If there is one tactic that I can teach someone to master in a day of fishing, it would have to be walking the dog. The fact is, I’ve done it with several of my guests over the years and it has generally worked to perfection. It generally works to perfection this time of year when the fish are focusing on the surface and looking for bluebacks so learning this tactic can be very rewarding and now is the time to learn it.
I guess I’ve been using these walking baits for years when I think back to how many years a Zara Spook has been in my tacklebox. Before it was bass, it was stripers and before it was stripers, it was bass for me so I think topwater walking baits have been a favorite of mine for a while. The technique itself is kinda like learning to dance, you need to be able to find a rhythm and use both hands for different tasks at the same time. I know that may sound hard but once you get the hang of it, you’ve unlocked a door to a whole new fun world of topwater.
On Lake Lanier we have a very healthy population of Blueback Herring that have mixed rather well with the threadfin shad population so there is an abundance of food for the bass and striper population. The bluebacks in particular tend to stay closer to the surface during certain times of the year and the fall is one of those times that our blueback population gravitates towards the fleeting surface warmth from the fall sunlight. During the fall it’s like the last hoorah before the bait starts moving deeper into the ditches where they make their winter home until the following spring and the bait spawn.
During the fall the bluebacks may be in smaller groups or larger schools and they move around both shallow and deep. It’s the shallow bluebacks that become the most visible target, both visible to us the fisherman and visible to the bass because of the backdrop of the surface. One of the most important aspects of being successful with topwater is watching the surface and listening for surface activity around you. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a fish surface behind my back while fishing and turned around, made a cast and caught the fish. I also like to constantly scan the surface around me for surfacing fish and if I see fish surfacing in the distance I make a mental note of it and visit that area a little later. Often times the surfacing fish will still be active in the area for a while so to me it’s worth a check even 30 minutes after I saw the fish surface.
One of the main benefits of walking the dog is the excitement of topwater blowups and the subsequent hookups that often come with it. The other day I was chatting with a friend and I explained that I compared walking the dog to having an endless amount of tries for a prize at a carnival game of chance. Each cast is another opportunity to win the prize and there are endless opportunities out on the lake in the fall when walking the dog.
I’m partial to spinning gear here on Lake Lanier and about 75% of the fish I catch are 2-4lb bass and the rest are stripers in the 5-10lb range. Since Lanier is a clear reservoir I strictly use fluorocarbon by itself or flourocarbon with braid. When I’m walking the dog I like to use about 30 feet of 8lb Tatsu leader with a 12lb braid main line. The rod I’m using is a 7′ 3″-7′ 6″ MH fast action or fast tip and the reel is either a Penn Fierce or a Shimano Ci4. I want to make a long cast and the braid gives me the strength and sensitivity I need if I hook up with a fish with a lot of line out. I like to use my walking bait against the grain of the surface chop of waves. Let’s face it, the fish are looking up and the surface disruption made by the walking bait going against the wind and chop is much more visible to the fish than if the bait was moving with the chop. That’s been my experience with surface baits therefor I’m using my “Spot Lock” function on my Minn Kota a lot during the fall when we have wind. The biggest trick to walking the dog is being able to crank with one hand at the same time you are moving the bait with the other hand. You’ve got to be able to do both at once to keep the bait moving fluently and looking somewhat realistic to the fish. I like to use my index finger as the control point for my rod hand. Every twitch of my wrist goes through my index finger and down the rod. At the same time my other hand is doing the cranking in rhythm. It takes some practice but once you master the rhythm then you can work on the speed and believe me, the speed is very important as sometimes the fish will react to a faster speed but just the opposite to a slower bait so play with your speed till you find a trend. Another factor to consider is sound. Sometimes a walking bait with a “one knocker” sound or one larger ball bearing is preferred by the fish and sometimes the rattle of smaller bearings causes the react. Sometime a silent walking bait is the best approach but the point is to play with walking baits with different sounds this time of year. Size is another factor and a good sized walking bait for starting out is the 4-5 inch variety. Once you kinda get the hang of walking the dog then try some larger stuff. I can promise you that these big spotted bass won’t turn down a large 6-8 inch walking bait out on a main lake hump on a windy day.
Right now is the right time to work on walking the dog on Lake Lanier, whether you are fishing from a boat or walking the shoreline of one of the many parks here, it’s a tried and true method for both bass and stripers over the next few months. Here’s a video I made about 5 years ago in late September using the walking bait for some morning bait. It should give you and idea of how to use the technique.