Big Bass On Big Swimbaits

When do you tie on a giant swimbait and go for broke for a big bite? The answer is more often than most anglers think.

Shaye Baker | April 30, 2023

One of the first giant swimbaits to sweep through the bass fishing world was started right here in Georgia by Lake Allatoona guide and tournament angler Mike Bucca. Mike’s Bull Shad line of big lures has grown to include various styles of swimbaits, glide baits and even a huge rat called the Bull Rat.

Big baits catch big bass. That’s a fairly simple statement, but as true a one as you’ll come across. And we figure our readers would like to know how to catch big bass. After all, who wouldn’t? So we sat down with Mike Bucca, Georgia native, creator of the Bull Shad and longtime big-bait enthusiast to pick his brain on what it takes to be successful fishing big swimbaits.

For the purposes of this piece, we’ll break the swimbait world down into two primary subcategories: hard baits and soft baits. For hard baits, think segmented glide baits, like Mike’s Bull Shad. For soft baits, there’s a much wider range, from pre-rigged single hook Huddlestons to Texas-rigged paddle and boot tail swimbaits, to treble-hooked baits like the Megabass Magdraft and beyond.

Which Swimbait, And When?

“I think of hard baits and soft baits as two different tools,” said Mike. “I like soft baits more for specific applications. They are easier to fish deeper than a hard bait. And they are also easier to skip under docks and easier to make weedless to go through heavy wood or grass cover.”

An angler can use a heavy swimbait jig head rigged with the hook exposed with a large soft plastic swimbait, like a Strike King Shadalicious. These are great for fishing deeper along ledges. Baits like the Magdraft, that come pre-rigged with a treble hook on the belly, skip really well under docks. And then there’s the choice to rig a soft plastic swimbait with a light weight or no weight at all for fishing through and over thick vegetation.

“For open water and fishing edges, I like a hard swimbait better. Usually they are more realistic in looks and swim and also have two treble hooks versus one hook with most soft baits.”

The additional hook points when moving from soft to hard baits instantly increase the odds of hooking up with fish. And the drawing power of a big hard bait far exceeds that of a soft bait.

“I like throwing them (hard baits) in both clear and stained water. The clearer water is definitely more helpful from a vision standpoint. When I fish stained water, I feel more comfortable throwing a bigger 9-inch glide in bone, so that it can be seen easier.”

Not only does the large, bone color bait show up better in dingier water, but the color also matches the hatch better, as Mike points out that most fish and baitfish in stained water turn a shade of white.

Swimbaits For All Lakes, Or Just Specific Fisheries?

Mike stressed that big baits aren’t just applicable to known big-fish fisheries, but that they’ll actually work on any given lake across the country to draw a strike from the biggest bass around.

“My baits were not only born here in Georgia but also battle tested here,” Mike said.

He spent years as a full-time guide on Lake Allatoona, a notoriously tough fishery. His pursuit to put his clients on the best bites possible led him to create and refine the Bull Shad. These baits helped Mike and his clients generate the big bites he had been looking for.

And though this tough testing ground proved to Mike that big bass will bite big baits anywhere, he wants to make sure people understand that big—when it comes to the size of the bass—is a relative term to the particular fishery you’re on.

“So a big bass for Lake Allatoona is different than say a big bass on Lake Fork. Big is what’s available, and they are bigger than you think,” he said.

If you commit to throwing a big bait, even on a tough fishery, you’ll likely be surprised to find out what lives there. The big baits will, in time, reveal to you the upper echelon of the bass class in a specific fishery.

If you’re on a trophy fishery, you’ll catch an 8-pounder eventually. If you’re on a tougher fishery, you may max out at a quality 4-pounder. But that’s only because that’s as big as they get in that lake.

“You can definitely upsize your catch by fishing bigger baits on any lake in Georgia,” Mike said.

It takes a leap of faith and the desire for that one big bite to sling a big swimbait all day, but anglers have found these big baits work. You might not get as many bites, but they can be huge.

Ideal Swimbait Conditions

“Spring through fall is best,” Mike said. “I tend to do better on pre-frontal cloudy days with a little wind. And the sweet spot for me has been surprisingly later in the day.”

Taking into consideration these other prerequisites, Mike has found the peak big-bite window day in and day out to be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is the stretch of the day when the sun is highest, even on those cloudy and frontal days. The high sun does two things: it increases visibility and pushes bass toward cover.

The increased visibility is imperative when fishing big swimbaits, as these lures don’t use loud rattles, props or other commotion-causing apparatus to draw fish in. Big swimbaits are more about stealth and realism, relying on the bass’s vision and the water displacement of the large profile of the bait to draw fish in.

