UPCOMING EVENT: Rayovac FLW Series - 2015 - Lake Erie

Swimbaits and boat docks

Two-time Angler of the Year Jay Yelas is one of the FLW Tour pros popularizing swimbaits outside of the West in recent years.

Largemouth bass are object nuts. Mother Nature genetically programmed bass to position themselves around submerged cover and structure. Give a bass timber, bushes, stumps, brush or grass, and chances are good it will be as cozy as a bug in a rug. Much the same could be said about boat docks, boat houses, boat slips and piers. Whether floating or permanently anchored by wood or metal pilings, the man-made shoreline structures offer a wealth of potential holding spots for largemouth bass. Bass are attracted to boat docks for a number of reasons. Not only do they help satisfy their desired sense of security, docks also afford bass sanctuary where they can loaf in the shade on a sunny day. Additionally, docks provide bass a multitude of good hideouts for bushwhacking unsuspecting baitfish that use them to seek shelter from all the hungry mouths out there. In some instances, boat docks may account for the only form of suitable habitat a reservoir has to offer. Bass anglers have learned to catch bass around boat docks using a variety of lures and prescribed fishing techniques. Flipping with soft plastics or jigs has a rich history around docks. So does casting with spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, crankbaits, soft jerkbaits, topwaters and shaky heads. Ah, but we must not forget those trusty swimbaits, either. California anglers have been relying on swimbaits to pluck giant bass off boat docks for years. Although the Western trend has been slow to catch on elsewhere, it is gradually beginning to factor into tournament outcomes in other parts of the United States every now and then. Wal-Mart FLW Tour pro Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., did his part last year to prove the swimbait is not just a Western thing anymore. The 42-year-old pro took the swimbait back East in 2007 and used it to the tune of more than $194,000 in earnings over six Wal-Mart FLW Tour events en route to winning his second Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title since 2002. Yelas earned checks in five tournaments but did the bulk of his damage at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour National Guard Open on Lake Norman in Concord, N.C., and the Wal-Mart Open tour event on Beaver Lake in Rogers, Ark. He finished second in both events. Interestingly, he relied heavily on boat docks and a soft-plastic swimbait rigged Texas style to get him there. "The swimbait played a huge role in my success last year," Yelas said. "Probably 90 percent of the fish I weighed at Beaver and Norman came on swimbaits I was fishing around boat docks. I also used it in open-water situations at the Detroit River event and the Fort Loudoun-Tellico Lakes event to catch a high percentage of my key fish over the course of those tournaments." A Western native, who at the time resided in Tyler, Texas, Yelas said his decision to throw a swimbait last season when much of the field was relying on shaky heads and other finesse baits to fill their limits on heavily pressured waters was one based strictly on a hunch. "I always keep an open mind and try to come up with new ways to fool these fish," Yelas said. "After seeing how successful swimbaits have been out West, I figured there was no reason bass in other parts of the country wouldn't eat them if the conditions were right. Plus, I figured it was a bait the fish hadn't seen much of in those lakes. I had a hunch it would work, and I'll be darned if it didn't." The fact Yelas was able to put together such a stellar season using swimbaits came as no surprise to Wal-Mart FLW Tour pro Art Berry of Hemet, Calif. Berry has been addicted to swimbait fishing since he was a kid. Today, he is recognized as one of the West's most respected swimbait experts and accomplished bass pros. We recently caught up with the two anglers and asked them to share some of their secrets for working swimbaits around boat docks. Baits for heavy pressure Swimbaits come in an assortment of sizes ranging from 2 inches to upward of 10 inches. Yelas leans toward a weedless soft-plastic bait 5 to 6 inches in length when targeting shallow-water bass on a tournament lake where the bite is relatively tough. His favorite is the new Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly, a 5-inch swimbait he helped develop. The Hollow Belly features a paddle tail and a hollow midsection that allows for easy hooksets and compresses when fish bite it. Yelas rigs the bait Texas style on a 6/0 wide-gap Mustad hook with a 1/16-ounce weighted shank. The bait's paddle tail displaces gobs of action, and the front half of the body has a tight, side-to-side roll when reeled at a slow-to-medium retrieve. The bait also skips extremely well - a major plus when it comes to reaching those dark, shady corners where lunkers often retreat when the sun is high or fishing pressure is heavy. The Hollow Belly is available in six colors. Critical conditions Swimbaits are most effective around boat docks when certain conditions exist. Yelas ranked clear water at the top of the list. "The swimbait is a visual thing; the fish have to be able to see it for it to be effective," Yelas said. "Personally, I prefer at least 3 feet of visibility before I will put much confidence in a swimbait." Swimbaits work any time intensive sunlight presses bass to take refuge in shady areas, but Yelas thinks they tend to shine the brightest at times of the year when bass are prone to move to shallow water. Find bait, find bass When Yelas begins his search for bass on a lake where boat docks are in abundance, he spends his time looking for concentrations of baitfish as opposed to searching for docks that look fishy. "When I go fishing, I look for baitfish in areas where I think the bass should be rather than looking for the best looking docks," Yelas said. "It could be in the backs of creeks, main-lake banks or on rock bluffs. A dock is just a cover bass use to ambush their prey. If the shad are there, the bass are going to be there." The right docks Boat docks come in many shapes and sizes. Some are built on pilings, while others ride the surface on plastic foam or plastic floats. Yelas thinks floating docks are more conducive to good results on a swimbait than stationary docks built on pilings. Pro Jay Yelas likes to target floating docks for optimum swimbait results."Docks