Try a swimbait during 'Three Free' weekend

Soft plastic swimbaits can catch a wide variety of gamefish. From top to bottom: A 3-inch MinnowZ rigged as a trailer on a Strike King Bitsy Bug jig, a 3-inch MinnowZ on a 1/6-ounce NedlockZ jighead, a 3-inch Slim SwimZ on a 1/20-ounce ShroomZ jig and a 4-inch Keitech Swing Impact on a 1/10-ounce NedlockZ head.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is giving people three great reasons to get outdoors next weekend.

And they’re all free.

On Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9, residents and out-of-state visitors can fish in Michigan waters, ride the state’s vast network of off-road trails and visit state parks for free.

It’s all part of the DNR’s “Three Free” weekend.

It used to be just called Free Fishing Weekend, but the kinder, gentler DNR apparently wants to include folks who enjoy the non-consumptive sports.

If you’re heading out to go fishing, the easiest way to catch a few fish is with a worm suspended underneath a bobber.

The bluegills are just starting to spawn in lakes around southern Michigan, so look for round, light-colored spots about two feet in diameter that indicate their beds in shallow water. You can see the fish, usually, too.

Even better than an earthworm is a “spike” or two on a small hook. Spike is the palatable name for maggot.

If you or the people you’ll take fishing are a bit squeamish about handling earthworms or maggots, you can also have some fun targeting multiple species by throwing small artificial lures on light spinning gear.

My top recommendation for getting a bluegill, bass or pike to hit is a small swimbait. The smaller you go with this wiggling lure of soft plastic, the more likely you’ll catch all sorts of different fish with it.

A small swimbait, in my opinion, is the most indispensable soft plastic lure around. In the finesse world of lighter tackle and line, three swimbaits rank at the top: A 3-inch MinnowZ, a 3-inch Slim SwimZ and a Keitech 4-inch Swing Impact.

The first two are Z-Man products, made of the nearly indestructible Elaztech plastic; the Keitech is an import made by Keitech.

All three of these swimbaits have flattened “boot” tails that wag whenever the lure is sinking or when your reel it in.

To a predator, they look a lot like natural forage fish and each of them can catch fish in a wide variety of situations.

The MinnowZ and Slim SwimZ baits look more like baitfish, while the Keitech apparently gets bites thanks to its ringed body and the kind of vibration it gives off.

I don’t think there’s a more versatile bait made than small swimbaits in general. On an open-hook jighead, these baits can be hopped or dragged along the bottom, reeled slowly to stay just off bottom or reeled fast and “burned” right along the surface.

Rig one so it’s weedless on the back of a rubber-skirt jig and you can drag it right through weeds. This “swim jig” can be as effective when you drag it through lily pads as when you cast it to bass chasing minnows on the surface.

I’m a slow learner who takes way too many rods along with me when competing in kayak bass tournaments. It took me awhile to realize that in almost every contest in which I didn’t embarrass myself, I caught most of my fish on one of these swimbaits.

So enjoy Three Free Weekend next weekend. And if you want to catch fish without messing around with earthworms or maggots, tie on a small swimbait.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.