The Best Swimbait Rods at Work: How Rusty Cooper Trusted BIG Baits for His MLF Win on Smith Lake

The Best Swimbait Rods at Work: How Rusty Cooper Trusted BIG Baits for His MLF Win on Smith Lake

MLF Pro Rusty Cooper knew he had to do something BIG to turn it around on Smith Lake. He was catching fish, but he needed more and he knew he couldn’t win without some hefty catches for Day 3’s weigh-in. That’s when he went all in with a big gamble, grabbing his big baits along with his best swimbait rods, a-rig rods, and other trusted poles from Cashion.

Here’s what he did to secure a big win.

The All-Too-Familiar Challenge

For Rusty Cooper, a Huntsville firefighter who couldn’t commit to a full season of MLF’s Toyota Series events last year, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he wasn’t where he wanted to be at the end of Day 2 on Lewis Smith Lake

The conditions in Cullman, Alabama were challenging, but it was subtle. With big gusts of wind causing a shifting mix of sun and clouds those first two days, and bass moving in and out of the areas he was fishing, Rusty only had four bass in the bag for his second day. He was sure that would cost him, too.

But how good is a success story without some adversity? Even better: a success story with an angler who had come as close as 2nd in an MLF tournament once before.

The Turning Point

It’s said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and Rusty must have seen a path to a better finish on Day 3, so he rigged up his rods and took some big shots.

The conditions were getting more favorable. Opportunity was increasing. That gave Rusty an idea of what he needed to do, even if he didn’t know just how well it would end up working. It was fairly calm compared to the first two days, so Rusty took advantage of that and went deeper. He had an area staked out and he was determined to keep working it, going farther into every pocket in that area of the lake. 

He suspected that the bass he’d seen were going into the shallows to spawn. That meant there should be plenty of bass traveling through. But he couldn’t just catch more bass — he needed to catch big bass.

The Big Shot

Maybe fishing won’t ever present the same as a bracketed NCAA basketball game where there are seconds on the clock and a point deficit that diverges from a player’s belief that they can do something to change history. Nevertheless, it can feel similar if you’re that angler — if your success is dependent on believing in yourself and taking a chance.

When it’s one of those bracketed basketball games and you believe you can overcome the odds at the last second, what do you do? You get your best long range shooter the ball and you go for three pointers and maybe even a shot from near half court if you have seconds to spare.

Rusty had that mentality. He saw the situation for what it could be. Much like taking big shots from around a perimeter or from downcourt, he put his big baits in hand all day. There may have been far more smaller bass in those areas, but he needed to weigh in strong. He needed to put the right rods in play with the right baits, and trust in his top-performing big bass gear.

The Results

In the end, Rusty would finish Day 3 with a 20-plus-pound limit that got him a $95,500 payday (including Phoenix and Berkley Big Bass bonuses) and his first MLF trophy. And that bag was particularly impressive according to MLF:

Outside of Cooper’s 20-pound, 14-ounce limit on Day 3, the largest bag caught at Smith across the three-day tournament was Jesse Wiggins’ (second place) 17-5 – the only other bag that eclipsed the 17-pound mark.

As good as Smith Lake is fishing, finding a bag that averages more than 4 pounds per fish is not ordinary. Throughout the week, the field leaned on spotted bass and some largemouth, but no one worked on either species as well as Cooper did on his largemouth Saturday. He didn’t even catch a single spotted bass in practice or during the event proper.

If that wasn’t amazing enough on its own, consider that this was Rusty’s first time fishing Smith and he fished it against a field of 241 other anglers.

The Get’er Done Gear

Beyond the knowledge of what to do and the confidence to do it, Rusty had to trust in his gear to get it done reliably. Cast after cast, often throwing heavy lures and pulling fish in through tangles and laydowns, he had to be effective and efficient, assisted by the right gear. Along with the light tackle that helped earlier on and then throwing an A-rig for a limit at the start of Day 3, Rusty credits the swimbaits and glide baits listed below, turning to them on Day 3 so he could cull his way into a win.

Rusty’s Swimbait Approach



  • Cashion ICON 7’8″ Swimbait Rod (ISW78MHMF)
Cashion ICON 7'8
Cashion ICON 7’8″ Swimbait Rod

Rusty’s Glide Bait Approach



Cashion ICON 7'10
Cashion ICON 7’10” Swimbait and Glidebait Rod

Editor’s Note: When you want the best swimbait rods out there, especially ones that are American Made, you can’t go wrong with any of these. 

Other Gear to Consider

On Days 1 and 2, Rusty attributed his bites to smaller baits. For some of those early fish he used a Cashion ICON Ned Rig Rod (INR7MFS) to pinpoint cast and present a wacky-rigged Xcite XTreme Stix Worm. For others, he employed a Cashion John Crews ICON Swim Jig Rod (ISJ73MHMFJC) with a Scottsboro swim jig and a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper trailer.

ICON Ned Rig Rod



On Day 3, he switched it up to catch a quick limit using his Cashion CORE A-Rig Rod (CS956710U), before going big and culling smaller fish out. Rusty said that all rods were paired with Lew’s reels.

CORE A-Rig Rod


American Made + Superior Quality = The Best Swimbait Rods

Some days on the water, the challenges just don’t end, but you can also see it as a test of your persistence and willingness to take a big shot. Whether you’re trying to cast a mile with a finesse bait when the bites are tough or you’re pushing your rods to the limit with big baits, Cashion has you covered with the best swimbait rods, glide bait rods, finesse rods, and everything in between. All made in America with superior quality built into their very fiber!

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