on pilings are usually elevated above the water, whereas floating docks sit right on the surface," Yelas said. "The closer the dock is to the surface, the higher in the water column the fish are likely to suspend when they are chasing shad. The swimbait is a natural in that situation. It works close to the surface, looks like a shad and swims like a shad." Jockey for boat position Yelas always positions his boat so he has the best casting angle on the target dock without getting so close he risks spooking fish that might be holding at the outer fringes. The idea is to work the bait parallel to the dock, a foot or so beneath the surface. "The size of the dock dictates how I'll fish it," Yelas said. "Some docks are small enough that you can cover them with one cast, whereas a houseboat slip that is 60 to 70 feet deep might require 2 to 3 casts. I'll work the outer fringes first, then move in tight so I can work it all the way to the back." Yelas' tackle tips Yelas likes a rod with some backbone, but pointed out the rod shouldn't be so long that it hampers accuracy when making precision roll casts into tight quarters. His rod of choice is a 7-foot, medium-heavy Fenwick Techna AV Triggerstick AVC 70MHF. He tops it with a smooth-casting Abu Garcia Revo Premier 6.4:1 gear ratio baitcaster spooled with Berkley Trilene XT, 17- to 20-pound test. "XT is a monofilament, so it doesn't sink like fluorocarbon," he said. "That helps keep the swimbait close to the surface, even on a slow retrieve. Plus, it is very abrasion-resistant, so it will hold up against cables, boat propellers, rebar and other sharp stuff typically found around boat docks." Picking a swimbait Not all swimbaits are created equal. Some are hand-poured from premium plastic; others are made from materials of lesser quality. According to Berry, the best swimbaits for dock fishing are those that achieve the most action and stay up in the water column at an ultraslow retrieve. An easy way to choose a good soft-plastic swimbait is to hold it vertical by the midsection with the head pointing down. The best ones are soft to the touch and have a fairly limp tail section. "If the tail folds over, it's a good one. If the tail points straight up, it's not going to have much action at a slow retrieve. You will have to retrieve that bait way too fast to get the action out of it." Berry's preferred swimbaits for dock fishing are a California Swimbabes Baby "E"or a Tiny "E." Perfecting the skip At times bass will retreat so far beneath a dock it is impossible to get a lure to them using a conventional casting technique. That's why Berry thinks it is important to master the underhand "skip-cast." "Knowing how to skip is essential so you can reach those secluded nooks and crannies," he said. "And the neat thing is that it is pretty easy to accomplish with the swimbait because it skips so well - almost like a flat rock." A low-trajectory presentation is necessary to skip a swimbait effectively. Berry achieves it by making an underhand roll cast. Keeping his rod tip low, he tries to launch the bait no more than 6 inches above the surface. Performed correctly, the bait's forward momentum will cause it to skip across the surface when it contacts the water. Many swimbait strikes come in the last 10 feet of the retrieve."It is no different than skipping a rock," Berry said. "You have to release a rock low to the water to skip it effectively." Match the hatch Swimbaits are available in a variety of size and color patterns. Anglers can boost their odds of success with swimbaits by researching the lake they are visiting to learn about the predominant forage fish available. "When most people think of swimbaits, they think of a big ole' 12-inch rainbow trout," Berry said. "Nowadays, we've got swimbaits to match just about anything the bass feed on - blueback herring, crappie, bluegill, etc. Your odds of success will go up exponentially if you match the hatch at the lake you are fishing." Let it swim Many anglers have a tendency to overwork a swimbait by twitching or jerking the lure during the retrieve. "That is not what a swimbait is about," Berry said. "A swimbait is at its best when it is swimming very slow and displacing lots of action all on its own. It is equally important to work the lure all the way back to the boat. A lot of strikes come during the last 10 feet of the retrieve." Key docks During early spring, Berry likes to target floating docks that are transparent, which allows the sunlight to shine through and warm the water below. "It's just like having a solar blanket wrapped around the water," he said. "The water right below the dock will be substantially warmer than everything else around. The bass will gravitate to it like a magnet." On lakes with excessive numbers of docks, Berry tries to avoid getting bogged down and wasting time by attempting to check every dock in a particular bay. Instead, he dissects "sections" of docks by fishing the first and last two on a row. Then he'll fish the docks in the middle that stick out the farthest into the water. Isolated docks also get some attention. Throw 'em a change-up Seldom are two tournament days the same, especially on heavily pressured waters. Let's say you catch a few fish around docks swimming a jig or shaky head and lose a few more, and then the bite suddenly wanes. "Come back the next day with a swimbait and see what happens," Berry said. "It's a little extra arsenal to your package that can pay off big time if you will give it the chance to work. More and more anglers are beginning to realize that." Tackle: Don't overdo it Many anglers are inclined to think they need braided line, a big rod, a big reel and oversized hooks to fish a swimbait around docks effectively. It's just not so. "That is the exact mentality that gets the followers, missed strikes or no bites at all," Berry said. "I fish my swimbaits on the same type of tackle I use with spinnerbaits, jigs and worms." Berry's swimbait system consists of a 7-foot Dobyns rod (heavy action) and an Abu Garcia Revo reel spooled with 14- to 17-pound-test Berkley Trilene Big Game mono. "The purpose of the mono is to provide some shock absorption so the fish can eat the bait," he said. "Braid is a no-no, because it is too direct of a connection." Fishing docks will always be a tournament-winning pattern on some lake during some season. Every dedicated tournament angler knows this. To bring in the big bass and bring home a check, try tying on a swimbait and giving the fish something new to chew on.

