The Evolution of Swimbaits: A Journey from Sassy Shad to Versatile Fish Catchers

It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come with swimbaits since the West Coast anglers first brought them to our attention.

Diverse Selection for Every Serious Bass Fisherman

Today, every serious bass fisherman carries a good selection of different styles, sizes and shapes of these fish catchers.

The swimbait craze really makes sense. I remember as a kid catching a lot of bass on a Sassy Shad, which in reality, was a swimbait before we called them that. It was a very effective bait that faded away from our attention until the West Coast giant bass swimbait phenomena started.

Limitations of California Big Bass Swimbaits

Of course, those California big bass swimbaits had their limitations. You couldn’t fish them fast, and they were more like a wake bait. You’d get fish to follow but it was hard to get them to eat them.

Lure makers saw the potential and heard the pleas from anglers to create swimbaits that offered more appeal to fish of all sizes. The big ones are still effective, but now we have baits in more sizes with broader bass appeal and that you can fish from top to bottom.

Versatility in Usage

They are very universal in their uses, too. They’re not only fished alone, but we pair them as swim jig trailers, on bladed jigs, spinnerbaits, multiple baits on A rigs and whatever your imagination allows you to do. You’re seeing them as buzzbait and spinnerbait trailers – in some cases – in place of skirts – and on football jigs.

Rigging Options and Tackle Advancements

We also can fish them in various depth zones and types of cover, giving us a bait that looks natural and fishes efficiently at whatever speed you need.

We now have more rigging options, too, be it with lead head jigs, weedless, as under-spins or weightless. We have belly weighted jigs, screw locks and barbed heads for securing the bait better as terminal tackle companies continue to improve offerings to match the needs.

Color variations have improved, as you can choose a color and style to mimic the local forage and draw fish to them, especially in clear water.

Choosing the Right Size and Design

Given all the choices available today, it’s important that an angler study and experiment with the different sizes and designs. For example, some swimbaits work better on a slow retrieve while others are best at faster speeds. In clear water, the ones with a more subtle tail action excel more. In dirtier water, bigger baits with larger paddle tails create more vibration and outshine the more subtle versions.

Continued Innovation: A Bright and Exciting Future

Strike King, my lure sponsor, now offers four sizes of the Rage Swimmer, two sizes of the Swimming Shiner and two sizes of the Swimming Caffeine Shad. I’ve learned that there is a time and place for each style and size. I carry far more in various colors and sizes today than I did two years, and I continue to expand my knowledge and experiment with each one’s application and versatility.

The Unexplored Potential of Swimbaits

We haven’t scratched the surface as the category continues to grow. Each year, innovative companies give us new items and ways to use them. We still have a lot to learn, and that makes the future bright and exciting.

Embracing the Growing Lure Category

If you haven’t experimented with this growing lure category, you should, because it will make you a better angler, and like I say, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam’s column appears weekly on You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.