Everyone knows, the larger the lure the larger the catch. In the past few years, this rule has swirled out of control as anglers use ridiculously huge lures to score crazy big bass. Swimbaits up to 14 inches long, shaped and painted to match a real fish with a jointed body for lifelike action, come with a big price tag. But tournament anglers and trophy hunters are lining up to pay up.
By most accounts, the trend started in Japan and quickly spread to North America. Competitive anglers learned they could weed out smaller fish, and focus on lunkers, by throwing 8-to 12-inch swimbaits. The tactic is most popular on California lakes where double-digit largemouth feed on full-grown trout.
Andy Logan has been using large swimbaits to win tournaments since the trend made a splash earlier in the century.
“We haven’t discovered what is too big, yet,” he marvels. As a long-time tournament angler, Logan has seen swimbaits up to 14 inches produce winning bass.
“I guarantee 60 to 70 percent of California tournaments are won on large swimbaits.”
Andy Logan is also general manager at River2Sea, one of the biggest, big bait designers. Recently, River2Sea introduced the eight-inch, S-Waver 200, their largest swimbait.
“Sales have been good because it catches big fish,” he says.
It’s no wonder why anglers are fishing with larger lures. As more anglers post photos of big bass on big lures, Logan can track the trend as it moves across the country. “We’re seeing anglers in Florida and Texas using these baits,” he says.
These infamous lunker locations are a prime testing ground for big lures, but anglers in other locations are experimenting with mega swimbaits and soft plastics, too.
Logan explains building a large lure requires hours of trial and error. Shave a millimeter here, add a gram there, designers carve and weight the lure to swim like real fish. “Hook size and placement is critical,” Logan adds.
The time and mental energy comes at a cost. River2Sea’s most expensive S-Waver costs almost $50, custom-built swimbaits from small lure designers can set you back hundreds of dollars.
Logan points out investing in a big lure requires an angler to add special reels and rods to cast and retrieve large lures.
“The trend has extended to tackle manufactures who are designing longer, heavier rods and more powerful reels to handle monster baits,” he adds.
The average bass tackle can’t handle the pressure and weight of a 14-inch swimbait.
Kayak anglers will want to add a stakeout pole or anchor trolley to their kayak, retrieving the large lure will drag the kayak. For the best lure action, the kayak should remain stationary.
Before major manufacturers like River2Sea jumped on the largelure boat, designing and carving big swimbaits was the territory of custom lure makers.
Don Burnside has been painting custom swimbaits out of Olivet, Michigan for three years. Burn Custom Baits biggest swimbait is nine inches long, on the short side of the large lure continuum. “People quickly realize it takes stamina to work a big bait all day,” Burnside jokes.
“Designing these lures is an art,” Burnside says. Getting the lure to swim with an erratic action mimics a real fish takes years of experience. Then, adding realistic colors and patterns capable of surviving the abuse takes a painter’s touch. “There are a ton of great lures on the market,” he says, pointing to hand-carved lures so realistic they include individual scales and color combinations matching specific baitfish in a specific lake. Burnside expects to see more lures designed for special applications.
Burnside says, “The big bait trend is running its course.”
Initially, anglers bought up big baits in hopes of scoring monster bass, but he points out trophy mentality comes at the cost of catching a lot of fish.
After hundreds of unanswered casts, many anglers return to traditional lures to improve their numbers. “Still, trophy hunters will be motivated by landing the largest fish,” he admits, adding large baits will remain popular with anglers fishing for glory.
The large swimbait trend is encouraging anglers to try large jigs, too. Feelfree Kayaks pro Mike “Bassquatch” McKinstry remembers his first success with a large lure.
“I was frustrated after not catching a big bass all day,” he recalls. In desperation, he tied on a 1/4-ounce jighead and eight-inch Z-Man Mag SwimZ soft plastic. “I cast it out and let it sit on the bottom.” After 10 minutes without a bite, he decided to check the lure. “The rod was almost pulled out of my hand,” he says. The result was a 46-inch muskie, McKinstry’s personal best. “I was hooked.”
Since then, McKinstry has experimented with Burn Custom Baits swimbait and Z-Man’s Mag SwimZ. “I only use it when I’m targeting trophies,” he says. McKinstry urges anglers to stay true to the big bait for it to work. “You have to be committed to casting it over and over without a bite.”
As more anglers report success, the big bait trend continues to spread across North America
Grant Alvis, a Hobie team angler based in Richmond, Virginia, points to the ultra-realistic colors, patterns and design matching local baitfish. He uses a Jackal Ganterel in gizzard shad pattern. “The lure is a perfect representation of the local shad,” he says.
“Prime time for big baits is spring and fall,” he says. Focusing his big bait during the best season and most productive scenarios improves his success. “Put in the time and the big bites will come,” Alvis assures us.
Alvis has recorded trophy catches of bass and muskie. McKinstry has fooled muskie, northern pike and big bass. On a recent R and D trip to Mexico, Andy Logan cast a big swimbait into salt water. “A huge shark swiped at it,” he marvels. He’s convinced wherever big lures hit the water, big fish respond.
A big mouth takes a big lure. | Feature Photo: Wayne Tu