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A Walk Down Swimbait Lane with Big Bass Angler Danny Gillespie (continued)

Brock: Do you remember when you first came across a swim bait?

Gillespie: That would be in the early 90's at Marv’s Worm King Shop.  I stopped by one day to pick up a batch of plastic worms I had ordered and Marv came out of the back room and said "what do you think of these?".  I took one from his hand (6" Worm King) and asked what is it?  He said "its supposed to be a trout", so I’m looking it over carefully and he adds I gave a few to a guy who fishes Casitas and he says he has caught some 10 pounders on them, so I said I will take a half dozen since I’m fishing tomorrow.  I went home and rigged them with a ¾ oz Scampi Head (which I used with large Twin Tailed Mojo’s to fish for Calico’s with) a Shimano Bantam with 12 pound Mono, on a 6 ½ foot Daiwa Pro Caster rod (which I also used for Calicos) and headed to the lake the next morning.  I threw that bait for a few hours with no results, then started fishing jigs and worms again.  That night I kept thinking how good that bait looked in the water, so the next day that was the only rod I took.  I was determined to find out one way or the other. About 5 or 6 hours into the day I caught a 10 pounder “WOW”, man I can’t tell you how I felt at that moment, this was all new stuff, unchartered water.  I was already addicted to fishing for large fish and now this! Very exciting times.  It wasn’t long after Marv sold those baits commercially and then came out with the 9” which the fish loved to crush.

Prototype Optimum swimbaits

Brock: At what point do you remember hearing the term Swim Bait being thrown around?

Gillespie: The funny thing about the term Swim Bait, it came from a guy who rarely fished, my Dad. One day I stopped by his house for a visit and to tune up a couple of Worm Kings in his swimming pool.  I was retrieving one of the Worm Kings and my Dad looked at the bait in the water and asked what kind of a swimming bait is that?  That term stuck in my head and I began to use the term when anyone asked me what I was catching my fish on.  I would say Swim Baits.  The reason for using that term was it grouped all big baits at the time together so I wouldn’t have to be so specific as to what bait or color I was using.  A year or so later when Sean Donovan sold his bait commercially he called it the Optimum Swim Bait, and the term Swim Bait took off from there. 

Top AC plug wood, Second Hat Trick Plug resin, Third Homemade AC style plug wood, Fourth Same Homemade plug with 80 over 10lbs

Brock: During this era was there any type of special patterns or finishes you liked to fish?

Gillespie: It was hard to beat original Rainbow but when I worked with Sean Donovan a year prior before he started selling baits commercially I asked him to pour me a "Dark Rainbow" Optimum which quickly became my favorite in sub surface baits.  The AC Type Woods just needed a white or off white belly to be effective.  It was so darn easy in those early days to get bit, you just didn’t need to be that pretty, of course that all changed later.  But in those early days I had surface woods that had half the wood showing before I would touch them up with a little spray enamel followed by a shot of clear coat and you were good to go.

Brock: Is there one lure in your box that you won’t fish anymore?

Gillespie: Yes, I have an old AC type plug that the fish wore the paint off a few times.  I no longer use it because I have others that work just as well and it looks good hanging in my garage. I was given that plug from a guy who copied it off the AC Plug, it didn't have very good action at the time so I tweaked on it and came out with a nice tight wobble that the fish had a hard time resisting.

Daiwa Procaster Shimano Bantam Worm King spooled with 12lb Maxima

Brock: What kind of setup did you throw this bait on? and around how many fish does it take to wear the paint off a few times (smiling)? 

Gillespie: I started out with a 6 ½ foot Daiwa Pro Caster & Shimano Bantam with 12 lb. Maxima.  Then a bit later 7 foot Loomis MUR 843C Musky Sticks & Calcutta 200’s still with 12 lb.  The number of double digit fish on that one plug was 80 plus.  Your probably thinking no way with 12 lb. line, but I’m telling you 12 lb. Maxima is very strong.  When large fish have a mouth full it is not the fighter it is with a single hook.  I did however eventually go to 20 lb. test because of an encounter I had with a Blue Heron over the rights to that plug on Casitas in “95” and let me just say you don’t ever want to go face to face with a Blue Heron.  Ever.

Brock: What setups are you running now for swim baits?

Gillespie: I'm throwing all my 8" and bigger baits with a G Loomis GL2 BBR 966, a saltwater Daiwa Millionaire SW203 with 20lb Maxima monofilament and 20lb Seaguar fluorocarbon. For anything under 8" I'm using a 7' Powell 704, a Shimano Calcutta 250, and 15lb Maxima monofilament.

8lb spot on Zank's line thru at Melones (top), 17lber hudd Pedro (left), 14lber Hudd fish at Don Pedro (right)

Brock: Switching gears up a bit, when you moved up to Northern California in 1997 you brought your arsenal of big baits with you.  How did it compare to fishing in Southern California?

Gillespie: Well that’s a good question.  One I thought you would ask.  I moved to Sonora in “1997” right between New Melones & Lake Don Pedro two awesome bass fisheries.  I had total confidence I would catch swim bait fish but I truly thought the best was behind me.  I could not have been more wrong.  While the ratio of catching teen fish (13lb+) was higher down in Southern Cal the numbers of 10 & 11 pound fish in Pedro made up for it and then some.  Then throw in Melones which was full of more than willing 5 to 8 lbers and then factor in the number of great consecutive years which far exceeded those of down South. When I began fishing these lakes I couldn’t believe it was happening to me again, and again I approached it the same way “Nothing lasts forever”.  I relentlessly pounded these fish knowing like last time at “Castaic” it would not last long.  But months turned into years before word got out and even then the awesome fishing continued for several more years.

A magic day of 105lbs for 10 fish!

Brock: Over the years was there a personal accomplishment that you set out to accomplish if so what was it?

Gillespie: You mean other than meeting my wife Sandi? Fishing has been a huge part of my life so I guess everyday on the water is a personal accomplishment for me.  Fish or no fish every day is a gift.  As far as having something that drove me to fish a little harder each day for many years, my goal was to catch the largest limit I could each day.  A 50 lb. bag was a special feeling.  I guess it was just a competition within myself.

Brock: Catching one 50lb limit is quite an accomplishment for any angler, how many big limits have you caught over the years?

Gillespie: I have caught 50 lb. plus limits 22 times with the largest going 63 lbs.         

Brock: Before we wrap things up are there a few memorable days you can share with us? 

Gillespie: Other then all my time fishing Calicos, there are a couple.  They both happened on Lake Don Pedro, one was in “2008” when I caught my last personal best a 17.2 pounder on a HUDD.  What made that one so special, the first time I had her hooked she came un-buttoned after only a few seconds and I knew I blew it.  After driving my wife crazy for a couple of days I went back to the same spot three days later.  I stealthed my way in from about 100 yards out and she bit on the first cast, I got her in the boat and all was good!  Those teen fish are few and far between.

Another day was in “2003” also on Lake Don Pedro.  I was fishing a line through Swim Bait made by John Viazanko which I believe was the first of its kind.  It was just another beautiful cloudy day on the pond with very few boats on the water.  I caught close to 30 Swim Bait fish that day with my best 10 fish going 105 pounds.  Most of the big ones came off of one spot.  That was definitely a very memorable day. I have been so fortunate to have been a part of the beginning of the Swim Bait era.

Brock: I'd like to thank Danny for giving us a very candid peek into his fishing past and sharing some inspiring stories. Having known him for some time now I can honestly say he's one of the most humble fisherman I've met.










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