Deep swimbaiting is not hard to learn, but it does take patience. It’s not about covering a lot of water, but rather making long casts, counting the lure down to a certain depth, then retrieving it slowly but steadily, the way a gizzard shad usually swims. The real secret is where you fish, and that’s where Burro, Box, Caballo and those other canyons become important. On Amistad, practically every canyon offers not only depth but steep edges where the depth changes abruptly.
“Out here, paralleling ledges is a good place to start, and it’ll be a good starting place anywhere you have deep, rocky structure,” Hanselman explains, “but you don’t have to limit yourself to rocks. On Lanier, fishermen were retrieving swimbaits over flooded timber that topped out about 30 feet deep. Table Rock has both rock and trees where swimbaits can be effective, and some fishermen are using swimbaits up on some of the Tennessee River lakes, even though the water isn’t always as clear. When the water has just a slight stain to it, you just have to work your swimbaits closer to the structure.
“I’m fishing places, not for specific fish I might see on my electronics. I don’t like to idle over fish, even those in deep water. Rocky lakes especially will have huge, flat rocks that form ledges, shelves or even points. They may be 30 or 40 feet deep and drop off to a hundred feet, or more.
“I try to parallel the edge of that dropoff with my retrieve, so I’ll make a long cast along the deeper side of the ledge, because this is frequently where bass will gather in schools. They’re off the lip, not on top of the ledge. I do know from my electronics how deep the top of the ledge is, so I count my swimbait down until it’s about 10 feet above that lip. For example, if the lip is 25 to 30 feet deep, I’ll stop my bait between 15 and 20 feet down.
“Then I’ll just slowly start reeling it back. I’ll make 10 or 12 turns of the reel handle, then stop and let the lure sink a few seconds, then make another 10 or 12 cranks, stop, and let the swimbait sink again. This is because the lure will rise naturally as you’re reeling.”
In both the prespawn and postspawn periods, Hanselman also targets the last underwater ledge or breakline leading into a spawning flat or bay. On Amistad and other deeper, clear-water lakes, bass often spawn on the main lake rather than in shallow coves, and on Amistad in particular, big largemouth have been known to spawn as deep as 20 feet. Again, the retrieve is a slow one, with the lure on the deeper side of the break and about 10 feet above it.
Here’s where patience may be as important as anticipation. Bass in these places at this time of year frequently gather in schools, and repeated casts may be necessary to get that first strike. Then, hopefully, that strike triggers a wolf-pack instinct in the rest of the school, and those fish literally fight to get to the swimbait. Hanselman has had plenty of 30- to 40-fish days when this has happened, as well as five-bass, 40-pound catches.
“Later in the summer, I use a technique I call ‘bustin’ ledges,’” Hanselman continues, “which is a slight modification of an old striper presentation we used before I ever started guiding. I’ll get along the face of a bluff or ledge where it makes that sheer drop down into much deeper water, and just free spool the swimbait straight down beside the boat. Again, I don’t go to the bottom but stop between 30 and 50 feet down.
“Then, I’ll just slowly and steadily crank it up and drop it again. I’m not jigging the swimbait because I’m reeling it up slowly but steadily, but the concept is similar. The father of one of my best friends was a striper guide, and while we caught our share of striped bass doing this with big striper jigs, we also caught a lot of 8- and 9-pound largemouth, too.”