Keith chooses the swimbait he uses by the weather and wind conditions. Wind is the key. If it is windy, conditions are tough, and you want to catch big bass on Lake Amistad, use a swimbait.
On dark and windy days or any early morning, the lures of choice will either be the hard body Tru-Tungsten 7” hard body bait in perch or tilapia patterns or the Osprey Talon in shad pattern. He fishes the lures aggressively off long casts, usually creating a wake withthe retrieve.
Keith’s goal is to bring big fish up out of the trees so he can see them. The philosophy is that a big bass this time of year is not traveling far from the tree or cover it has chosen. So even if the fish does not bite, he knows where it lives! Also by keeping the bait toward the top, he can see if fish are following and how they are reacting to his bait. This gives him options to stop the bait, turn the bait around or to speed up to see if he can create a reaction from the fish.
Later in the day as the things get brighter and or the wind dies, Keith will turn to the smaller hollow body paddle tail baits such as the Money Minnow or the 3:16 Mighty Minnow and fish them slower and deeper. He will use this same technique if there is a lot of pressure on the lake by other anglers.
Most of the fish Keith catches come out of the tops of trees. Lake Amistad offers a lot of submerged brush and hardwoods. For big fish, he concentrates on areas that have a lot of brush rather than isolated trees. He spends most of his time concentrating on large main lake flats, big rolling main lake points and large creek flats that are loaded with trees. In his words, he is looking for “a thousand different ambush points in a single cast.”
The most effective structure is a large flat covered by 12 to 15 feet of water. The key is to find treetops either visible or just below the surface and lots of them. The main lake on the Texas side between markers 5 and 10 is loaded with this type structure.
Keith carries two swimbait rods with him while he is at Lake Amistad. His rod of choice for the big swimbaits is a Power Tackle SB5-80 which is an 8 foot long, 5 power, mag heavy rod built specifically for throwing big baits a long way. When he is using the smaller baits or has room for only one swimbait rod, he chooses the Power Tackle SB4-80 which is essentially the 4 power medium heavy version of the same rod series. It is strong enough to heave the larger baits, but still has the feel to work the smaller baits.
The key to both rods is the 8 foot length and the parabolic action give plenty of distance on the cast and plenty of power for the sweeping hook set. With the tendency of big bass to follow swimbaits, a long cast is essential to give the fish time to decide the bait looks like it should be dinner and to attack it before the boat comes into play.
Both rods are paired up with Shamano Curado E7s. Even though he needs to slow roll the swimbaits occasionally, he feels a high gear ratio reel is important to be able to take up enough line for a strong hook set. When a big bass does decide to take the swimbait they have been following, they often will come from behind and leave you with four yards of slack line to deal with before you can hook them.
The reels will be spooled with either 65 pound green braid or a 20 to 25 pound fluorocarbon. If conditions are dark and windy and he is using a fairly aggressive retrieve, he will use braid. When conditions allow the fish any time and light to inspect the lure, the fluorocarbon is the line of choice.
Rigging a hollow body swimbait
The attracting feature of a swimbait is a very natural wagging of the tail, but the key action that draws the strike is the gentle rolling back and forth of the belly. Because the weighted single shank swimbait hooks tend to draw down on the center of the stomach, the roll is minimized and makes the baits less effective. Keith’s choice is to thread the line through a mojo weight to a #2 treble . Cutting a slot in the lower back to insert one of the points keeps the hook secure and able to penetrate on hook set. This gives better hookup with the treble and preserves the rolling motion that is important to turn followers into strikers.
Setting the hook
You are about to set the hook on a big fish, maybe even a personal best, or better yet a Share-A-Lunker. It is no time to be timid! Keith utilizes a big sweeping hook set. The combination of the length of the 8 foot rod and the long sweeping motion help drive home the large hook and take up slack that may have been generated by the strike and the long cast.
When Keith feels a “thunk” and/or sees his line moving, his first motion is leaning toward the fish with his rod pointed in the same direction. He uses his high speed reel to take up the slack in the line and then takes a long sweeping swing to set the hook. This combination of actions gives the fish time to fully take the bait and puts Keith in position to have maximum power to turn the hook and set it firmly in the fish’s mouth.
How to deal with followers
Generally if a fish follows a swimbait and does not take it, it is because he did not want to stray too far from home and was not intrigued enough to eat it. If a fish has followed a swimbait a long way from its structure, it will generally eat it. The power in this knowledge is that if you have followers, mark the spot. They will probably be there later or tomorrow.
Keith’s strategy for followers is to keep fishing down the flat and circle back on them in an hour or so. He will usually use the same bait but with some modification. His favorite is to add some sort of red marking to the bait. Often this is just enough change to turn the follower into an eater.
How to know if using a swimbait is for you
If you cannot live with catching only a few fish or even being shutout in exchange for the chance to catch the bass of a lifetime, leave the swimbait at the tackle shop.
Catching fish on Lake Amistad with a swimbait takes a commitment to the technique. Often it can be hours between hits and the bite may never develop. It is not the fast action of a catching schooling fish, but it is well worth the wait if you want a lunker. When it works, it works like no other technique for trophy bass.