Swimbait fishing has expanded over the years, from 8- and 9-inch trout imitators for giant California largemouth to baits of all sizes that work literally anywhere in the country. The swimbaits that have hit the mainstream in recent years are likely fished by every angler on the Bass Pro Tour.
Most of these tournament-sized swimbaits are in the 3- to 5-inch range, but Mark Daniels Jr. is a big proponent of going even smaller.
The phrase “match the hatch” has been borrowed from the fly-fishing community and become a cliché in the bass fishing world, but Daniels says it’s a crucial part of his reasoning for going small.
“I’m always watching for baitfish to see their size, and I look down the throat of all of the fish I catch to see if I see any forage in there,” he says. “I want to fish the size of what they’re eating. I think bass anglers will often use the same size bait and not adjust, just because a big topwater or larger swimbait is what they always use.”
Daniels believes these small details make a difference when fish are keying on smaller baitfish.
“I think a lot of people overlook the baitfish size,” he confirms. “It’s crucial and can make a difference. Fish are looking at those small baitfish, and baits that look a lot bigger look out of place next to them.”
To match the small baitfish, Daniels frequently relies on a 2.5-inch Z-Man Slim SwimZ swimbait that could easily be mistaken as a crappie lure, based on the small size and thin profile.
“Sometimes, it pays to drop down a size and this bait is definitely a finesse deal,” Daniels says. “The Slim SwimZ is legit when the water is clear and they’re eating small baitfish. It’s a sneaky little bait that has a tighter quiver than a lot of other swimbaits everyone else is using.”
He fishes the small swimbait on lightweight jigheads and says the hook size is crucial for the best action.
“I’ll drop down to a 1/8-ounce if I need to,” he says. “The 3/16- and 1/4-ounce jigheads would be my other favorites. The key is the hook, and I like a jighead with a size 1 hook or 1/O at the very most.”
In addition to switching to smaller baits to match baitfish size, Daniels also sees two other perfect scenarios: extremely clear water and whenever there’s heavy fishing pressure.
“In clear water, bass will often shy away from bigger baits even if they’re eating bigger fish,” he theorizes. “Going to a smaller swimbait is a way to make your bait look like an easy target because it’s non-threatening.”
Daniels prefers a 7-foot-1 medium Favorite Fishing Sick Stick rod and reel spooled with 15-pound Flash Green Seaguar Smackdown braided line, paired with a leader of 8-pound Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon.
He fishes the bite-sized swimbaits just like any other swimbait, with a steady retrieve and says they’ve proven themselves all across the country.
“I’ve caught them on clear water lakes like Travis, Lanier, Hartwell, and all over the West Coast,” Daniels says. “It also works good up north for smallmouth. Some people think that a small bait won’t catch big fish, but I’m here to tell you different.”