With Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau

It seems no matter what bass fishing publication you read or bass fishing related web site you log unto the hottest and latest Bass-Bait-Boost is the ‘Swimbait’! Like most soft plastic baits these minnow imitating replicas come in just about every shape and size. Then, of course there is the color spectrum, with every manufacture offering at least a dozen colors claiming theirs is an exact match-the-hatch profile.

While curiosity may have killed the cat, I too was enticed by these forage swimming imitators that seem to have become the staple lure of most Professional Bass Anglers. With that said, my Swim-Bait interrogations began. Remembering the words of Uncle Homer Circle, “Simpler is Best”, I eliminated an array of extremely expense swim-baits that would have adorned any trophy room and concentrated upon those resembling simple less expense saltwater versions. After all the saltwater versions have a long history and a proven track record.

Having already heard what those West Coast Swim-Bait Fanatics have to say about swim-baits, but I’ll save that for another article! I decided to concentrate my efforts in the northeast. Placing a call to Ohio’s Frank Scalish, a Bassmaster Elite Angler with a reputation as one of Lake Erie’s top bass pro’s, arrangements were secured for Frank and I to spend two-days on Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle section of Lake Erie. Our rendezvous point was the Riviera Motel (www.RivieraMotel.net) in Erie, PA. Talk about a motel dedicated to bass fisherman! The Riviera has a separate parking section exclusively designed so tow vehicles and bass boats may stay connected, while ample outlets are available for charging batteries, all under the watchful eyes of a security camera.

Few anglers can pattern every transitional movement of smallmouth bass as well as Mercury Outboards Frank Scalish (www.MercuryMarine.com), and when it comes to utilizing minnow imitating baits, especially hard plastics such as Xcalibur’s Stickbaits and Twitch baits…Scalish is the BEST! (www.LureNet.com) One thing about Frank Scalish I have always appreciated is his unwavering candid honesty. “You bet, I have an assortment of swim-baits with me at every tournament,” says Scalish. “However, it’s imperative to realize the swim-bait is just another tool, and not the be-all-end-all to bass fishing!”

Scalish’s choice for swim-baits is YUM’s $Money Minnow. Available in three sizes 3.5”, 5” and 6.5” with thirteen different natural baitfish patterns. (www.YUM3x.com)“One of the reasons you hear so much about swim-baits and their fish-catching ability, in my opinion is the bass haven’t seen this new bait profile and their hungry curiosity leads to more hook-ups! No, doubt, swim-baits are fish catching baits………..especially for trophy size bass!”

Idling along in Scalish’s Alpha Series Legend Bass Boat (www.ridewithalegend.com) Frank revealed to me several occasions while on Lake Okeechobee in Florida where YUM’s larger 6.5” swim-bait rigged with a weightless hook, paid extra tournament dividends by enticing the Florida Lunkers to inhale his offerings. “Schooling bass are feeding bass, so whenever I’m on waters where schooling bass can be a prevalent pattern I always have a swim-bait rigged,” says Scalish.

Proper rigging is critical to this technique and Scalish cautions anglers when choosing hooks. “My observations have taught me bass T-Bone these baits when they eat it therefore wide gap hooks are essential.” The bigger the hook gap the better advises Scalish. However, Scalish steers away from longer shank hooks due to the way bass take swim-baits and the fact they distort the baits natural roll and pitch movement. His choice of hooks range from Xcaliburs weighted 3/0-4/0-5/0 for the 3.5 and 5” models to YUM’s $Money Minnow 7/0 un-weighted hook for the 6.5” version.

With a chuckle in voice Scalish reached into his rod locker, “You’re about to witness what I mean when I say there is a time and place for every bait, and that the swim-bait is just another tool to enticing additional bites when properly rigged for each technique and presentation.” Handing me a pre-rigged 5” Shad color $Money Minnow I quickly responded, ”Ok, I’ll bite explain to me this set-up and why you have it rigged on a leadhead?”
“Well first of all, that is not just a leadhead. It is what I call a Horse-Head or what may be better known as a Swarming Hornet Spinner. (www.SwormingHornetLures.com)I find that the 3/8 oz size is usually best for most applications especially schooling bass and I match the hook size to the bait, either 3/0 or 4/0. The rod is a 7’3” Powell #734 4-power (www.Powellrods.com), paired with a 5.3:1 gear ratio (Low gear ratio extremely important according to Frank Scalish!!!) baitcaster, and spooled with 12 lb Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line.

Continuing my lesson on swim-bait rigging, Scalish explained the importance of threading hooks straight so that the baits running performance provides a natural baitfish side-to-side wag. “90% of the time I have two 5” YUM $Money Minnows rigged; one on the Swarming Hornet, and the other on a wide gap Xcalibur weighted hook.” Scalish’s weighted hook size depends on the depth bass are relating to, while his Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line size will increase to 14 or 17 lb test based on the thickness of heavy cover. (www.Silverthread.com)

“One of the unique attributes of the $Money Minnow is it’s hidden hook slot, allowing for greater hooking percentage. While it’s soft body makes Tex-posing hook points a breeze, and the extra wide tail enables me to retrieve it at ultra slow speeds mimicking natural baitfish forage and enticing more bites,” claims Scalish.

“The area we are about to fish is one I would generally start off by throwing a Carolina rig and dragging it across the shallower rock piles on the hump. Once I feel I have thoroughly covered the area or caught most of the bass, I’ll then turn to my “Clean-Up Lure”…the 5” $Money Minnow,” smiled the Buckeye states top angler. Frank went on to explain the weighted Swarming Hornet $Money Minnow is best suited for open water areas with little to no cover. “I’m not so sure I should tell you this but I will,” said Scalish. “This particular rig is awesome on smallmouth bass, allowing me to cover an enormous amount of water quickly, as well as just about any depth the smallmouths are relating to on Lake Erie.

Scalish went on to explain the weighted spinner head allows him to feel the bottom cover better than a weighted hook, while his ultra slow presentation sending vibrations out from the tail action can be quickly increased or decrease allowing him to vary his retrieve speed telegraphing to smallmouth bass a frighten baitfish reaction.

Moving to a shallow backwater lagoon in search of largemouth bass, Frank and I upgraded our Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line to 17 and 20 lb test, and Tex-posed rigged weedless 5” $Money Minnows on 1/8 and ¼ oz weighted 5/0 Wide Gap Xcalibur hooks. “Generally speaking swim-baits may be utilized anywhere you would consider throwing a spinnerbait or crankbait and the basic retrieve is a constant slow swimming retrieve,” suggest Scalish. Areas we fished were boat docks, down timber, scatter matted grass, lily pads, and floating moored sailboats.

According to OSI Pro Series sponsored Professional Angler Frank Scalish, most anglers make the mistake of retrieving a swim-bait much to fast, and secondly they have tunnel vision when it comes varying their applications! “The key to swimming the YUM $Money Minnow is a Super-Slow-Steady methodical retrieve” If your swimming the $Money Minnow and your not catching bass, Frank Scalish says, “Then slow-down your retrieve even more!”
For additional information on tournament techniques from Frank Scalish log unto www.OSIProSeries/FrankScalish.com