How to Fish a Swim Jig for Bass: Setup, Zones, Retrieval
The swim jig has been around a lot longer than most anglers might think. Renowned swim jig fisherman, Tom Monsoor talks about discovering its strength over 45 years ago. Its versatility is unparalleled and is more than your everyday cast and wind power fishing option.
An incredibly versatile bait that'll catch fish all year. I'll explain my take on how to fish a swim jig, diving in to setup, zones, and the general process of fishing this unique pattern.
What is a Swim Jig?
The main difference between a casting and a swim jig is the head design. Swim jigs feature a pointed nose with a vertical line tie, so the lure swims through the water column and easily slips through cover.
Most of the weight in the jig’s head is positioned towards the bottom of the jig, therefore it will swim upright. It is basically a semi-bullet-head-shaped jig head, on a 2 or 3/0 and sometimes even a 4/0 hook, accompanied by a skirt that is attached in the same way as a spinnerbait.
What makes it weedless is the weed guard, which unlike other jigs is softer and more malleable. Trailers of various shapes and sizes can be used to mimic the different fodder fish in the ecosystem and is a way subtler approach to shallow, or deep-water fishing than a spinnerbait or chatterbait.
Why is it So Good?
The swim jig is a very good baitfish impersonator and looks like a fleeing fodder fish in the water. There are times when anglers are faced with very clear water or even dirty water, and the bass don’t want the shiny noisy appearance and sound of either a spinnerbait or chatterbait.
The swim jig resembles a baitfish in the shallow water and is a very natural presentation. By just changing its trailer and weight, you can fish it from 2ft of water down to 20.
The head design on the swim jig is more streamlined and bullet-like in shape, making it more hydrodynamic than its slower fished cousins, and allows it to come through vegetation and heavy cover with relative ease. This is also a heavier line technique so whether it is braid or fluorocarbon, the angler doesn’t have to worry about it being snapped off too often.
The bite on the swim jig is not a subtle tap but rather an arm-wrenching pull. It is as brutal as a spinnerbait bite, so bite detection when fishing this lure is also uncomplicated. The key to a good hook-up to landing ratio is not to strike as soon as you see the bite but rather to feel the tension on the line first while sweeping the rod and reel into the fish.
Best Swim Jig Setup
In most circumstances, the swim jig is fished in very cover-oriented places on your body of water. This demands heavier gear. The swim jig setup must match this hand-to-hand combat type fishing and for this reason, light rods need to stay at home.
Swim Jig Rod
A 7-7’2ft medium-heavy baitcasting rod is perfect for this application. The tip on the medium-heavy action rod will prevent you from ripping the lure away from the fish’s mouth when they very predictably run straight at you before turning.
Swim Jig Reel
I use a high-speed baitcasting reel for this type of fishing. Firstly, to keep the bait up in the water column without any effort, and secondly to move the fish out of heavy cover and prevent being wrapped up.
Best Line for Swim Jig Fishing
This depends on three factors:
- The thickness of the hook gauge of the swim jig
- The type of cover in the lake and;
- The size of the swim jig that you are fishing.
If the fodder fish in the ecosystem you are fishing are small and unimposing, then I find that the smaller swim jig (5/8-1/4oz) will get more bites. For this, I will use 12 or 15lb fluorocarbon. The direct nature of the braid will inevitably put a lot of pressure on the shank of the hook causing it to bend and open. I will also use fluorocarbon on heavier swim jigs (1/4-½oz) when I am fishing sparse cover, which will not need heavy braid to navigate.
On the bigger swim jigs, ¼ to ½ oz, I will use 30 to 40lb J–braid. Its thinner diameter and no-stretch value will cut through the thickest of grass mats, and give you the direct impact during the strike you would need to be able to move fish out of cover quickly. The braid will also make setting the thick gauge hook easier, which the bigger swim jigs always come with. Other good braids to use are Seaguar Smackdown and Berkley Black Velvet.
Heavier line will want to pick the bait up in the water column because of its water resistance. Choosing a thicker diameter fluorocarbon or braid will help in keeping the bait up and nullify it getting bogged down in bottom muck or heavy vegetation. This also helps with abrasion resistance – the thicker stronger lines will not fray as easily as thinner diameter lines with braid being the optimal choice.
Swim Jig Selection
A good day on the water can all be boiled down to matching the hatch. This can be applied directly to swim jig fishing. I always try to match the size, shape, and color of the swim jig to the forage in the lake.
Baitfish seek refuge from marauding bass and hide in the thickest of the vegetation and wooded areas. These fodder fish rarely get very big so a smaller presentation can often work when a bigger swim jig would be imposing and often spook wary fish. In this situation, I use a 5/8oz and 1/4oz Booyah Mini Jig, or ¼oz Jewel Swim Jig matched with a Zoom Mini Z-Craw trailer.
