When I grew up fishing in the 90s, shad swimbaits were regarded as old fashion “uncool” lures. And indeed the models available back then were very basic and quite ugly. And then, I can’t really pinpoint the exact year but in the 2000s, they went through a revival and were brought back to the forefront. Now shad swimbaits come in all shapes and sizes custom-made for specific techniques. Because there’s more than one way to fish a paddle tail shad swimbait. Let’s find out.
Shad swimbaits are very diverse, and we’ll see here which one to choose for which application. Most of that has to do with the shape of the body. I tend to sort lures into two categories based on the swimming action. I call them the metronome and the wild.
Some lures have a very predictable, steady kicking action. They usually have a paddle at about 90° angle with the body. They are the “metronome”. The “wild” however often with a wider angle will have a more erratic action, reminiscent of a fluttering blade. Not one is superior to the other, they each serve a purpose.
Soft baits on a jig head are the most basic and classic rig. It works everywhere. If you ever travel to a distant country, and you don’t know what fish species or environment, just take a few jig heads and a bag of shad swimbaits and you should be fine. It will catch fish in saltwater and freshwater alike. I cannot think of one single game fish species that will not bite a swimbait. The jig head weight will allow the fisherman to adjust to any depth.
A shad swimbait soft lure can be fished vertically under the boat or with a cast and retrieve technique. For the former, I will select a lure that has a thin paddle tail and connection with the body. That way the lure will conserve a swimming action even at an extremely slow speed. Since fish tend to have more time to closely look at the lure before striking, I pay close attention to color patterns and scents on the bait.
For cast and retrieve fishing, whether it’s for pike or zander, I will choose lures with a thicker paddle tail. It will create a slower but more powerful and wider kicking action. It’s better to have a paddle tail at a pretty much 90° angle with the length of the body. It will ensure a regular and steady kicking action.
The first criteria in selecting a soft lure for a Texas rig is the overall body shape. It should not interfere with the hook’s ability to come out and grab the fish. It requires a slender body rather like a minnow than an actual shad. Many manufacturers are offering lures with a bottom slit that will further allow the hook the freedom needed for a positive hookset.
For pike fishing around shallow cover, a weightless paddle tail shad swimbait is deadly. For better stability and a slightly faster sink rate, I often use a weighted hook. The lure falls horizontal and with enough movement for a strike on the initial fall. For pike, I prefer metronome slow-paced kicking action.
For fishing deeper for bass, perch, or zander, I rig a traditional Texas rig but with a pegged sinker. It’s a great option for fishing in cover for zander in flooded rivers. For perch, I select smaller shad swimbaits and fish around boat docks, bridge pilings, and seawalls. For all these applications I select wild tail action lures. Indeed, the lure needs to kick at the slightest movement going up or down or anywhere.
A shad swimbait can also be used as a trailer on a spinnerbait or a chatterbait. For spinnerbait I’ll need a lure with minimal drag, otherwise, the swimbait competes with the blade, the lure will tend to lose balance and run horizontal rather than vertical as it should. That’s why I pick a lure in a smaller size and with a worm-like slender body. The shad swimbait should not extend more than 3 centimeters past the skirt.
On a chatterbait there’s more freedom of choice because the lure will not cause the blade to malfunction. So a slightly bigger size can be beneficial. I have found that it’s actually better to rig the swimbait upside down with the curved side up. I often trim the paddle to reduce its surface area. The reason is that often the blade vibration and the paddle kicks tend to cancel each other.
I usually save used swimbait that I’ve fished on a jig head or Texas-rigged to use as chatterbait trailer. Just cut out the worn-out and torn-up head and rig it upside down on the chatterbait. Be careful if your swimbait contains salt to remove it after your fishing session, otherwise, it will rust and damage your hook making your bait useless!
If we could rank lures by how versatile they are, shad swimbaits would probably come first. They catch every single fish species, work year-round and in every environment. They come in every shape, with every action, and in many colors. You cannot have too many either, and being soft baits with a lot of competing companies, they are quite inexpensive too. It’s almost to the point where they make every other bait obsolete.