Last winter was an amazing time for my friends and I. We had more big fish in a short period of time hit the deck than I can remember in years. We had figured out a bite at our local lakes that nobody else was on. It was as though we could do nothing wrong, every spot had fish on it and they were hungry for swimbaits. Sometimes everything just comes together and you get lucky.
Fishing swimbaits is something that takes dedication, knowledge, passion, and more than anything patience. You don’t just go to the tackle shop and buy a great swimbait, tie it on at the lake and start catching large numbers of fish. Any swimbait fisherman that tells you he get’s the big girls every time he goes is lying to you. This is a craft that you have to hone and shape over time, lots of time, and I’m still learning. During that time spent on the water, you have to pay attention to everything. It’s not just about how many times you can cast in a particular session, it’s about how you cast, where you cast, the speed of your retrieve, when to pause, and the cadence at which you work the bait.
There is a lot to everything in life that matters and there is a lot to catching fish on swimbaits. You have to want to overcome this challenge in order to connect with a double-digit fish of a lifetime. I’ve been on the boat with friends and they say they want to be swimbait guys, but when I get them on the boat, some just don’t have the focus or passion for it. Other buddies have been doing it a long time and they still have passion for it like the first day they tied on a big bait. It’s kinda unspoken but we know what the mission is before the boat hits the dock and we stick to it for the most part. It’s a “big bait or die” scenario and we stay focused as best we can.
We hit all our “A” spots first with high hopes and nervous anticipation. Those first few casts are our greatest chance at a nice fish. We are quiet. We don’t start the big motor. Drop the trolling motor down slowly and move into our first spot with stealth and cast with precision. It’s gotta be done quietly, these fish are sensitive to noise and talking and banging the boat with rods. Most times we don’t even turn the meter on, everything has to be as silent as possible. I’ve read and heard that they don’t care about noise, but why chance it. We need every possible advantage we can get.
Think about all the time, energy, and money you’ve put into this craft. Sometimes it’s mind boggling how our passion can take over our lives. You work your ass off to make enough money to buy that bait, rod, reel etc., and then you get your butt up early morning, sometimes stupid early, just to be first in line. Spend all day throwing a huge bait that may or may not end up on 1 or even 2 fish if you’re lucky, and you’re gonna screw it all up by running your big motor right over the spot. It’s just doesn’t make sense. Luck will only take you so far, but planning and paying attention to the little things will increase that luck 10 fold.
Fishing alone will make you a better fisherman and an even better swimbait fisherman. What I mean by that is when you fish alone, you focus on the goal, catching fish. When you fish with someone else, you might be joking around, laughing, and having a good time. Nothing wrong with that right? Well, if you want a big fish, there is a lot wrong with that. You are definitely making more noise, but even more than that you’re not concentrating and paying attention. If you’ve spent any intimate time with a swimbait on your line, you’ll know that followers are common and sometimes you can get those followers to commit if you do the right thing. If you’re not paying attention that one big bite you could have made happen, didn’t because you’re buddy was talking to you. When you fish with someone else, make sure they are on the same program as you.
So back to my first paragraph, last year was crazy amazing for swimbait fishing at our local lakes. The year before that, in 2013, wasn’t bad either. 2013 had a lot of stripers in the 8-15 pound range and bass in the 3-6 pound range, so not a bad grade at all. I’m not telling you this to toot my own horn, I’m telling you this because sometimes fishing is so much fun and you think you have figured it out. You know your spots, you know your baits, you figured out the patterns the fish are in and you just can’t loose. The confidence factor is making you an even better fisherman by boosting your ego. As I’m sure we’ve all heard before, confidence is everything.
As the 2014-2015 swimbait season started in California, I was pumped up. I had been waiting 6 months for this to start and I put all my regular bass rods away. I was so excited to see the trout stockings start you could cut my anticipation with a knife. I spent time changing my line, sharpening my hooks, making sure my bait’s hadn’t fallen down inside the box and screwed the tails up. I was ready to rock and roll and hit it hard this year. I even had plans to take work off for an entire week in January and fish 9 days straight and see what I could do.
Usually it’s slow after the first stocking, but the second and third stockings really get things going. I went on the first stocking and hit all my “A” spots. I tried different rotations, fishing my spots in an order I don’t normally do but I couldn’t get a bite and not one follower. I figured it’s the first stocking and the fish aren’t on the trout yet. The second stocking should be better so I left skunked knowing that my chances weren’t good anyway.
The second stocking came two weeks later and I did it all again for nothing. The water was off color and the lake was getting a lot of water coming in from recent rains. It just felt off, something wasn’t right. I went a few days later, the same thing, nothing. Not even a follower, the lake seemed dead. What the heck is going on? I saw some smaller fish breaking on some shad and wondered if the fish were still on shad and hadn’t gotten on the trout yet. Usually some will stay on the shad but the bigger fish will move to the trout within a few weeks. Obviously something was different and I needed to spend some more time figuring it out.
For a little break, I drove with a buddy down to Silverwood Lake because we heard there was a bite going on. Conditions weren’t the best with the barometric pressure being post frontal, no wind, and blue bird sky. The weather system that was supposed to move in on the day we had planned showed up early and passed through quickly. We gave it a go and fished hard all day for absolutely nothing. We each got 1 follower but so what, that’s just a tease.