Smaller swim jigs also work very well in clear water and have a more natural profile. If the lake I am fishing has larger fodder fish such as shad or crappie, I will often fish a swim jig of ¾- ½ oz because the bass will be used to bigger forage.
When fishing clearer water, I normally stick to more natural colors such as bluegill colors, green pumpkin, and sometimes I’ll fish a green pumpkin-colored jig with mixed-in strands of chartreuse in the skirt for some more shock attraction.
For dirty water I mostly fish black and blue and variations of black/blue or black/purple with trailers to match accordingly.
Below are some brilliant swim jigs:
Best Swim Jig Trailers
These can get either very technical or can seem very basic depending on the type of angler. Other than obviously matching the hatch, the other deciding two factors in choosing a trailer would be the depth and temperature of the water I am fishing.
If I am fishing slightly deeper water and I do not want my lure to lift in the water column because of a heavily resistant craw-type trailer, I would use a paddle tail of some sort.
On the smaller profile swim jigs, I will use a 3–4” paddle tail, and on the bigger swim jigs, I will go up to a 6” paddle tail depending on forage. Paddle tail trailers are also preferred in colder water temperatures when the bass aren’t as active and won’t chase down a violently flapping and waving trailer.
In colder water, you want less movement from the trailer.
The craw-type trailers are very good for putting out vibration in shallow dirty water. Often when bass will not eat a spinnerbait up shallow, a 3/8oz black and blue swim jig fitted with a Mini Z-Craw in the June bug color, was exactly what the visually impaired bass wanted – less vibration and profile specific.
Common swim jig trailers:
- Zoom Z-Craw Mini
- Xzone Adrenaline Craw 4”
- Strike King Rage Bug
- Strike King Mini Rage Craw
- Berkley The Deal 3,2”
- Strike King Rage Menace
Best Swim Jig Colors
The most proficient swim jig fisherman will tell you to keep this simple, and also to present your lure as naturally as possible.
For clearer water, I stick to the more natural colors such as green pumpkin-colored jigs and versions thereof. Green pumpkin with chartreuse or a slightly purple skirt are also good options. Do not be afraid to choose jig trailers that do not match your jig – sometimes the mismatch can be the reason for the reaction strike that day.
For murky to dirty water I will use variations of the black/blue and white. The reason for this is that these solid colors in murky water can be seen and provide a good outline of a baitfish.
Where to Fish a Swim Jig
As stated earlier this is an incredibly versatile lure. Optimally I would fish it in 0-4’ of water with scattered or even matted vegetation or flooded grass. It excels in shallow water and can be made to look like fleeing baitfish that reside in the shallow for protection from marauding bass.
Flooded tree forests and hardwood tree flats are also great areas to target patrolling and feeding bass with a swim jig. Not only is it good for covering water, but it can be stopped and hopped like a jig if the conditions slow the bite down.
Another very overlooked area is that of deeper grass beds. A lot of deeper summer fish see chatterbaits and crankbaits fished over the top or through them, and often those fish become really pressured. A swim jig in this situation has less vibration and less noise than the other hard baits and give a different presentation to offshore fish.
Fishing a Swim Jig
Swim jigs can be fished in the boiling hot summer temperatures down to the cold midwinter temperatures. The retrieve or ‘action’ along with profile are some of the most important aspects of this lure.
- Keep retrieving steady and fast allowing the lure to come through cover and dissect reeds. Baitfish are incredibly active and matching the hatch would mean that a faster retrieve will more often get more bites
- If bass are pressured or effected in anyway by the conditions and are not as active as they should be, then apply the Alabama Shake. The erratic nature of this retrieve often calls fish out that would normally not commit to eating it in other conditions
- Keep the retrieve consistent
- Keep retrieve speed up as bass are feeding up
- Bass are especially focused on baitfish in this period - making the swim jig an excellent option
- When around wood or rock, make sure the lure is bumping into the hard structure
- Fish the lure deeper and slower often stopping it and letting it fall again
- No erratic movements
- No-action trailer. (Jig ñ Pig, Big Bite Baits Yo Momma)
- Slow down retrieve slightly and slow trailer legs to kick to their maximum potential
- Stop-start retrieve can entice bigger fish
- Do not be in a hurry at this time – fish thoroughly
The Alabama Shake
This is when you cast your lure out and instead of just the normal consistent retrieve that keeps the bait up in the water column, you keep your rod at 10 o’clock and very erratically and abruptly lift it to eleven o’clock causing it to make a hop-like action just under the surface of the water while reeling it back at the specified cadence.
This technique can be very good at triggering either pressured or non-responsive fish into biting. I have found that in the spring it tends to spook a lot of bigger fish, whereas the straight retrieve seems to work slightly better.
The swim jig is a very exciting bait to fish. The bites are hard and unmistakable. For a while I doubted the potential of this lure until I started fishing it in the right areas. The next time you are surrounded by flooded grass, tie on a swim jig and hold on – bass cannot leave it alone.