Tags: tech-tackle-reviews  matt-williams 

/tips/2015-08-10-houston-rebuilding-lake-after-dam-failure

Houston Rebuilding Lake After Dam Failure

One of pro bass fishing’s true legends has vowed to rebuild it. In the process, he plans to resurrect what might have been one of the best private trophy bass fisheries the state of Oklahoma has ever seen. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-06-04-pros-preferred-ledge-rods

Pros’ Preferred Ledge Rods

We quizzed four of the best offshore anglers around on the rod that they get the most out of and why they like it. If you need a new rod and have ledges on the brain, these four are worth your consideration. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-05-23-the-next-big-ledge-bait

The Next Big Ledge Bait

If you’re a ledge fisherman, go buy another Plano tackle tray, because the list of baits that you need to have in your arsenal has grown once again. Ledge maestro Ben Parker, who developed the Nichols Lures Magnum Spoon and unveiled it to the fishing world at the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour finale on Kentucky Lake, has drummed up another big hit for offshore anglers – “big” being the key word. The new Nichols MBP Swimbait (MBP stands for Magnum Ben Parker) is a jumbo swimbait that already helped FLW pros cash checks on the Tennessee River ledges at this month’s Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Kentucky Lake. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-05-12-aoy-contenders-tracy-adams

AOY Contenders: Tracy Adams

Walmart FLW Tour pro Tracy Adams is what I’d call a well-rounded angler in every sense of the word, but not just because he can catch ’em shallow, deep or anywhere in between. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-12-08-sebile-action-first-star-shiner

Sebile Action First Star Shiner

It’s no secret that one of the best baits you can throw at lethargic bass in chilly water is a suspending jerkbait. Just in time for this year’s prespawn brawl, here is a new twist on the darting, diving minnow imitator that’s sure to put a twinkle in the bass’ eye without putting a big dent in your tackle budget. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-11-25-magnum-rods-for-jumbo-plugs

Magnum Rods for Jumbo Plugs

With the magnum crankbait craze spreading in 2014, it makes sense that rod companies would start building rods specifically for fishing jumbo plugs. We analyzed three tournament-worthy rods built for launching crankbaits ranging from standard deep-divers such as the Strike King 6XD up to today’s true jumbo plugs like the Strike King 10XD. Here’s how they fared. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-09-04-tackle-review-strike-pro-big-bubba

Tackle Review: Strike Pro Big Bubba

Here’s a one-of-a-kind square-bill that crankbait junkies might want to think about adding to their shallow-water arsenal. I’m hesitant to call the Big Bubba new because Strike Pro actually unveiled it awhile back. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-07-16-icast-trends-big-and-bold

ICAST Trends: Big and Bold

Gizzard shad are nothing new; nor is the notion that bass like to eat them. However, the recent heroics with a Magnum Spoon by Jason Lambert, Clent Davis, Randy Haynes and others at Kentucky Lake have focused a spotlight on a point reflected in several of the new products debuted at ICAST. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-07-09-tackle-review-z-man-diezel-minnowz

