Using Swimbaits to Locate Bass With Cliff Pirch

Clif Pirch Swimbaits

It may sound a little strange, but there are times when Clifford Pirch casts lures and knows bass won’t hit them. It doesn’t bother him, because the Yamaha Pro is using the lures simply to fool fish into showing their location, and when they do, he immediately throws back with a different bait to catch them.

Cliff Pirch shows a whopper smallmouth from Lake St. Clair. He often uses big swimbaits as "locator" lures.
Cliff Pirch shows a whopper smallmouth from Lake St. Clair. He often uses big swimbaits as “locator” lures.

“It’s not a technique widely used among the tournament pros,” confides Pirch, a veteran FLW® competitor who completed his first year on the Bassmaster® Elite Tour this past season. “I use a big, jointed swimbait that I just reel slowly around and over visible cover to make bass show themselves. Bass may actually come out of the cover and follow the lure, but most of the time all you see is a quick flash as a fish comes out and then darts right back into hiding.

“The key for me is using the large, six-inch swimbait and reeling it slowly. It looks injured, so it gets their attention. I know that sometimes a hard plastic jerkbait will also fool bass like this, but overall, I don’t think those lures are as effective as a swimbait because they don’t have as much side-to-side movement with a slow retrieve.”

After seeing the bass give themselves away like this, Pirch casts right back with a small plastic worm, often on a drop shot rig with a spinning rod, and frequently catches the bass. Using the swimbait allows the Yamaha Pro to cover far more water on a single cast than he could with the worm.

“I prefer the thinner jointed swimbaits because even with a very slow retrieve they still move from side to side and look completely natural,” continues Pirch. “In fact, I like to call them ‘glide baits’ because they don’t create a lot of commotion. They just seem to glide through the water. The smaller, hollow plastic swimbaits with the downward-turned tails don’t work because they do create too much action.

“I think this is largely a visual presentation, too, because it really works best in clear water. I have had success in slightly dingy conditions, but it’s not a presentation for muddy water.”

Some of Pirch’s favorite places to use this fish-finding technique include the edges of submerged grasslines, along the sides of boat docks, in stump-filled coves, and over the top of shallow points. It’s most effective in the spring and fall months, but also works well in the summer, too. During the final Bassmaster® Elite event at Lake St. Clair this past August, for example, Pirch worked the swimbait about a foot deep over the edge of a long underwater grassline where several smallmouth came out to look at the lure.

Pirch says he likes large, jointed swimbaits best as locators--the swimming action often causes bass to reveal themselves, allowing him to follow up with a smaller lure they'll eat.
Pirch says he likes large, jointed swimbaits best as locators–the swimming action often causes bass to reveal themselves, allowing him to follow up with a smaller lure they’ll eat.

“I like to make fairly long casts and then retrieve very slowly,” he emphasizes. “I point my rod tip down at the lure and keep a slight bow in the line so the lure does not come back in a straight line. I think the side to side wandering is important in giving the appearance the bait is injured.

“I use a 7’11” medium action rod with 20-pound test fluorocarbon line because it’s a fairly large lure. Then I like to throw back with a much lighter, smaller bait because the bass have shown some interest but they’re not intimidated at all by the little worm.”

Because it is a visual presentation in clear water, Pirch recommends matching the swimbait color to the color of the lake’s primary forage, be it shad, yellow perch, bluegills, or some other baitfish. A number of swimbait manufacturers offer jointed models, and normally in a variety of colors.

“When the bass are active, they’ll even hit the swimbait, but most of the time I’m not really expecting them to,” concludes the Yamaha Pro. “Locating bass is a problem every angler faces each time he’s out on the water, and this is just another way that actually fools the fish into giving away their location.

“I always have a box full of swimbaits with me in the boat just for this technique, no matter where I’m fishing.”

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