Most swimbait novices are more particular about how they like their eggs prepared - hard or soft - than about whether a hard or soft swimbait applies to a particular situation.
Given the high level of competition on the Elite Series trail, Oklahoma's Kenyon Hill has faced situations where he has had to make that choice (swimbaits, not eggs) in a hurry. He seems to have it figured out: he won last year at Clark's Hill with a Sebile Magic Swimmer hard plastic swimbait
"There are some times where they'll bite the hard bait better than the soft bait, like on Clarks Hill," he says. "They just chomp that hard one, it's just what the fish like. I had co-anglers throwing soft swimbaits and they weren't getting bit while I was just smacking them. You have to read the fish a little bit and see what they're wanting."
But other times, the proper decision is less apparent. When he knows a swimbait is the right choice, Hill will have both a hard and soft bait — usually a Sebile Magic Swimmer and a BassTrix paddletail — tied on, and he'll let the fish tell him which they prefer.
There are, of course, some differences in their makeup and their abilities that make him lean toward one or the other, though. "They both do different things," he states. "The soft baits are a little more subtle and they offer a little more flexibility in the ways you can fish them. With a hard bait, you can keep it forever, like a crankbait. It also has a little more noise to it. It rattles a whole lot more and it's obviously tougher."
The primary factor that determines which one he'll start with is the cover that he believes the bass to be using.
"If I'm fishing open water, I will throw a Sebile Magic Swimmer," he says. "But if I'm around grass or brush or docks where I might get hung up a lot, it might be more efficient for me to use a soft plastic swimbait."
The next issue is the aggressiveness of the fish. When they want a fast retrieve, he prefers the hard lures. They typically retain their action at up-tempo speeds, while the soft ones "will ripple out more and not have as much action."
Given a choice, he prefers the hard versions because he seems to land a higher percentage of the fish that bite. The Magic Swimmer comes with razor-sharp trebles and when the bite is on, the hook up ratio is solid, assuming you use the right equipment. With the hard ones, Hill prefers a rod that he normally uses for crankbaits or spinnerbaits, but the soft lures require a different rod action.
"On the soft baits, especially if I 'Tex-pose' the single hook (with the barb buried just under the skin on the top of the lure), I like to use a heavier jig rod," he explains.
Because of the differing rods and varied hook permutations, his hook-set technique will vary as well. "On the hard baits, I'll just let the bass load up on the rod like with a crankbait, and on the soft swimbaits, I like to set the hook hard like I would with a jig," he says.
While those that get solidly hooked on the single-hook versions can be muscled to the boat, with the treble hooks of the Magic Swimmer and the limber rod on which he fishes it, Hill says it's necessary to "baby" the bass a bit. "Use your head," urges Hill. "Fight the bass like you would if it was hooked on a crankbait and you won't have any problems, especially if they're really gobbling it," Hill explains.
Water clarity does not play a role in his decision to use a hard swimbait over a soft plastic version. Both varieties depend on a sight bite, and relatively clear water is key. If visibility is under 3 feet he believes that another lure category altogether will prove more effective. But when the swimbait bite is on, you'd better be ready to give the fish some options, even if they appear to be feeding voraciously.
"If you're going to be a swimbait fisherman you have to have a selection of both hard and soft swimbaits," Hill says. "There are definitely times where one will drastically outcatch the other."