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. Just as he did last season with the Magnum Spoon, Parker showed up before the Rayovac tournament and handed his new baits out to the series’ best offshore sticks, including Clent Davis and Curt McGuire, knowing that they’d probably be in contention for a top 10. It worked. Neither fished the MBP exclusively, but both caught fish with it. You can see both pros showing off the swimbait in the top 10 baits gallery here. Surely, you’ll see a few others throwing it when the Tour visits Lake Chickamauga next month.
We got the skinny on the new bait from the man who designed it, and dug a little deeper into a new crop of “ledge swimbaits” gaining popularity throughout the Southeast.
In length, the MBP Swimbait isn’t exactly jumbo compared to other swimbaits that anglers use on ledges – it’s about 6 1/4 inches long. The MBP’s “jumbo” status is earned in its profile and girth.
From belly to back, the bait’s side profile measures about 1 1/2 inches tall. The deep belly is intended to mimic the profile of a big shad – gizzard, threadfin, whatever.
It’s a hefty chunk of solid soft plastic too.
“I was trying to find a big swimbait to fish out on the ledges that wasn’t a hollow-bodied swimbait,” Parker says of his design process. “Most of the solid-bodied swimbaits that look really cool have the hooks on the bottom [like a line-through swimbait], and if I’m fishing the ledges on the bottom I want the hook on top. I wanted it to have a big profile and have a solid body and last more than one fish – a lot of hollow bodies get torn really easily.”
The tail is also unique. It’s fan-shaped and double-wide, with a slight rearward curve. Connected to the body with a slender, cylindrical rear section, the tail creates a bold thump and roll.
“I wanted a tail that would catch as much water as possible, and I wanted it in a 90-degree boot,” Parker adds. “It has what I call a ‘belly flash’ – it lists side-to-side with a rolling action, back and forth.”
A smaller model, which Parker says is ideal when paired with a swim jig, Scrounger Head, ChatterBait or other style of jighead, measures 4 1/4 inches long, plus more sizes might be on the way.
Putting it to Use
Fished on an open jighead, the MBP Swimbait is simple to rig. Parker says that the small model is the “do-all” model that he reaches for when he needs to get a bite. The bigger model is designed for targeting overgrown bass feeding on overgrown shad. It’s strictly a big-bass bait – not a “numbers” bait – and anglers should understand that if they incorporate it into their rotation of ledge-fishing baits. It’s just another tool in the toolbox.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a deal for catching 50 fish,” Parker claims. “It’s a big-head hunting bait. You’re trying to catch a big fish with that bait.”
It’ll come in especially handy during the gizzard shad spawn, which usually occurs in shallow water along main-lake points and bars. Casting it out and swimming it with a straight retrieve works fine.
However, once bass go deeper than 10 feet, a slight technique changeup is required with this swimbait.
“Because the tail is so wide, if you throw it deeper than about 10 feet, it has a lot of lift like a Colorado blade,” Parker explains. “You have to fish it a little different: Start and stop, stroke it, or manipulate it so it stays down on the bottom. Don’t just reel it in. Drag it around or hop it off bottom.”
Currently, Parker is pouring swimbaits in his garage and supplying them to a select few pros and to TackleExperts.com, where each bait sells for $12.99. A production run of baits should arrive soon, but they won’t be available to the public until they pass inspection and the plastic composition is just right. Brooks Woodward, owner of Nichols Lures, says that the price could come down once the company reaches full production level.
Parker also plans to continue offering hand-poured creations in custom colors in the future, but in bulk quantities only. Ordering information for custom swimbaits will be made available once production has begun.
Six colors will be offered at first, with additional colors coming later.
Other Players in the Game
The MBP Swimbait joins a growing list of big unrigged ledge-fishing swimbaits that have become popular recently. Some are jumbo hollow-bodied baits. Others are traditional shad-tail baits, like the kind striper fisherman have fished for years. And more recently, anglers have been turning to hand-poured semi-custom jobs that can be made with unique color combinations and with just the right degree of “softness” for good action, but not so soft that they tear up too easily. Many of the latter are shaped like classic line-through models, but with solid, weightless bodies.
Some of the more popular big swimbaits among ledge lobbers these days include:
Editor’s note: We’ll be digging deeper into the subject of ledge-fishing swimbaits, jigheads and techniques in a summertime issue of FLW Bass Fishing magazine next year.
As far as mimicking big baitfish goes, there are plenty of options. Californians have been building giant swimbaits for years, and there are more reasonably sized pre-rigged versions of similar design (the Huddleston Deluxe 68 Special, Huddleston 6-inch Trout, Osprey Tournament Talon, etc.) that are better matched to tournament fishing scenarios in the Eastern U.S.
So what makes the unrigged soft-plastic swimbait the choice over something such as a Talon or a Hudd?
For starters, it can be rigged with different jighead sizes and hook styles depending on the scenario. In some cases it’s cheaper to fish too, although if you’re burning through a lot of small bass you can torch a pack of swimbaits in a hurry.
Many big trout swimbaits have very subtle tail action without a lot of body roll. They’re more visual swimbaits that don’t produce quite as much “thump.”
Also, in the case of the MBP Swimbait, hookup percentage is enhanced thanks to the shape and suppleness of the plastic.
“It [the MBP] folds up a lot better and fits in the fish’s mouth,” Parker says. “That narrow section of the tail will wrap back around where a bass can take it all in. I used to use the Ospreys with the hook that comes in them and caught a lot of fish. But I also got a lot of hits without hookups because the bait is really rigid.”
Terminal Tackle Needs
Because of the girth of the MBP Swimbait, it requires a massive hook for best results. Parker suggests a jighead with an 8/0 hook. He’s also throwing heavy heads: 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounce. That’s pretty big stuff, and there aren’t a lot of commercially available options. Big Hammer sells a 1-ounce head with an 8/0 hook. It’s probably the best option currently. Some anglers are custom-making their hooks. Others are buying saltwater or striper jigheads.
Soon, though, Nichols will be offering a jighead matched perfectly to the MBP Swimbait. Woodward had samples to show off at the recent Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Eufaula, and it looks like a pretty wicked gaff of a jighead. The Nichols model will feature an 8/0 hook and the company’s Touthhead style bait-keeper system, whereby a toothpick is pushed through the body, through a small hole molded in the lead keeper barb and out the other side. This particular version features four toothpick holes, for a solid hold that doesn’t require any glue.
Another option, depending on your swimbait choice, is to do as Rayovac FLW Series pro Jay Kendrick did when he won at Guntersville this spring. He couldn’t find a big enough jig-hook for the 7-inch Scottsboro Tackle Company Swimbait he was fishing, so he fished the bait on a jumbo Texas rig. Kendrick used a 10/0 Owner Beast hook with a pegged 3/4-ounce tungsten sinker. It worked for the Scottsboro, but that swimbait has a narrow opening inside its body that allows the hook to penetrate more easily. The belly girth of the MBP is probably too much for Texas-style rigging. You’ll need to consider the composition of the swimbait before trying the Texas-rig option.
Parker throws his new swimbait on 17-pound-test fluorocarbon and a custom Alpha rod. Generally, he recommends a 7-foot, 6-inch to 7-foot, 11-inch extra-heavy swimbait rod.
Throwing increasingly bigger “ledge swimbaits” is a fascinating trend among bass fishermen and another chapter in this lure’s story. It’s clear that swimbaits are so versatile that there is no one-size-fits-all. There’s one for every scenario.
If you find yourself in a ledge-fishing scenario this summer, it might be a good idea to give one of these baits a try.