With any presentation, confidence is the key. A swimbait isn't like a dropshot; it doesn't catch the volume of fish like a dropshot. If an angler learns to dropshot and takes it to his pond, they can almost instantly start catching fish. You have to refine your swimbait fishing, learn the ins and outs and understand that while the bait does produce big fish, it doesn't produce the quantity. The greatest thing about the new PowerBait ® HollowBelly from Berkley ® is that it is far more versatile than any of the big tennis shoe swimbaits, the huge, wood-carved beasts we used to throw. By allowing anglers to do more things with a HollowBelly, we increase the confidence levels of the anglers using it.
Being from the West, I was lucky enough to be around while most of the groundwork for the swimbait revolution was being laid. It started with saltwater fishing, and being around party-boat deckhand
fishing in California, I was no stranger to going after some sand bass or calico bass in the ocean with a big swimbait. But as we looked at the freshwater lakes around my home, we realized that big bass were keying on the same size forage as the saltwater fish. We'd watch the trout truck back up to the lakes and all hell would break loose when the fish started hitting the water. We realized that catching bass wasn't just about crawfish and crankbaits and jigs. We started by picking up big saltwater baits, really primitive swimbaits, with galvanized hooks and absolutely blistered the big bass in those lakes. All the local guys out there thought we were crazy for throwing stuff so big. Once they saw us hauling in monster bass, we changed more than a few minds about their effectiveness.
Eventually we got the local swimbait makers?the guys I refer to as mad scientists who would spend all day in their little shacks pouring plastics and who really tutored me on how to use these baits, to pour us trout-pattern baits, and I secretly used these all the way up through the tournaments. Now, we've evolved to the extremely fishable HollowBelly, the next generation of swimbaits, and anglers can't get enough.
I've learned some valuable lessons both back in the day and on the BASS Elite Series Tour that have increased my success with the HollowBelly, things that can work all over the country.
When rigging the HollowBelly, the most important thing to start with is the hook. For me, the best hook to use is a 6/0 screw lock hook. The screw lock hook does a number of things. First, it keeps the bait in place and keeps it from sliding down the shank of the hook when you get bit. Second, the big hook reaches all the way back into the belly of the bait, giving you more positive hook sets. Finally, it allows you to more accurately center the hook on the body for the best action.
With the 6/0 screw lock hook in place, I determine how deep and how fast I want to fish and adjust my weights accordingly. I use the clip-on weights on the shank of the hook. For deeper water and a faster rate of fall, go to heavier weights. But even in shallow water, when I want to really burn the bait all the way back to the boat, I will use heavier weights. The bait needs the heavy weight as leverage to help propel the paddle tail of the HollowBelly. Play with different weight sizes until you find one that works for you or learn how to pour your own custom sizes. I've even rigged the HollowBelly on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits with amazing success.
Rigging can take on a lot of variables depending on where you are fishing. The two most common situations would be open water and heavy cover. Around boat docks, through and around grass and wood, I prefer to rig the bait weedless. This gives the HollowBelly a decided advantage over old swimbaits in that it can deflect and run through and around cover without picking up grass and other debris. This bait is perfect for Skippin' docks, fishing through grass or around trees.
I use a lot more variations when fishing open water. The first would include rigging a No. 4 treble hook either on the bottom or on the back. Using some 50- or 65-pound Spiderwire ® braid, I tie the treble hook to the 6/0 screw lock hook, either the eye or at the bend. For smallmouth, I usually rig the treble far in the back or underneath near the tail. For largemouth, which deliver most of the strikes across the head, I rig it on the back. With the line attaching the treble to main hook at just the right length, I look to see how the hook will lay completely flat with one of the hook points pointed down. That hook point is used to spear the treble hook to the body.
My third variation is when I am getting a lot of short strikes in open water. I rig the HollowBelly on a molded swimbait jighead (again, varying the size to match the depth and rate of fall/retrieve), but a round ball jig could work, too. I expose the hook through the back of the bait and attach a spinnerbait trailer hook to the bend of the jig hook and expose the trailer hook on the back. The only problem with this method is that sometimes the exposed trailer hook can snag the tail and cause the bait to foul. In a tournament situation, every second counts, but sometimes the rewards are worth the risk. The setup looks really natural, like a couple of dorsal fins sticking up. Swimbait anglers are notorious for demanding that a bait look natural in the water, and this one definitely does. If I am smallmouth fishing or getting a lot of tail strikes, then I attach the treble hook (with one hook spearing the bait) to the bottom of the bait near the tail using the Spiderwire instead of using the spinnerbait trailer hook.
Let's say you're trying to crank down to 14 feet and tick the bottom. You could throw a crankbait, but that's a very inefficient way of getting to those fish because it is actually in that strike zone only about a third of the time. For the first third, you're trying to crank to that depth, a third of the time it's on bottom and the final third the bait is coming up to the boat. There's a lot of fish down there that never got a chance to hit your bait.
With the HollowBelly, resist the urge to start Crankin' when the bait hits the water. Allow the bait to sink to the bottom or count it down when going after suspended fish. With a slow, steady retrieve, the bait will be in the strike zone for at least 90 percent of the time before rising up to the boat. I fish the HollowBelly on nothing but Trilene ® XT ®. The monofilament line gives the bait the right lift and lets it hold properly in the water. I spool the 20-pound Berkley Trilene XT on an Abu Garcia ® 600EXT with a 4.7:1 gear ratio. It's easier to speed up a slow reel than it is to slow down a fast reel. Keep your rod at 10 or 11 o'clock with slack in the line and let the line drift the bait to you. For rods, I use a 7 1/2- or 8-foot medium-fast rod. The rod tip helps absorb the shock of big strikes and slows down my reaction so I don't rip so many hooks away. Even though it loads up quickly, it's got plenty of backbone for big fish.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, is a tip that I get more feedback on than any other when it comes to fishing the HollowBelly. When retrieving the bait back to the boat, don't speed up and jerk the bait out of the water and fire off your next cast. Instead, let the bait linger in the water and stop when it comes up next to your boat. A lot of times, you will have bass following the bait looking to use your boat as an ambush point. Any forage fish cruising or being chased will stop when it sees the boat, it won't speed up and jump out of the water. This is hard to make yourself do sometimes, but it's all a part of making the bait look, and act, as natural in the water as you can.
Whether it's fishing bluff walls, docks, grass or open water, the HollowBelly is the next step toward a truly versatile and easy-to-use big fish bait. All it takes is some practice.