Tackle Review: Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ

With a name like DieZel, I expected the MinnowZ from Z-Man to be one rough customer. What I didn’t expect was something tough enough to catch several dozen bass and still not need replacing. Then I remembered the nifty 4-inch swimbait is manufactured using ElaZtech, a super-soft, yet incredibly strong material that has made a name for itself as one of the most pliable and durable soft plastics used in the fresh- and saltwater fishing industries. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-05-05-tackle-review-gambler-burner-worm

Tackle Review: Gambler Burner Worm

Just when you thought the soft-plastic worm market couldn’t get any fatter, Florida-based Gambler introduces a heavyweight surface swimmer that is designed to perform significantly better than others with a paddle-tail caboose. It’s called the Burner Worm, but it does way more than the name implies. To hear Walmart FLW Tour pros JT Kenney and Jim Tutt tell it, Gambler’s newest soft plastic is perfect for buzzing on top or crawled beneath the surface without ever missing a beat. READ MORE »

/tips/2014-04-30-tackle-review-strike-king-tour-grade-rage-blade-

Tackle Review: Strike King Tour Grade Rage Blade

There’s a new bladed swim jig in town from Strike King, and this one is sure to shake things up once the bass fishing masses catch on to some big changes it brings to the table. Not only does it rattle your rod tip and attract violent strikes from afar, it helps solve a couple of nagging problems inherent in a posse of its predecessors – poor hookup ratios and frustrating hangups. READ MORE »

/tips/2013-04-29-fishing-cybertools-

Fishing cybertools

When you’re fishing with an old-school bass angler, nothing will sour his face faster than seeing you slip a smartphone out of your pocket to peek at your email. As understandable as that attitude is, no one can rightly deny that today’s phones provide a tremendous amount of useful stuff. Such a device can be as valuable as your graph or a good landing net. In fact, your phone is more like a toolbox than a tool because each app serves a separate function. READ MORE »

/tips/2013-03-21-jerkbait-guide

Jerkbait guide

Take in an early spring tournament on just about any fishery, and you’ll see dozens of anglers jerking, twitching and snapping a bevy of slender minnow-shaped jerkbaits. Yet the same select and relatively small group of anglers usually cashes the bulk of the checks on many lakes during the spring. Somehow, they manage to set themselves apart. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-11-24-a-crankbait-dives-to-new-depths-

A crankbait ‘Dives-To’ new depths

For some reason, crankbaits overtook other lures this year in the speck of cyberspace inside my head that is my attention span. My wife gets annoyed that I can’t hear other words when I’m singularly focused on one task or noise. The problem is compounded when it involves something to do with fishing. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-11-18-running-the-yamaha-sho-v-max-250-la-

Running the Yamaha SHO V Max 250 LA

Waking up Tuesday to rain at 6 a.m. didn’t dampen the excitement of testing the new Yamaha outboards. The air was cool but not cold, and the rain was spitting and misting on the 45-minute drive to the test facility in Bridgeport, Ala. A quick safety meeting got everyone on the same page, and then a rundown of the SHO outboard came next. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-11-17-sneak-peak-new-yamaha-v-max-sho

Sneak peak: New Yamaha V MAX SHO

Game changer? It’s definitely going to be a drool inducer. We were invited to an early viewing of the new four-stroke outboards from Yamaha. Monday we were only privy to images of the new outboards, and Tuesday we’ll actually get to put them through their paces on several different boats. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-09-28-product-of-the-year-trilene-100-fluorocarbon

Product of the Year: Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon

Approximately one decade ago the Yamamoto Senko hit the market and transformed the bass-fishing industry. A few years later the shaky head and finesse worm had a similar effect. In 2005 Bryan Thrift introduced the ChatterBait, and in 2007 Jay Yelas won the FLW Tour Angler of the Year by throwing an under-the-radar swimbait. This season, no singular bait stood out. Instead, a fluorocarbon line was the product with the most profound impact. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-09-10-the-art-and-science-of-blade-baiting

The art and science of blade baiting

When walleyes are concentrated behind river wing dams or in reservoirs feeding on bait balls near the thermocline, nothing beats a properly presented blade bait for enticing a limit of fish. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-07-27-topwater-poppers

Topwater poppers

Pop. Pop. Splash. Splash. Set the Hook. Grab the net. Then drop that keeper in the livewell and fire back out there again. The action can be fast and furious when bass are schooling or rummaging shallow bushes looking for an easy meal, and they readily fall victim to popping topwaters. There are literally dozens of popper varieties on the market, and we sampled a large pool of manufacturers’ offerings. READ MORE »

/tips/2009-06-30-power-up-your-drop-shot

Power up your drop-shot

For anglers who live east of the Mississippi River, the term “drop-shot” often brings thoughts of deep water, wimpy rods, spinning reels, 6-pound-test and plastic worms the size of spaghetti noodles. While many Eastern anglers automatically place the dainty drop-shot into the finesse category, some Western pros do not see it that way. READ MORE »