We reviewed our trip and had the best 20/20 hindsight ever. We should have done this and that, fished slower and deeper, blah, blah, blah. The fact was the fish weren’t active and we didn’t fish the way we should have. If we had figured it out we probably could have scratched for 1 or two fish. Oh well right, we’ll get ‘em next time.
We fished our local lakes 3 or 4 more times and we landed zero fish. A couple of light bites here and there with a couple small fish that came off for one reason or another; it plain sucked! It demoralized my friends and I to the point where we didn’t even want to fish anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time, money, and energy hunting these fish that I know are there and I know I can catch, but I can’t make it happen.
I stopped fishing for a month or so. I started making beer, riding my mountain bike a lot, and not fishing at all. It’s always in my mind and I want to go bad, but I feel like I’m just not on my game right now. I’d rather work on making the shop better and the website better than waste my time working my ass off for a big fat zero. So I did, I always get to the shop 3 hours before we open and I continued working on making the website better. I have to if I’m going to try to keep up with the bigger websites out there. I planned what new companies we are going to bring into the shop this year, built a new wall for some more saltwater tackle, and just laid low working more than anything. In some ways it satisfies my urge to fish working with tackle all day long.
As time passes however, I need to be on the water. It’s what I love the most and it’s my passion in life. I’ve been away too long and I have a trip planned for 3 days of big fish hunting at an untouched lake about 4 hours from here. We’ve had some reports of some descent fish coming out and we plan to do some damage.
That damage never happened. We didn’t land one fish in two long days of fishing swimbaits. Yeah, we got short bites a few times and had the always present followers. This year just wasn’t good swimbaiting for us, or many customers I know. Shoot, the swimbaits in the shop are just sitting there with very few leaving with adopted parents. It was time to switch gears, try something different, and we did.
Leaving the lakes behind (temporarily) we headed to the ocean in search of the bite we had been looking for over the past several months. We had an insatiable appetite to get bit and pull on a big fish and we weren’t going give up.
I got up at 2:00 AM and met them at Vic’s place. Got our gear in the boat and headed west for an hour drive. The weather was absolutely perfect with small swell 2-3 feet and expected winds of less than 10. It just doesn’t get any better than that for a nice February day in Southern California. On a tip from a buddy, Steven, Vic, and I headed to the grounds not too far away from the marina with expectations of descent yellowtail on the chew.
We all pinned on a squid on a dropper loop and send it to the bottom. Vic is the first to drop a jig and within a few casts get’s bit but it comes off. He shouts “that was a real fish!” We all tie on different jigs and send ‘em down. First, Vic hooks up again and lands a beautiful yellowtail in the 35-40# range. Now we are pumped, they are here and they are chewing. We hear another boat yell “hookup” and it’s game on. Now Steven hooks up on the jig, another nice yellow in the 25# range. Then I hook up on a nice grade, then Steven again, then Vic, then me. It was crazy good we were so tired after landing 8 fish and loosing a few more, we left ‘em biting. It was a steady bite and we’re high fiving and so stoked. We finally hooked up after so many trips of nada, nothing, zero fish. It was one of those epic days that keep you motivated. A day anyone would never forget and I hope to have again soon. I was with good friends, on a killer bite, perfect weather, and worn out from pulling on fish. It just didn’t get any better, one of those days you purposefully store in your head knowing that it doesn’t get much better.
There are good times in fishing and there are a lot of tough times. I know a lot of guys say it’s not about catching fish but being on the water and yeah, that’s all great and everything, but I wana get bit. I need that release and feeling of accomplishment. The bigger the fish for me, the better and a lot of big fish is what I live for.
When a fisherman starts out, he just wants to get bit. The more years you do it, the more you want bigger payouts. I never get bored of catching little fish, and I happily will go on a trip to catch crappie or trout, but my heart is chasing big fish that pull back. When on this hunt for bigger fish, you’re going to have tough trips, and tough months in my case, but you gotta keep at it and wait for your window to open up. It opened back up for me and I’ll be on the hunt for those big fish till I can’t do it anymore. I’m relatively young and I have a lot of years left on the water. I plan to maximize it and turn those tough times into huge rewards.
The 2022-2023 winter was brutal with so much rain in California it filled all the lakes. This influx of water and nutrients will definitely help our local lakes like Castaic, Pyramid, Piru, Silverwood, Diamond Valley, Nacimiento, and many others. The large amount of new structure will be great for fry as well as baitfish. We anticipate 2023 and 2024 to be excellent bass fishing so get your top water baits and spinnerbaits out of the box, you're gonna need 'em.
Striped bass fishing at these lake should also be great since the stripers like to spawn in current. I think trolling for stripers later in the year is going to be very productive and bait fishing should be crazy good. We didn't get a lot of trout plants so I'm not too sure on the swimbait bite, but those big girls have to eat.
With much anticipation, I hope that 2023 and beyond are as good as 2013-2015 and I believe the lakes are on the upswing and are about to get very healthy. Get ready, it's about to get really really good.