The ultimate satisfaction

My third-place finish at Pickwick Lake is the most gratifying accomplishment in my 10 seasons as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. I’ve had several other top fives and even managed to win one event, but they pale in comparison to what happened at Pickwick.

That’s because prototype swimbaits I designed launched me into the Top 10 and moved me up the leaderboard. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that. It’s the ultimate satisfaction.

My swimbaits are the first lures I’ve ever designed. Actually, they are the first lures I’ve ever had an opportunity to design. It’s something I’ve been longing to do. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that very few pros can have whatever changes they desire made to a prototype before the lure is introduced to the fishing public.

It’s why I teamed up with Bass Mafia Outdoors this year. They promised that I would have full control over designing my own baits. If you’ve followed my career at all, it should come as no surprise that my first lures are swimbaits. I would rather catch a bass on a swimbait than anything else.

I’ve worked closely with Isaac Payne at Bass Mafia. He’s been willing to receive my feedback and turn around any changes I want ASAP.

A lot of research and development has gone into these baits to get them anatomically correct and to swim with the most lifelike action possible. It is also essential that the injected molded colors are exceptionally lifelike and identical with each bait. That isn’t possible with hand-poured swimbaits.

The swimbaits I used at Pickwick were the third prototypes. They are very close to what I want, but we’re already working on the fourth prototypes to refine the baits to the ultimate degree. The goal is to introduce 6- and 7-inch, light and heavy models of the bait at ICAST 2022.

The basic design features an internal weight and a hook that rides up. One of the things that make my swimbaits so irresistible to bass is that the head wiggles with precisely the right action. Every swimbait’s tail wags, but their heads don’t move. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but it takes the exact weight and balance to get that head action just right.

The first two days of the Pickwick tournament couldn’t have been more frustrating. It was a typical ledge event on the Tennessee River. A lot of guys found the same schools of bass and were fishing on top of each other. Brandon Lester and Cody Huff had offshore bass to themselves and finished first and second.

I wasn’t as lucky. On Days 1 and 2 I had to share water with other competitors. To fish my swimbaits correctly I needed to make long casts. I couldn’t do that because I would have been casting over the lines of other anglers. I resorted to poking around with a little worm and managed to qualify for Day 3 with respectable but less than spectacular weights. I had 17-8 the first day and 16-2 on the second.

The other pros I was sharing water with didn’t make the cut. I finally had the spot to myself and could unleash my swimbaits. After making a long cast with one of the swimbaits and letting it sink, I would wind it back slowly just above the bottom 15 to 25 feet deep.

It’s similar to slow rolling a spinnerbait. Just keep the bait going low and slow with no pauses or breaks in the cadence. If the swimbait’s shape, color and action are realistic, the lure does all the work for you.

I opted for a blue gizzard shad color in both swimbaits. Every 4- and 5-pound bass that hammered my baits told me that the lures I envisioned, that I had first viewed on a computer screen, were becoming a reality. I boated limits the final two days that weighed 22-3 and 21-13. Every bass came on the swimbaits that I had created with Bass Mafia. It just doesn’t get any better than that.