patches or canopies, the grass will always supply not only clearer water but ambush points as well. I always incorporate a pause on my retrieve when fishing around cover. That pause is generally as close to cover as possible. My logic behind this is simple. The structure on that bank supplies a safety net for fish where they can wait for an easy meal to cross their path by using the least amount of energy especially when the water temps continue to rise. When you key in on these targets, take your time and make sure to position yourself to make the right cast. The less that fish sees the bait the better off you are.
Dissect an area or body of water. Find areas that supply flats with deep water access along with current. Current is probably the most important factor that I like to look for. It’s easy to get lost in backwaters and they will feed in those areas as well but I’ve found that the majority of my bites come close to current. The water doesn’t have to be rushing by any means but any sort of movement means that area isn’t stale. Some of the best areas to fish are what I consider the Holy Grail and those are current cuts on islands. These can produce everything you’re looking for in one location. Current cuts can be flat out deadly. On a tidal based fishery like the Delta, I always start on the side the water is being pulled through. These funnels act like buffet lines. Fish will set themselves up in the more obvious spots in these cuts. The first place I always like to cast around is the backsides of the cut mainly speaking of the two points it creates. These are perfect ambush points. Next I make a few casts through the cut itself. Generally if they aren’t in the cut itself they are close by. Islands tend to have multiple areas where the water funnels through so don’t hesitate to pick it apart.
Don’t be concerned with the size of the bait. If you’re struggling to get bit with swimbaits start with something small. Baits like the Whippersnapper are a great option. You will not only see more numbers with a bait like this but it doesn’t require a designated setup to throw it. Throw it like you would a square bill. Whether that’s burning banks or keying in on certain things I’ve discussed in the article, try to relate the bait more to conventional reaction baits. Toxic isn’t the only one who makes a smaller sized gill bait. Companies like Pizz Customs, Sly Guy, UFO, and Illude also make solids options. Size doesn’t change the way that I throw a gill bait but there can be benefits to the bigger profile. They tend to have a higher drawing power than the smaller counterpart. Big fish tend to not wanna waste their time with something small when it takes a lot more to fill up their gut. I tend to have both options on the deck of my boat from April all the way through September. The further we get into the post spawn and the warmer months the better the bite seems to get.
Too many anglers feel the need to use a broom stick with hard baits when in reality its actually the complete opposite. The only reason I feel this way is because I spent too much time trying to figure out what I was doing wrong when the hooks would pull out after a couple gnarly head shakes. By switching to a softer/moderate rod, I watched my hook up ratios sky rocket. You don’t need a rod that can throw a Volkswagen. A rod that is parabolic with a solid back bone will get you a lot further. I’m not talking about a noodle by any means but having a tip isn’t a bad thing at all as long as its parabolic. I can’t stress that enough. When throwing wakes and crank downs, I prefer to use a 6:1 reel. This allows me the opportunity to speed up or slow down at anytime. I don’t feel like I can speed up with a 5:1 or slow down with 7:1. The in between option helps keep the bait at the right speed which ultimately leads to more time in the strike zone. On smaller gill baits I throw 20 Lbs. Tactical Fluorocarbon and on bigger baits I step it up to 25 Lbs. Seagar inviz-X.
There are more ways than one to skin a cat but these are what’s worked for me. Gill hard baits are by far my favorite way of fishing swimbaits. Start by learning from a smaller profile and gradually work into the bigger baits. Confidence goes a long ways with fishing. Good luck out there and I hope this article helps get more fish in the boat.