The high sun also positions bass closer to cover. A dock or a brushpile offers a big bass the perfect pickoff point to rest and recuperate while they wait for prey to pass by. And even in open-water situations where bass may be relating more loosely to cover, you’ll often still find that the bass are suspended near a ledge, rip-rap causeway, bridge piling, levy or dam wall.

Overcome Big-Bait Apprehension

Mike believes that there aren’t many times or situations when a big bait won’t work. But that confidence comes from decades of experience. For many anglers, the first few fruitless hours throwing a glide bait without a bite may be just discouraging enough to never pick up a big bait again.

“This is the hardest part for a lot of anglers when it comes to swimbaits. Usually it’s not a numbers game with big baits, but it can be on some magical days,” Mike said.

If you’re just fun fishing, it’s a little easier to throw a big bait looking for one giant, knowing that you won’t likely get many bites. But for the tournament angler, committing to a game plan like this is a hard sell at times.

“Think of it like this, if you can get five bites on a big swimbait, your chances of winning a tournament go through the roof. The key is getting those five bites,” he said.

The best way to maximize your chances is to take advantage of the previously discussed criteria for generating a catch. Put yourself in high-percentage places, around cover or larger structure, even lumping a hump or long point into the latter category. This will help you fish for five fish with confidence in a tournament setting.

“To me personally, I’m a trophy fisherman. I am trying to catch one big bass. Anything more than that is gravy. So I’m OK not catching a fish.”

Mike relates his approach to the mindset needed for trophy buck hunting. The hunter has to pass up the does and smaller bucks in pursuit of the record-class buck.

“Trophy bass fishing is no different. The biggest difference between a trophy bass fisherman and a tournament angler is we are specifically fishing for a giant bass and not just any bass.

“Having said that, I would highly recommend a big swimbait as a one-two punch in a team tournament format.”

In this setting, one angler would keep a big bait in hand the whole day, while the other fishes for a limit. The two could even swap roles throughout the day. But combining one big bite with solid limit fillers is often all it takes to win a single-day derby. And a big bait can be the perfect piece to solve that puzzle.

Final Thoughts On Fishing Big Swimbaits

All bass fishing factors and situations considered, Mike circles back to the absolute necessity for mental fortitude when picking up and slinging a big swimbait. There will be times of plenty, and there will be times of drought with this style of fishing. He admitted that he has fished for weeks without a bite before, but he’s also caught more than 50 fish in a given day.

“Usually one to three bass a day is normal when throwing a big swimbait,” Mike said. “Some days you might catch one 8-pounder, or you might catch 35 pounds with your best five on some days. It’s those magical days that keep me motivated and coming back for more.”

When it comes to gear, Mike doesn’t recommend getting carried away right out of the gate. This can be an expensive game to play, with several handmade baits priced in the hundreds of dollars, and massive rods and reels are needed to lob and retrieve the biggest baits.

“I advise everyone to start small bait-size wise and work their way up. You can usually get by with traditional bass gear like a 200 series reel and a flipping stick on a lot of our smaller baits,” he said. “Dabble in it and see if you like it. Once you start catching fish and getting more into the technique, you can upgrade your tackle.”

Mike uses two Dobyns Rods that he himself designed for all of his big bait fishing: the Dobyns Mike Bucca 835 and 836 Swimbait Rods. He pairs these with 300 and 400 series reels exclusively.

“They are very versatile rods, so you’ll really only need one or two to cover almost every swimbait imaginable,” he said.

The best baits to start with according to Mike are multi-segmented baits in the 5- to 6-inch range. He highly recommends one of his Bull Shads offered in these two sizes.

“Those baits are our bread and butter, and we have been making them for over 15 years now. They are proven baits for us.

“Once you get the hang of things, I like to have a glide bait, a rat for topwater, and a crank-down style bait with a lip. Then maybe add a deeper bait like a Huddleston for the trout lakes in Georgia, or a Burrito for the shad lakes,” Mike said.

Not to bite off more than we can chew in this one piece (obvious pun intended), we’ll leave these other segments of the big-bait world to the imagination for now and another conversation with Mike Bucca down the road.

For now, here are this swimbait guru’s final thoughts.

“To get started in swimbaits, try to leave your other conventional tackle and setups at home. Learn the technique, when to use it and when not to. Sometimes it’s a long grind for one fish. That is very normal.

“But once you start getting a few fish under your belt, a lot of bells and whistles will start going off in your head about the huge opportunities that this technique offers in terms of catching quality fish.

“There are many of us hardcore swimbait guys that throw nothing but baits 7 inches or bigger, many times over 9 inches. And we throw upwards of 8-oz. baits for fish in… yes, Georgia!”

Attendees at the recent Bassmaster Classic in Tennessee got a sneak peak at a new glide bait that Mike Bucca is releasing—the Trick Shad.

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