Gerald Swindle, the 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, is as subtle as a chartreuse sledge hammer. The Alabamian’s wit is quick, his words come rapid-fire, and the latest rap tunes boom from his pickup truck. He tells you exactly what he thinks, even if the message stings. You don’t have to listen, but his straight talk can help you catch more bass.
One of his pet peeves is an angler who overwhelms himself. This type of fisherman will have an arsenal of rods on the front deck of his boat rigged with baits to cover every conceivable situation. Then he’ll boast about how versatile he is.
“Some guys have so many rods out that it looks like somebody spilled a box of toothpicks in their boats,” Swindle says. “Those guys aren’t versatile, they’re plum confused.”
Now On Deck
Versatility is one of Swindle’s strong suits. He’s as competent drop-shotting with 6-pound line and spinning tackle as he is with punching a 1-ounce jig through matted grass with a flippin’ stick and 65-pound braid. He’s also skilled with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater plugs, and any soft plastic presentation you can think of.
But you rarely see Swindle with more than four rods on his deck. When he has only one or two rods out, it’s a safe bet that he’s got a hot pattern dialed in and his livewell brims with bass. It’s decisiveness that allows Swindle to keep his bass fishing simple and uncluttered. He starts by making a hunch about what type of presentation is most likely to tempt bass, usually basing the call on the water and current conditions. Often, though, it’s nothing more than a gut feeling.
For example, if Swindle believes bass may be in the mood for a walking topwater, he ties on a Lucky Craft Sammy and leaves his other rods in the boat’s storage locker. Then he fishes the Sammy for all he’s worth until the bass let him know if he’s made the right choice.
Trust Your Decision
How long does Swindle stick with a given lure if it isn’t producing? He sets no time limit. “When I get that feeling that it isn’t going to work, I’ll always give it a few more minutes,” he says. “That feeling has to come to you. It may take 45 minutes, or it may take three hours.”
Many anglers, Swindle claims, set predetermined time limits on their lures. They’ll fish a topwater for 20 minutes, a crank for 20 and so on, until they go through every rod they carry.
“Those guys don’t have the confidence to trust their decisions,” he says. “If the Braves changed pitchers for every batter, you’d never know which one had the best arm.”
By trusting in himself and limiting his lure choices, Swindle frees his mind to focus on every cast and to ponder the places where the bait is most likely to coax strikes. Sticking with the same rod and lure also lets him get into a rhythm. This improves his casting accuracy and his ability to work the bait effectively. Fishermen who constantly change baits never get into the same flow.
“A lot of guys are looking for a miracle lure that catches bass on every cast,” he says. “I’m not looking for a miracle—I’m looking for a start. I may not be a better fisherman than you are, but I’m more stubborn about making something work.”
Don’t Be Lured
Another mistake that plagues plum confused anglers is that of setting out several rods rigged with lures that do the same job. If they think the bass will go for a crankbait that dives two to three feet, they’ll tie on three or four cranks in different makes and colors that run in this depth zone. Then they’ll continually switch from one to another. When Swindle thinks a shallow-running crankbait has promise, he chooses one and sticks with it.
“If a bass is next to a stump in three feet of water and you make a good presentation with a crankbait, you should get some kind of reaction,” he says.
The crankbait he’s fishing may not be exactly the one the bass want that day. But, if Swindle sees a bass flash on his bait, feels one bump it, or hooks a bass and loses it, he knows he’s on the right track. If he continues to get near misses with the crankbait, only then does he try other shallow-running crankbaits and different colors.
“When I start fishing, I stick with basic colors,” he says. “With crankbaits that means chartreuse or shad. Leave all those other pretty colors in the box until you start getting bites. Then you can make refinements.”
When Swindle determines that a given bait isn’t producing, he cuts it off and puts it away so he won’t be tempted to fish it again. He puts it out of his mind and focuses on another lure.
Most fishermen, however, leave a rod with an unproductive lure out and get another rod with a different bait. When lure No. 2 fails, that rod joins the first rod on the deck and another is put into action. This process repeats itself until a jumble of rods turns the boat into an obstacle course. These anglers eventually start fishing lures that should have been eliminated, because the baits are in plain sight where they pester the subconscious mind.
“When I put a bait away, I’m done with it,” Swindle says. “You came out of the bullpen, you played in the game, and you didn’t perform. It’s time to hit the shower.”
Versatility Done Right
A 43/4-inch Zoom Finesse Worm rigged on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce ball head jig is the exception to Swindle’s rule. He matches the jig worm to a spinning outfit with 8-pound test mono and often leaves the rod on the deck despite whatever else he may be fishing. Should a bass miss a spinnerbait or some other fast-moving power bait, Swindle follows up with the little jig worm and often puts the fish in the boat.
He also calls on the jig worm whenever he comes across a target that lends itself to a finesse presentation. This could be a bridge piling, a culvert or anything that differs from the prevailing pattern.
“That spinning rod might lie there on the deck all day while I’m flippin’ bushes,” Swindle says. “Then, I’ll come by something like an isolated rock pile. I’ll throw the jig worm at it, catch a 3 pounder, and go right back to flippin’. That may be the only time I’ll throw the jig worm the whole day. Now that’s being versatile.”
Swindle is also versatile when it comes to pace. He fishes as fast as the bass will allow so he can hit more targets in less time. If the fish are active and aggressive, Swindle’s electric motor keeps humming as he chunks and winds at a fast clip. When the bass go into a funk and refuse to chase, Swindle nudges his boat along inches at a time with the electric motor on low.
Slowing the pace paid off for him during the last Bassmaster Tour event of the 2004 season at Santee-Cooper. He started casting a spinnerbait and flippin’ a jig to fallen trees while moving the boat at an upbeat pace. The approach had been working, but that day the bites weren’t coming. Convinced the bass were still relating to the trees, Swindle eased off the throttle and crawled a lizard through the limbs as slowly as he could stand to move it.
He soon got a strike and boated a 9-pound largemouth. He continued the slow-motion lizard presentation and caught enough bass to clinch the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Swindle believes one of the biggest mistakes fishermen make is fishing too fast for their skill level. Fishing with the electric motor running on high speed can be extremely productive because you cover more water, yet few anglers can really pull it off.
“Kevin VanDam is the best there is at fishing fast and fishing under control,” he says. “I know a lot of guys who fish just as fast as he does, but they’re thrashing around totally out of control. They don’t make accurate casts or keep their baits working in the strike zone long enough.”
Each angler, claims Swindle, must find the maximum speed at which they can move the boat and still be in control. “Very few people in the world can fish with the trolling motor on 36 high and make accurate casts,” he says.
Follow his frank advice and you’ll put more bass in the boat—with fewer rods on deck.