By USA Guest Columnist and Pro Angler Byron Velvick
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, he 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 Power Bait Hollow Belly is that 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 Hollow Belly, 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 swimbait revolution was being laid. It started with saltwater fishing, and being around the whole California, party boat, deckhand fishing, I was no stranger to going after some sand bass or calico bass in the ocean with a big swimbait. But as we looked around at the freshwater lakes around my home, we realized that big bass were keying on the same sized 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 blister 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 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 Hollow Belly, 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 Hollow Belly, things that can work all over the country.
When rigging the Hollow Belly, 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 I want to fish and also how fast 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 Hollow Belly. 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 Hollow Belly on spinnerbaits, chatterbaits and buzzbaits all 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 Hollow Belly 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 skipping 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 Spider Wire 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 in the far in the back or underneath near the tail. For largemouth, who 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 point 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 Hollow Belly on a molded swimbait jig head (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 set up 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 Spider Wire 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 Hollow Belly, resist the urge to start cranking 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 Hollow Belly 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 Trilene XT on an Abu Garcia 6600EXT 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 ½- 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 that any other when it comes to fishing the Hollow Belly. 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 Hollow Belly is the next step towards a truly versatile and easy-to-use big fish bait. All it takes is some practice.